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Opinion | Don’t hate the players, learn from their game

College football players are finally getting some of the pay they deserve. American workers could learn a lesson from that.

A college football at the goal line on a grass field

The freakout started properly around lunchtime on Wednesday, during what is college football’s first day of the early signing period. The nation’s top high school recruit, Travis Hunter, sent shockwaves around the country by turning down offers from Florida State, Georgia and pretty much every football powerhouse and instead chose to play at Jackson State University – a historically Black college on the second-tier Football Championship Series level. 

Hunter’s decision sparked a chorus of cries from the college football establishment, as the old-school powerhouses came to understand that a new day had dawned in college football. Paying players, by way of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, is now legal in college, and it seems that the nation’s high school recruits are cashing in. 

And the freakouts didn’t stop with Hunter. 

Over the course of what was a fairly wild day, numerous other top recruits made surprise announcements – many of the surprises, including Hunter’s, linked to NIL deals that promised to provide the incoming recruits with tens of thousands – if not more – annually from businesses aligned with certain universities. 

There were $50,000 deals for linemen at one school. A $25,000 deal for top recruits at another. Free meals. Free cars. Free TVs and furnishings. 

And the players took full advantage. 

By now, you’re probably asking why a column about college football recruiting is being published on a website devoted to political news. And the answer is this: This column isn’t about college football recruiting. 

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This is a column about working class people sticking together. And hopefully, through the political and voting process, building a better, more equitable America for all of us. 

It just so happens, though, that the attitudes towards these college recruits – and the vitriol directed towards them – is a fantastic encapsulation of what ails this country most right now. 

The wealthy and powerful have done a tremendous job of dividing the working class, turning people who have far more in common than we even realize into bitter enemies yapping at each other over things that don’t matter. And also demonizing one another for perceived shortcomings that are totally fabricated. 

And these recruits are a fantastic example of that. 

Before mid-afternoon on Wednesday, a number of people, including some prominent head coaches, had publicly bemoaned the NIL effect on recruiting and on players wishing to transfer from one college to another. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney called it “chaos” and said it had nothing to do with education anymore. The head of the American Football Coaches Association called it “the wild west.” Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin criticized the transfers as “free agency in college football.” 

They weren’t alone. Prominent college coaches have been lamenting the new freedoms college players have now since the day the NCAA lifted the old rules – thanks to a number of court decisions – and this new world opened up. 

And a number of fans have joined them, attacking players who wish to cash in for being “greedy” and “selfish” and hurtful to the team. Pick a college team’s message board and spend a little time reading the thoughts of fans. You’ll find an army of people who are convinced the NIL deals will ruin college football forever. 

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It’s utter insanity. 

The college players, and the soon-to-be college players, have been working their tails off for the past seven or eight years of their lives. Going to camps and spending hours upon hours in weight rooms and film rooms and training rooms and at practice. When other kids were at parties and at the beach and playing video games, they were working and honing a talent that few on earth possess. 

Put all of that in any other context – a musical genius, a math wiz, a great gymnast, hell, a gifted welder – and no one would bat an eye at them being paid. You wouldn’t even consider it. 

But in this world, the guy’s generating billions in revenue – the ones risking their careers and health – getting a fraction of the profits is somehow a major indictment of their morals? Give me a break. 

Swinney makes more than $9 million a year. Clemson, a public university, gives him, in addition to the $9 million, two cars, a country club membership and free sports tickets. Nick Saban makes more than $10 million per year and the people at Alabama bought him a house. 

And y’all are out here telling players they’re too greedy? Please. 

We have to stop this. Because this mindset – that somehow the CEOs and executives and business owners deserve outrageous salaries while the workers should be thankful to just have a job – is killing us. Literally. 

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It’s helped exacerbate the growing gulf between worker pay and executive pay in this country. It’s helped to keep workers’ wages stagnant for 40 years. 

And the worst part is we’ve done it to each other. We’ve called workers who want to unionize greedy. We’ve sided with big business over our fellow laborers. We’ve stood aside as the politicians preferred by the executives rolled back worker protections and trounced labor laws. 

All because so many people have been suckered into believing that there’s some pride to be taken from working hard without complaint about the unfair wages. That the only alternative to a low-paying job is no job. That the CEO who’s making a huge salary on the backs of his underpaid employees is somehow more deserving of nice cars and worry-free mortgage payments. 

It’s all BS. Just like what you’ve been hearing about these college players. 

Those kids aren’t greedy. They’re not selfish. They’re finally taking a little sliver of what should have been theirs long ago. 

And maybe you could learn a few things from them.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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