The Exploitation of the College “Proletariat”

Over the course of the past two weeks, I attended theme semester events Positive Psychology and Sport and Reclaiming the Educational Mission of College Sports. Both presentations spoke of a growing trend in college sports: money. Many athletes have felt exploited by universities as their names and likeness have been sold to reap huge profits. As pointed out by keynote speaker Amy Perko during the Reclaiming the Educational Mission of College Sports lecture, college athletics are “not allowing athletes to be students.” It seems as if the American educational system has given way to capitalism, as universities invest in athletes in order to then squeeze out every penny of their investment. Because of the growing competition of sports, athletes succumb to the pressures of success by pushing themselves to dangerous limits in order to maintain their scholarships. This economic exploitation is very similar to the socio-economic relationship between the bourgeoisie and proletariat described by Marx in his Communist Manifesto.

Karl Marx

A picture for you, Comrade.

“This organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves…It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers…”– Karl Marx. Because college athletics is so competitive, it’s hard for students to unite for a common cause. Differences in sporting programs also poses as a road block towards unification. Different types of athletes need different types of help. For example, a football team may need compensation to invest in medical care costs for athletes who experience severe physical injuries, whereas a softball team may need to cut back on games played so students have an appropriate amount of time to spend on homework. As cited by Marx, true change will not occur until legislation is passed. Maybe college athletes will unionize in order to enforce this change; hopefully, more colleges will begin to reform before this occurs.

“In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers…are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market” –Karl Marx. Many athletes feel like a commodity. Several college athletes suffer from mental and physical injuries that are overlooked, having to burden the financial costs themselves. For example, a recent Virginia Tech study showed that football players were struck in the head 30 to 50 times per game and regularly endured blows similar to those experienced in car crashes. Also, the lecture on Positive Psychology revealed that suicide was the third-leading cause of death of student-athletes from 2004-08. “Some of the nation’s largest universities, which benefit from lucrative television contracts for their football and basketball programs, also provide comprehensive coverage. At Michigan State, for instance, Aisha Jefferson, a women’s basketball player with no private insurance, has had four operations for sports-related injuries without receiving a single bill.”

Here’s a video about mental health in college athletics: http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:10341500

It’s time for a change. No longer should the focus of college athletics be winning or success. Academic integrity, health, welfare, and smart spending should be primary areas of concern for colleges. It’s time for the proletariat to rise up and revolt. In this case, it’s time for the college athlete to speak out.

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2 thoughts on “The Exploitation of the College “Proletariat”

  1. This is an excellent post and I agree with the points you have made. College athletes are definitely significant sources of income for their respective universities. Think about the profit made from just jersey sales for huge stars such as Jameis Winston and Jahlil Okafur. To the universities, capitalizing on their players’ moneymaking ability is just protecting their own interests. Basically, not allowing their stellar athletes to be stellar students is their way of making sure the players are producing their best so that the university can make more money than they already do by sucking the rest of the student population dry with ridiculous tuition rates (Sorry Michigan). At some point, these institutions will have to realize how much of a disadvantage players who are going to live lives after sports are going to have in the professional world. They must remember that student athletes are human too. Give them the chance to achieve realistic skill sets for a job setting, just in case they don’t go pro or an accident occurs.

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  2. Michigan has had a few instances of using athletes as a source of income. The most well known of these cases is with The Fab Five. This was a group of phenomenal athletes, among these were Chris Weber and Juan Howard, among others. They were a huge asset to the university athletically and were valuable in promoting the basketball program here.

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