I love college football because it’s a microcosm of what I see in everyday life, or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s how I choose to cope with things and see the world, it’s people, and understand their actions. And picking up and moving long distances and starting new lives and new journeys requires leaving little pieces of yourself behind each time. College football is what I use to anchor myself to an identity, memories, and a belief system that I don’t want to get left behind the next time the moving truck pulls out of my driveway. Sadly, that microcosm is not void of the inequality present within life nor the people that willfully or ignorantly ignore it.
Just to be clear, this is not a picture of Leonard Fournette kneeling during the national anthem. I know this because I remember LSU playing at Syracuse without this picture being posted all over SportsCenter the next day. Although he more than hinted at his political beliefs last July, neither he nor any other major college football player outwardly protested to the extent NFL players (including Fournette after he signed with the Jags) have during the national anthem. Conveniently, teams are kept off the field during the anthem, as has been the case since before Kapernick
Keep looking at that picture and the larger picture of college football, though. You’ll inevitably see ironies after hypocrisies after parallels in regards to the life of student athletes, most of whom are black, and the upheavals many other minorities face off the field.
The wage gap is amplified to almost freakish proportions when it comes to what players earn vs what their 1%er boss in the Head Coach’s office earns. Not even mentioning the gap between what their scholarship pays for (tuition, room, and board) and the actual cost of attendance (clothes, gas money, etc), the difference between the student athlete’s scholarship value of $50,000 a year to a high profile coach’s paycheck of $5 million a year.
Ironically, the explanation given for this arrangement by the governing body of the NCAA, is to protect “amateur athletes” from the various scourges of capitalism like agents and rogue boosters, all while the NCAA lines it’s pocketbooks with the profits of trademarked apparel sales and the NCAA basketball tournament.
Like the majority of any given population, fans are the real drivers of change in the sport, even if they don’t know it. They call for heads to roll during a scandal or a bad season. They spurn on searches for the next coordinator or Athletic Director, and their Walmart fandom is a cash cow that will never run completely dry, even if ticket sales slump. And so, fans are the final say in what is “right” or “wrong” in college football…even though a large portion of them can also be blissfully ignorant and sometimes downright disconnected to what goes on before their very eyes. They tend to hypocritically place unrealistic expectations on these athletes that they themselves would crumble beneath; physical workouts and practices that most of us have no business even doing the warmups for. Film sessions, team meetings, position specific meetings, all on top of whatever college workload that drives about 33% of students to quit before graduation. None of it matters to a fan unless it comes with a big fat W on Saturday, though. Nice introduction to the glass ceiling some of them will likely face after college, especially if they have any aspirations of being a head coach.
Finally, there’s the obvious parallel of young athletes (mostly black, mostly from impoverished back grounds) being targeted based on their talent and physical capability in the VERRRRYYYY shady world of recruiting. Even to hardcore fans of the sport, the meat market that is 7 on 7 camps for high school prospects is looked at with at least a healthy amount of distain. There are plenty of instances in the sport where young and impressionable athletes, all while being assured their best interest are at heart, are shopped around to intermediaries of programs, exchanging NLI (National Letter of Intent) signatures for cash. Sometimes this trafficking is done by a player’s own family member, sometimes without their knowledge.
These are snapshots of this sport at it’s worse and even worse, it’s issues like this that certain fans believe should forever and always take a backseat to standing for the flag of a country where these injustices occur.