New York Times columnist David Brooks stepped outside politics and argued that college athletes shouldn’t get paid in his column today.Brooks wrote that doing so preserves the “Amateur Ideal.”
What is this “Ideal?” Here’s his definition:
The amateur ideal was a restraining code that emphasised fair play and honour. It held that those blessed with special gifts have a special responsibility to hew to a chivalric code.
He cites Bobby Jones admitting to cheating at golf in 1925 and Hobby Baker getting only one penalty in college as proof of an amateur “golden age” from which college sports has strayed.
There’s also a whole part in the middle where he blames the commercialization of college sports on the liberal undertones of Chariots of Fire.
Here’s the problem with his argument. His “amateur ideal” isn’t a set of ethics and morals. It’s a collection of false assumptions that opponents of paying players use to justify their arguments.
Here’s what Brooks says is the effect of the amateur ideal:
It forces athletes, seduced by Michael Jordan fantasies, to at least think of themselves partially as students. It forces coaches, an obsessively competitive group, to pay homage to academic pursuits. College basketball is more thrilling than pro basketball because the game is still animated by amateur passions, not coldly calculating professional interests.
That’s just false.
Big-time athletes don’t think of themselves as students. Coaches only care about academics inasmuch as they will be penalised if the don’t meet certain standards. And even if you agree that college hoops is better than pro hoops, why should the relative thrilling-ness of March Madness have any affect on whether or not we ought to pay college athletes?
But even if you accept all of Brooks’ assumptions, it’s unclear how paying athletes would affect any of them.
Brooks’ “ideal” has nothing to do with the reality of college sports, and everything to do with fetishizing an imaginary 1920s golden age where the world worked exactly to his specifications.
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