Columnists, Sports

The Blue Line: Starving?

Shabazz Napier, star senior guard of the National Champion University of Connecticut men’s basketball team and the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Player, has stated that sometimes he goes to bed “starving.” As a result, Connecticut state lawmakers are now investigating legislative methods allowing athletes at UConn unionize.

A very similar situation recently occurred at Northwestern University. After the National Labor Relations Board ruled that NU football players are employees because of the hefty amount of hours they spend for the program and the incredible amount of revenue they generate for the school.

The decision at UConn, however, would start a new level of college athlete unions, for UConn is a state school, whereas Northwestern is a private university.

At private schools like Duke University and Boston University, the process to unionize would be almost identical to Northwestern’s example. At public state schools like UConn and Penn State University, though, the process would be entirely different from state to state.

Napier has described the ruling at Northwestern “kind of great,” and clarified that he appreciates his basketball scholarship very much, but that it doesn’t cover all his expenses.

“I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Napier said in an interview during the NCAA Tournament in late March. “But like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.

“When you see your jersey getting sold and things like that, you feel like you want something in return … Something can change, something should change.”

Perhaps, Mr. Napier, your attitude should change.

I cannot deny for a second that I loved watching Shabazz Napier play basketball. He is an extraordinarily talented athlete; his hard work on the court, his in-game presence and his raw ability guided the Huskies to their fourth national title since 1999. He was a pleasure and a real privilege to watch play the game. After his remarks of going to bed starving though, I have come to a harsh realization that he is ungrateful.

Shabazz Napier is a local boy from Roxbury. New England Regional tuition, fees and other expenses at the University of Connecticut for the upcoming 2014-15 academic year is estimated at $36,890. Napier’s scholarship to play basketball for the Huskies is valued at nearly $150,000. A sum of money from this award is put toward a dining plan, enabling the star player to eat at any dining hall on UConn’s campus.

Phil Chardis, a spokesman for the University of Connecticut, confirmed that each and every one of the school’s scholarship athletes —including Napier — receive the maximum meal plan allowed under the NCAA guidelines.

The efforts put forth by Northwestern are theoretically admirable. Football claims significantly more injuries than basketball does; the NU union would attempt to protect its athletes on the field, not provide them with midnight snacks so that their players don’t feel malnourished.

I don’t wish to disregard basketball injuries, though. Basketball players, like all college athletes, should be protected from injury as well as is humanly possible. Player safety is indisputably at the pinnacle of everybody’s list of concerns.

Connecticut State Representative Matthew Lesser is among those state policymakers searching for a way to allow UConn athletes to unionize.

“[Napier] says he’s going to bed hungry at a time when millions of dollars are being made off of him. It’s obscene,” Lesser said to CNN. “This isn’t a Connecticut problem. This is an NCAA problem, and I want to make sure we’re putting pressure on them to treat athletes well.”

Last week after a spring practice, two Northwestern football leaders said that they would not vote to unionize. Coach Pat Fitzgerald told his players that he did not believe a union was in their best interest. Additionally, Northwestern University is appealing the ruling of the NLRB national office while maintaining that student-athletes are “students, first and foremost,” not university employees.

The sudden skepticism and mixed opinions from the Northwestern program strongly supports those opposed to college athletic labor unions. NU found its way into the national media with the hype of the first collegiate union ever; now, though, they seem to be taking a step back, and re-thinking the idea.

Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, called the effort “a grossly inappropriate solution to the problems” existing in collegiate sports. Furthermore, he declared that a union-employee model would “blow up everything about the collegiate model for athletics.”

Perhaps I am so heated about Napier’s statement because of his choice of words. During a brief 94-second clip from an interview with the media, the phrase “there are hungry nights” exits the star’s mouth multiple times. Additionally, at the end of the video, he says that he is “starving.” Saying that he starves when food is so readily available and easily accessible to him is bold and dishonest.

Actually, on second thought, Shabazz Napier is starving. But he isn’t starving for food. Rather, he’s starving for more compensation than he has already been graciously awarded. And that is obscene.

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