Ok before you start trolling me, know that I believe that Lamar Jackson is a great player, had a great season, and was clearly deserving of the Heisman Trophy. However, sadly, just like every other big-time Heisman winner before him, because of the greed of the NCAA, his university, and his coaches, Jackson is a big-time loser as well.
See, every year, talented star athletes like Jackson log thousands of miles and countless hours participating in post-season award shows. Yet, while these highly produced and lucrative award shows compensates those necessary to produce the made for TV event (hosts, directors, cameramen, grips, reporters, producers, writers, etc.) for their time and talent, while the most important people -those who actually make the show possible -go without monetary compensation for their time: the college stars themselves.
Now to be fair being on TV, traveling and networking with the elite of college football, and getting to meet powerful business executives has substantial intangible value. Likewise, since winning the Heisman Trophy provides the winner an estimated $800,000 of lifetime earnings, I concede that it is probably not fair to say that tonight’s winner will always be an economic loser. However, it is more than fair to highlight how the current College Sports Entertainment Complex economically exploits players. Award shows like tonight’s Heisman Trophy presentation broadcasted by ESPN, is just another high profile example of this exploitation.
This is a clear example of what the law calls “unjust enrichment” — that is, when one party (NCAA/Universities/Networks/Coaches) is unjustly enriched at the expense of another (athletes). The very fact that the athletes participate in lucrative, money-making activities that are not expressly agreed upon in any of the scholarship documents could be enough proof that these additional services require compensation. In other words, star college athletes are owed something when attending post-season award’s events simply because the NCAA, universities and networks have been unjustly enriched by the athlete’s participation. It is certainly not that the resources are unavailable to provide some compensation.
The good news is that more than ever players completely understand that their earning capacity is unjustly sacked by the NCAA, and have started to unionize, participate in numerous lawsuits, and testify in congressional hearings to reform the current system. These efforts to obtain the basic civil right of being paid for your labor have been met with stiff resistance, and the fight will certainly get harder in the age of Trump. However, I predict that players will get tired of everyone making millions while they get tution waivers, backpacks, and Beats by Dre, and stage massive strikes and continue to bring lawsuits.
***Damario Solomon-Simmons, Esq., M.Ed., is a former D-1 football player at the University of Oklahoma and an attorney at Oklahoma’s premier law firm RiggsAbney. He regularly writes and lectures on issues of race, sports, public policy, and social justice. He can be contacted at @solospeakstruth or firstname.lastname@example.org***