This is Lew Margolis.
As Attorney Kenneth Wainstein begins the latest next investigation of the impact of big-time sports on UNC, I’d like to offer two suggestions. First, refrain from using the term “student-athlete,” because this term does not clarify, it only adds confusion to the investigations and discussions that you are about to undertake. Why? Ample, excellent scholarship has shown that the term “student-athlete” is a creation of the NCAA in order to deny the students who play sports the benefits that conventionally flow to workers injured on the job – that is, worker’s compensation. If university athletes are “students” and not “workers” then magically, the legal employment obligations disappear, even when they sustain career-ending injuries to their knees or brains. For sure, we have students who are athletes, but the term “student-athlete” does them and us harm. In a university, I am sure we would all agree that a rigorous investigation should use precise and accurate language.
Second, remember that Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money was. The academic compromises made by UNC and virtually every other Division 1 school almost exclusively involve the revenue or profit sports of football and men’s basketball. Among UNC’s 800 or so athletes, there are, without question, many outstanding students. There are certainly excellent students who play football and basketball, but it’s clear to all who look that the likelihood of finding athletes where academic compromises have been made is disproportionately greater in these two sports. There are many reasons for this, but one stands out: the allure of a major professional sports contract. Although the odds are small of striking the jackpot with a professional contract, too many students in the revenue sports are encouraged and enabled to keep their eye on that jackpot, beginning long before college. Students who play lacrosse or volleyball or engage in gymnastics or swimming do not have those professional chances. Consequently, they are more inclined to take full advantage of the educational opportunities of this university, to become well-prepared to lead and serve others after leaving Chapel Hill.
Mr. Wainstein, please don’t use the term “student-athlete,” and don’t go down the many misleading paths in the world of college sports; focus your efforts on football and men’s basketball.