California is close to passing a law that would return to athletes what the NCAA unjustly stole: the rights to their own names, images and likenesses. One’s name and face are what some people might call a birthright. But in the eyes of the NCAA, college athletes don’t have birthrights; they’re serfs. NCAA President Mark Emmert, the Lord High of the Carillon Towers, has suggested all of California’s postseason competition could be jeopardized if the state allows an athlete to make a profit from his or her own name, picture or signature.
On Tuesday, the California state assembly’s Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media committee passed SB-206, the “Fair Pay to Play Act.” Its next step is the Higher Education committee. Emmert is so concerned by the bill that he sent lawmakers a letter with more than a smack of extortion in it. If they don’t put off consideration of the bill, according to Lord Emmert, His High Grace of The Citadel of Amateurism, it could be “impossible to host fair national championships” in the state. The Rose Bowl is scheduled to host the College Football Playoff championship game in 2023. His Excellency also suggested California athletes could all be ruled ineligible.
Here is more of Emmert’s letter, which has the benign quality of the talcum Emmert uses to powder his wig, until you smell the arsenic laced in it.
“We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that have been the subject of litigation and much national debate,” Emmert wrote. “Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics . . .”
Actually, the only thing the bill would materially alter is the reach of Lord Emmert’s power and the bottom-line profits at those ducal estates Emmert presides over: the turreted athletic departments that purloin and sell the images of athletes like sheaves of wheat. Clemson will sell stacks of No. 16 jerseys, but quarterback Trevor Lawrence won’t see a dime. You want a T-shirt that shows Tua Tagovailoa in Alabama crimson, characteristically pointing to the sky? You can get one for $20. Also, a sticker and a coffee cup with his image. He’ll probably never be paid for any of it.
Unless he moves to California.
Emmert is bluffing, and California should call him on it. Emmert’s threat to excise the entire left coast reeks of pure desperation and is in no way realistic. This is not a man holding a good hand of cards. He’s a guy with nothing more than a deuce in the hole, who is just trying to delay losing the whole pot. You really think Emmert is going to tell ESPN, CBS and Turner to take a hit in one of their biggest media markets, that the tournaments and bowl championships they paid billions of dollars in rights fees for will have to be played without the heart of the Pac-12? “Sorry, CBS, but you can’t have Stanford, Southern Cal, UCLA or Cal, because their kids might’ve made some cash from selling T-shirts with their own pictures on them.”
The NCAA had years to correct its system of feudal injustice and join the modern world, but it steadfastly refused to, and now an industrial revolution is upon them. UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon woke up one day and saw himself playing basketball in an Electronic Arts video game, for which no one had bothered to ask his permission, much less paid him. He sued the NCAA, and he won. Now lawmakers at the federal level also are considering legislation to make things right for athletes. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) proposed a bill to Congress in March that would strip the NCAA’s tax-exempt status if it doesn’t stop robbing athletes “of their identity and sovereignty over their public image.”
Suddenly, behold! In May, the NCAA convened “a working group” to study the issue of name and likeness. Lord Emmert, High Guardian of the Pure Bastion, promises his panel will “examine the NCAA’s position on name, image and likeness benefits and potentially propose rule modifications tethered to education.” He’s like a man trying to bring down the portcullis on an invading horde.
It’s all just a delaying action while more cash is diverted from players’ publicity rights and merchandising into the pockets of associate athletic directors, conference commissioners, NCAA senior vice presidents and all the other earls and barons who nibble at the corners of the feudal feasting table. The NCAA is too addicted to this system of lieges and vassals to change on its own. The leadership simply doesn’t know how it will exist without the cottagers tithing them millions.
There is nothing to study. There are no “complex issues related to the current collegiate model.” These are rights the NCAA never should have interfered with in the first place. A player’s name, image or likeness should never be anyone else’s to sell or merchandise except by explicit consent. The NCAA has no business considering them in a “working group,” or blocking the exercise of those rights for another second more. There is only one thing to do: Give them back.
Every other citizen in this country owns their name, visage and other biographical details. To rob college athletes of these things is flat out stealing, and it leaves athletes as a separate, permanently impoverished disenfranchised class. California lawmakers should pass their bill, and while they’re at it ask Emmert just who he thinks he is, to try to threaten an entire state.
Presumably, Emmert sent such a letter because the NCAA leadership is scared. A law such as this could very well be how it all ends, how the NCAA’s feudal castle is finally dismantled, rotting old beam by beam.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.
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