HBO’s VICE explores the end of amateurism in college sports Friday

Posted on Mar 30 2017 - 8:00am by McKenna Wierman

Ole Miss athletics is more than just sports. It’s more than days at the Grove or packing into Vaught-Hemingway on a blazing summer afternoon to watch the Rebs play. It’s more than jamming into The Pavilion to watch the basketball team or toting coolers and sun chairs to left field to watch baseball at Swayze.

It’s student-athletes waking up at dawn for early morning workouts and heading home after dark after another long day of training. It’s student-athletes finding time to balance academics, athletics and social life and still putting in work to play in front of hundreds to thousands of fans game after game.

Yet we don’t always recognize the players beneath the jerseys when it comes to our sports.

In its upcoming special, premiering this Friday on HBO, notorious hard-hitting investigative news organization VICE will take a look at the debate over whether student-athletes should be allowed to profit from their athletic abilities during their colligate careers.

The story’s premier comes at an interesting time, with the final NCAA championship basketball game just next Monday and the NFL Draft about to be underway April 27.

According to HBO, Friday’s episode of VICE will explore the “explosive revenue growth” college athletics has experienced in the past 30 years, “fueled by media contracts and corporate sponsors,” and how “in order to enter this system, the NCAA requires players to forgo profits, and instead offers them scholarships and access to state-of-the-art facilities.”

However, as college sports have grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry, a case has now been brought before the U.S. federal court asking whether or not it is fair to prohibit athletes from receiving payment. The story is investigated by VICE journalist Gianna Toboni as she meets with athletes, athletic directors, coaches and sports marketing experts to uncover the role of money in the lives of collegiate athletes.

Toboni interviews a wide range of individuals deeply invested within college athletics, including Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech University athletic director, Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo and several high school and college student athletes.

The episode does a good job of presenting both sides of the story, but in its VICE way, it does leave viewers favoring the athletes over the universities for which they play. But then again, is it easy to take the side of a multi-billion dollar generating institution or young athletes desperate to try and make it to the pros so they can help bring their families out of poverty?

What VICE does with this episode is what VICE always does: It delves deep into a heated and sensitive issue and ultimately pulls viewers in the direction of the little guy. What’s important to remember, though, is that in this case, it does have a point. It’s just not perfectly explored.

The episode takes care to describe how some athletes, like high school basketball player David Beatty, receive from sponsors an abundance of expensive sports equipment like shoes and clothes that they don’t always need or use and that ultimately end up piling up in their rooms. Meanwhile, their families could be struggling financially, but selling any of the expensive and free merchandise they have been given could potentially ruin their chances of getting a college scholarship or ever making it to the pros. So they have no choice but to sit among piles of barely worn shoes while their families struggle to make ends meet and pray they are good enough to be drafted to a professional team.

Sure, athletes are given access to virtually free educations, top-of-the-line athletic facilities and equipment, travel expenses and medical benefits, all the while the universities they play for rake in millions, essentially by using the bodies and athletic abilities of young men and women who can’t so much as sell an old pair of shoes. Yes, as stated by Mark Hollis, Michigan State athletic director, student-athletes are given every opportunity academically, athletically and socially to be successful. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the athlete to earn the degree and take advantage of those opportunities.

Really, what this issue boils down to is whether or not it is ethical for colleges to turn such a large profit on their student athletes while those students never see a dime. It’s a tough and touchy issue, but one we, as a community, should take a good, hard look at, considering the way we value our athletes here at Ole Miss.

Check out this episode of VICE on HBO at 6:30 p.m. this Friday.