College athletes have power and influence when they rally together. The football team at the University of Maryland, College Park (Maryland) proved this when the players caused a highly regarded booster to be removed from the team's flight prior to their game against the University of Michigan. The booster, Rick Jaklitsch, made insensitive comments about Jordan McNair, a former Maryland football player who died on June 13, 2018. McNair died as a result of a heat stroke he suffered in a team practice on May 29, 2018.
Jaklitsch essentially blamed McNair for his own death. His comments did not sit well with the remaining members of the team. Accordingly, when the players learned Jaklitsch was scheduled to fly with them to Michigan, they demanded that he be removed from the flight. Thereafter, Jaklitsch was removed.
The Unrealized Power of College Athletes
Maryland's football players successful effort to remove Jaklitsch from their team flight shows just how powerful college athletes can be. It seems as though college athletes may think they are powerless. However, the opposite is true. College athletes have the power to effectuate real change because they are the labor force driving a billion-dollar industry. There is so much money at stake in college athletics. All of that money rides on the athletes' willingness to compete.
Accordingly, when athletes are unwilling to compete things change. This was proven in 2015 when the University of Missouri (Missouri) football team forced the resignation of the university president, Tim Wolfe. Members of the student body called for President Wolfe's resignation due to his failure to adequately address the volatile racial climate on the campus. Very little was accomplished in the student body protest until members of the Missouri football team refused to play unless President Wolfe resigned. Two days later, President Wolfe resigned. Missouri would have faced a one million dollar payout to Brigham Young University if they forfeited the game. The football players' refusal to give their labor forced the university to take action or suffer a major financial penalty. Accordingly, this situation proves that college athletes have power because of the financial incentives that are tethered to their labor.
College Athletes Are Their Most Powerful Advocate
Several people advocate on behalf of college athletes' rights in a variety of ways. Some advocate for their rights in court while others create documentaries exposing the ugly truth about the NCAA and the billion-dollar college athletics industry. This advocacy is needed and serves the greater purpose of helping the rights of college athletes to finally be recognized. However, the college athletes themselves have the most power to be their best advocate and effectuate immediate change. The labor of college athletes is what drives college athletics. Without their willingness to give their labor, there would be no one to coach and no content to leverage billion-dollar television deals.
If college athletes used their labor as a bargaining tool for more freedom, they would likely see immediate change. They could bargain for the right to profit from their own name. It is true that college athletes do have some incentive to give their labor because they may receive a cost of attendance scholarship. However, many college athletes are uniquely situated to receive other benefits and should be allowed to do so. College athletes have the power to be the change that many of them may want to see.