Slavery is not over. Colleges and universities collectively make billions of dollars off of the athletic prowess of Black male student-athletes, but these institutions will not even give them adequate academic support in return. Many people will say that they receive free tuition and room and board and will think that they should be happy with this, considering most undergraduates don’t have this advantage. I would just like to inform people who think like this that most student-athletes don’t receive scholarships, free tuition, and room and board—only a select few receive free tuition and room and board. Even if all student-athletes were to magically be given free tuition and room and board, this would still represent a classic Marxian uneven exchange. Think about it—they provide these institutions with billions of dollars and these institutions give them free tuition and room and board in return—simply inequitable. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body that oversees intercollegiate athletics, contends that paying student-athletes would be a horrible thing to do. However, the NCAA and higher education institutions do not think that it’s horrible to pay Teaching Assistants. Why not simply make graduate students teach for free as a part of their degree requirements? Exactly! They know that graduate students are too sophisticated and too politically organized to allow themselves to be exploited in such a way.
Just as those Teaching Assistants receive free tuition and a monthly stipend in return for their service, institutions should give all student-athletes monthly stipends in return for their service. Many athletic departments require student-athletes to do community service projects, visit sick children in hospitals, and other charitable things, but they are not paid a dime for this service—the athletic departments simply get to benefit from the charity of these student-athletes.
Billy Hawkins, Kinesiology professor at the University of Georgia, has written a book, The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly NCAA Institutions (2010), that posits that predominantly White colleges and universities are functioning very much like the colonial plantations did during slavery. For Hawkins, Black male student-athletes are slaves at these predominantly White institutions. He does an excellent job of evincing how these institutions exploit Black male student-athletes academically and physically.
I do, however, disagree with Hawkins that these institutions are functioning very much like colonial plantations during slavery. In Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), Fredric Jameson asserts that we are currently residing in late capitalism, a stage of capitalism that makes it much more the global dominant and much more of a deceptively attractive economic system than it was during slavery in America. Therefore, the attempt Hawkins makes to evince how Black male student-athletes are similar to slaves during slavery in America ultimately fails because his central thesis needs to be informed by a serious understanding of late capitalism (postmodernism).
My notion of colleges and universities being postmodern plantations for Black male student-athletes is informed carefully by Fredric Jameson’s characterization of postmodernism (late capitalism). During slavery in America, Black people knew without a doubt that they were slaves. Black male student-athletes do not know that they are slaves today. Many are given scholarships that pay their tuition and room and board, but this uneven exchange exploits them in academic, economic, and physical ways that are much more dishonest than during the colonial plantation system. The focus that Hawkins devotes to making connections between the treatment of slaves during slavery to the treatment of Black male student-athletes in our postmodern period are important, but he misses how much more sophisticated colleges and universities have developed the postmodern plantation.
Predominantly White colleges and universities have made most Black student-athletes think that they are happy because they get to play the sports they enjoy, get free tuition and housing, and have a chance to compete professionally. During slavery, most slaves were not happy just receiving the bare minimums. Free tuition and room and board are the bare minimums today.
The NCAA is a cartel. This despicable governing body is only interested in helping colleges and universities to keep getting richer so that the executive leadership of the NCAA can keep getting richer. The NCAA is the force that allows this postmodern plantation system to persist and that makes the postmodern plantation system increasingly more dominant. The refusal of the NCAA to allow student-athletes to be given stipends in exchange for participating in intercollegiate athletic sports is a deliberate attempt to exploit not only Black male student-athletes but all student-athletes.
The least that these predominantly White colleges and universities can do is give student-athletes enough money in the form of stipends to pay for their own private tutors, tutors outside of the athletic department.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison