I’ve said for years that I felt the NCAA exploits college athletes and does very little in return for their services. College athletes are expected to be at every practice, show up to every class they are enrolled in, make good grades, be involved in their school community to a certain degree, make certain community appearances, perform on their respective “playing field”, and above all else, do all of this free of charge. Depending on who you ask, they will tell you, it’s a fair trade off for a FREE education. Others will tell you that the NCAA has an obligation to compensate the student athletes for their services. Regardless of how you feel about their compensation, or lack of, it’s safe to say, we can all make the connection that the athletes are “working” to put themselves through college- whether on scholarship, work-study, or loans.
If the student athlete is working to put themselves through college, should they not be entitled to the same standards as the rest of America when it comes to working environments? Mind you, I’m not talking about financial compensation; I’m talking about “workplace behavior,” and the conditions that go on in the workplace of their campus. Student athletes are subjected to workplace harassment on an almost daily reoccurring basis. Let me explain.
Workplace Harassment is a Form of Discrimination: Further defined as, “Unlawful harassment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal authority.” It goes on to say, “Workplace bullying occurs when an employee experiences a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes harm. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical forms of school bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace is in the majority of cases reported as having been perpetrated by someone in authority over the target. However, bullies can also be peers, and on occasion can be subordinates. Bullying can be covert or overt. It may be missed by superiors or known by many throughout the organization. Negative effects are not limited to the targeted individuals, and may lead to a decline in employee morale and a change in company culture.”
I know, you’re thinking, “Where is he going with this?” I’ll tell you. I’m talking about when an athlete “suits up” for their respective team and makes their way on to their respective playing fields. Whether it is football, baseball, basketball, golf, or any other of the many collegiate sports around the nation. These student athletes represent their schools as ambassadors, as chairmen, and as stewards of the game. However, if you take a look at what they provide to their schools and the NCAA, they are essentially employees for their sports, schools, and the NCAA. The NCAA will say they are not; they are not entitled to salaries, unions, or other benefits that come with being an employee in corporate America.
Even as a member of the Armed Forces of America, U.S. Service members are not entitled to unions, but they are entitled to equal opportunity, equal treatment, and equality in their respective workplaces. I’d argue that there’s no job in America more grueling, more demanding, or more challenging than serving a deployment in the military. Whether it’s a tent in the jungle, a bunk in the desert, or a rack on a ship the conditions are never going to be as good as being home. Still, even with the toughest working conditions you can imagine, and sometimes conditions that come under fire from the enemy, U.S. Service members have rules against workplace harassment. If I drove up to a base today, began yelling and calling the sentry watchstander names, I’d be quickly asked to leave, if not detained.
Now, change that to a college football game. College basketball game. Twenty-five thousand to one-hundred thousand screaming fans, some cheering their team on to victory, some rooting for the other team to lose. Most of the time, even in the sporting chaos that is athletics, it’s manageable and acceptable, but when does it cross the line and become workplace harassment? If Johnny Manziel is walking on to the field at Texas A&M and a random, non season-ticket holding fan yells, “You suck Manziel” does that cross the line? I think no, it doesn’t. Now, what if the fan was a 5 year season ticket holder for Alabama, a fan who follows Alabama to every single game they play, and at every single game spends the entire game verbally assaulting the opposing team. What if this fan always gets tickets right behind the opposing teams sideline so he can scream at them? You might say, “It’s a football game, it’s the fan’s right.” You would be wrong.
NCAA Fan Code of Conduct (FCOC) clearly state:
Ø The following violations should be identified as actions that may result in sanctions:
Ø Behavior that is reckless, dangerous, disruptive, or illegal in nature.
Ø Demonstrating signs of impairment from alcohol or other substances.
Ø Foul or abusive language or obscene gestures.
Ø Interference with the progress of the game (including entering the field of play or throwing objects onto the field).
Ø Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel or law enforcement officers.
Ø Verbal or physical harassment of the opposing team’s players or fans, field officials, or stadium personnel.
The NCAA clearly states that no opposing fan can verbally or physically harass the opposing team’s players; yet, the NCAA rarely does anything about it. If ever. Fans will get ejected from games if they fight, sure, of they throw things on the playing field, but when’s the last time anyone recalls seeing a fan removed for yelling at the opposing team?
Now, take a look at the case of Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart. On the road in Lubbock, TX against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech and the coaching staff has to warn the team before the game of a fan. A FAN! A fan that has for years verbally assaults and harassed opposing teams and their players so much so, that teams and coaching staffs have to warn their players of him. That is not a casual fan cheering on their team, that IS WORKPLACE HARASSMENT. The NCAA and Texas Tech both had an obligation to student athletes to ensure they were provided an environment that was free of this type of behavior, and they failed. They failed their fans, their boosters, their supporters, and they failed Marcus Smart. Making a legitimate basketball play, Marcus Smart’s momentum carried him in to the crowd behind the goal where he was subjected to this fan. I can’t justify or support his reaction to the fan, but he should have never been subjected to it anyways. Texas Tech should have taken the initiative years ago to control the fan and require him to watch the game in a manner that abides by the FCOC.
I think the NCAA and Texas Tech both owe Marcus Smart an apology for failing to ensure he, and any other opposing players, an environment free from this type of behavior. Additionally, I think Texas Tech has an obligation to address this fan. I’m aware the fan has voluntarily given up the remainder of this season, but it doesn’t alleviate Texas Tech from their obligations.
Texas Tech and the NCAA, let’s see you step up. I want to see the NCAA protect their student athletes as they claim to be doing already.