TROY - New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden believes this ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that college athletes are university employees is a step in the right direction, but believes it is only the first step on a long road to bring about more equitable treatment.
Speaking at Troy University's annual M. Stanton Evans Symposium on Money, Politics and the Media on Friday, Rhoden told students that what unfolds in the wake of that ruling will be "interesting to watch."
"Right now we are dealing with the idea - student athletes are employees," Rhoden said. "Great, but where do we go from here? This is what makes this ruling so interesting. This is just the start of what will likely be a long journey. Some athletes may not want to be a part of a union. This will not and should not be a one-sided proposition. We also must address the question of what are the responsibilities of these athletes as employees. So this ruling is just the starting point and it will be interesting to see what unfolds."
Rhoden said he doesn't favor a "pay for play" scenario for college athletes but does see the need for some improvements in the system.
"There is nothing like a college education. The scholarship system is one of the most unique and wonderful systems on earth," Rhoden said. "What we can't lose track of is the degree. Gaining a college education is an unparalleled opportunity, and for many it is an opportunity they might not otherwise have outside of athletics. I do think there should be more resources should be given to athletes – more revenue sharing. If you are a college athlete, you ought to be able to benefit from the use of your own image."
Rhoden also put the onus on fans to return the sports industry to some level of "moral high ground."
"Fans have given the green light to continued bad behavior within the sports industry," he said. "Teams are saying to fans: 'We know we've got you hooked.' My question for fans is: What would it take for you to stay away? Fans need to either do something about the way things are or stop complaining and just accept sports with all its warts. So, this is where I am with this now – putting this burden on the fans. The contemporary sports fan has a responsibility to bring the sports industry back to a moral high ground."
Rhoden believes technological advances in communications have dealt a death blow to the concept of the sports hero.
"I think the American sports hero is dead," he said. "We just know too much about everyone these days. Years ago we didn't know the negative. I believe you can have a heroic moment or a commit a heroic act, but not be a hero."
Rhoden joined The Times in 1981 and was named sports columnist in 1990. He previously worked at The Baltimore Sun as a columnist and served as associate editor of Ebony magazine from 1974 to 1978.
He won the 1996 Peabody Award for Broadcasting as a writer of the HBO documentary "Journey of the African American Athlete." He has written two books: "Forty Million Dollar Slaves" and "Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback."
Friday's event was presented by TROY's Hall School of Journalism and Communication and the University's Center for Student Success. The symposium is named for a TROY faculty member who is a national columnist, commentator and author, and is former editor of The Indianapolis News. Stan Evans has held the University's Buchanan Chair of Journalism since 1980.
New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden speaks to Troy University students on Friday during the annual M. Stanton Evans Symposium on Money, Politics and the Media. Presented by TROY's Hall School of Journalism and Communication and the University's Center for Student Success, the symposium is named for a TROY faculty member who is a national columnist, commentator and author, and is former editor of The Indianapolis News. Stan Evans has held the University's Buchanan Chair of Journalism since 1980.