All Athletes Are Entitled To Fair Pay?

​            One of my guiding principles as a labor lawyer is that if a person works, he should get paid for his work. I don’t believe in unpaid internships; an unpaid internship is simply servitude by another name. I don’t believe in volunteering to help finish a job at work if extra pay is not involved.
            If your labor is involved and a benefit is received by another party, that other party should pay you for the work you did. It is a simple proposition, and quite American, too.
            My interest is always aroused when the issue of paying NCAA “professional” athletes arises. I think any kid who plays a sport that generates value for his school should receive a percentage of every dollar of value generated by his performance. Notice I wrote “dollar of value generated” not “dollar of revenue.” That is because the value of an athlete’s performance to a school is not always adequately measured by the revenue generated from his participation in the sport.
            I am using the male pronoun here. I remain well aware that female athletes, particularly in this state, generate millions of dollars of value for their schools. Ever heard of Paige Bueckers? Feel free to substitute “she” for “he” throughout this column. The principle remains the same.
            I address this topic today because, once again, college athletes are chipping away at the “amateur” defense used by the college sports plutocracy to justify the billions earned through the talents of their indentured world-class athletes.
            Last week a federal judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (not exactly a bastion of liberal thought) ruled against the NCAA and a number of its schools seeking to dismiss a lawsuit brought by college athletes who claim that they are “employees” entitled to wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
            This decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision last June determining that college athletes could not be prohibited from selling their names, images, and likenesses for profit.
            One of the claims in the lawsuit alleges that the failure by the defendant institutions to pay the athletes violates Connecticut’s Minimum Wage Act. One of the plaintiffs is a former tennis player at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.
            Under NCAA rules athletes are prohibited from being paid for participation in their athletic activities. However, member schools mandate that these so-called “student athletes,” as the NCAA prefers to refer to them, must prioritize participation in athletic activities over academic requirements. Schools can discipline “student-athletes” for scheduling classes that are prerequisites to obtaining an academic degree if those classes conflict with a mandatory practice schedule.
            Athletes are also required to fill out time sheets and participate in mandatory fundraising and community activities which use time sheets to track actual participation. Football players at large programs frequently spend more than 40 hours per week in mandatory athletic endeavors. That sounds like a full-time job to me.  
            As a result of performing their jobs, these athletes generated one billion, 64 million dollars in total revenue for their schools in 2018. One Billion!
            The NCAA and the participating schools claim that they do not have to pay the athletes because the athletes gain the “intangible benefits of ‘discipline, work ethic, strategic thinking, time management, leadership, goal setting, and teamwork.’”
            The judge out in Pennsylvania coal country wasn’t buying that load of manure. He declined to dismiss the case. It is likely headed to trial by next fall. I’ll keep you updated.

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