Recent comments by ESPN commentator Dick Vitale regarding professional football player Arian Foster have garnered a critical reaction. (AP Photo/Nathan K. Martin)
“[College Sports] has just been a big charade for years. It’s about time for it to come to an end.” —Arian Foster
This past weekend, Dick Vitale called Houston Texans All-Pro running back Arian Foster, one of the smartest people to ever put on shoulder pads, “a prostitute.” Foster’s great crime, according to Vitale, was telling the world that he received under-the-table payments while a player at the University of Tennessee.
This reveals less about Foster than it does about Vitale’s stunning lack of self-awareness. For thirty years, “Dickie V” has made himself extremely wealthy by being a carnival barker for the unpaid exploits of people like Arian Foster. We can ask the question: “If Foster is a prostitute, what in the world does that make Dick Vitale?” But instead, we should just marvel at how reflexively the people who benefit from the “charade” of amateurism defend their system. We should also ask the question, What would it take to actually end this charade once and for all?
I’ve come to the conclusion that the diseased power relationships in big-time, revenue-producing college sports will never change on their own. I once thought the scandals that take place with the consistency of a metronome would be enough to spur reform. But with comments like Vitale’s, it’s evermore clear that the system will never change on its own, because the weight of the injustice in the NCAA invariably falls on those with the least amount of agency. Those in power—and their media prizefighters—have never been doing better. When you make millions of dollars, you are not searching to change the status quo. You are only looking to calcify it.
The only social force in the sport with both an interest in change and the social power to do it is the athletes themselves. If the stars refused to take the field, then this ossified system would crack like an egg. This is one hell of an ask of a group of disproportionately poor 18–22-year-olds who want nothing more than a good report from their coaching staff to NFL and NBA scouts that they are “coachable” (obedient). As Richard Sherman can tell you, even the most talented prospective pros can be submarined by a head coach with a grudge. They are risking years of hard work, and it is nothing they asked for, but like Malvolio said in Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” This past weekend, we saw players attempt to reach for this greatness, and their efforts demand our support.