The NCAA was a day late and a penny short in its decision to amend a new policy that would have banned people without bachelor’s degrees from representing college athletes seeking to test the NBA draft waters. The rule came at a time when arguably the sport’s most influential agent, Rich Paul, is an African-American man who did not graduate from college.
The group scrapped the inherently racist policy, but the ill-conceived proposal is part of the NCAA’s long history of stymying black entrepreneurship and upward mobility. The college sports industry has spent years raking in billions of dollars off the backs of predominantly black athletes who are only rewarded with full scholarships. Players who dare try to profit from their athletic exploits by selling their merchandise or autographs are regularly slapped with lengthy suspensions and other violations.
Many have spent years arguing whether race plays a factor in the NCAA’s exploitation of college athletes. But make no mistake about it, the so-called “Rich Paul Rule” sent a very loud, clear and bigoted message about where the NCAA stands.
Paul grew up on Cleveland’s east side in the Glenville neighborhood at a time where the area struggled to grapple with high crime, drugs and poverty. He lived in a one-room apartment above his father’s store, R & J Confectionery. Paul would later go from selling throwback jerseys out of the trunk of his car to representing top NBA stars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons and Draymond Green.
But Paul’s recent dealings with Oklahoma City Thunder Rookie Darius Bazley may have put him in the NCAA’s crosshairs. While Bazely was still in high school, Paul got him to skip college last season and instead accept a $1 million internship with New Balance while he prepared for the NBA Draft.
Some of Paul’s business methods, particularly Davis’ departure from New Orleans and alleged efforts to wield personnel power within the Los Angeles Lakers organization, have been fairly criticized. But the 37-year-old agent possesses an impressive client list and portfolio of lucrative deals that undoubtedly illustrate his high level of competence. If the NCAA’s new rule would have gone to effect, someone like Paul would be barred from representing athletes deciding whether to enter the NBA draft or stay in school.
Paul’s rags-to riches story is one that should be celebrated and presented as an example of how blacks can overcome obstacles to achieve the American dream. But the NCAA, an organization run primarily by white men, has deemed future overachievers like Paul as threats to its established power struture.
It’s a sad story as American as apple pie.
From the black codes, to poll taxes and literacy tests, the United States has a long, cruel history of putting restrictions in place to exclude African-Americans from exercising their rights and pursuing the American dream. Blacks and others within the global majority have become all too familiar with being met by sudden roadblocks once small steps toward progress are made.
The same could be said for the world of sports, where many have theorized the growth of analytics in basketball has led to less black coaches and executives being offered opportunities in the NBA. This past season, the NFL saw owners hand out pink slips to five of the league’s seven African-American coaches.
But the NCAA’s proposed restrictions on agent certifications were more offensive, blatant and morally bankrupt. The NCAA brazenly attempted to take advantage of America’s disproportionate access to higher education for black and brown people.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, nearly 72 percent of white college students finish a four-year degree within six years compared to 56 percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of blacks. Other studies show the global majority is more likely to be impacted by tuition costs and student debt than its white counterparts. Experts say racial achievement gaps in America start as early as kindergarten.
The racism that continues to plague our education system is one of the country’s darkest truths and the NCAA’s exploitation of America’s shortcomings to protect its pockets mark a new low for the organization.
The NCAA has shown its willingness to change the rules of the game when it feels threatened by the global majority. It may be time for the global majority to start thinking about taking its ball and going home.