Commentary: Questioning the role of college athletes
Questioning role of college athletes

By Jordan weissmann

Published: March 29, 2014 01:01AM
Updated: March 31, 2014 05:16AM

By Jordan Weissmann

Slate

NEW YORK — The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has already been embroiled in a scandal for allowing its athletes to enroll in fake courses for easy credit. Now, the whole controversy has a rather potent visual symbol to go along with it: a 146-word, ungrammatical essay on Rosa Parks that earned an A-.

Mary Willingham, who spent a decade tutoring and advising UNC’s jocks before becoming a whistleblower, unveiled the paper during an interview with ESPN. As the segment explains, academically troubled UNC athletes were encouraged to sign up for so-called “paper classes,” which were essentially no-work independent studies involving a single paper that allowed functionally illiterate football players to prop up their GPAs, thus satisfying the NCAA’s eligibility requirements.

Here’s the text of the sort of work that was involved:

On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. “I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them “why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.

It seems fitting that this image is making the rounds just one day after a National Labor Relations Board official ruled this week that football players at Northwestern University were not primarily students but rather employees of the school.

That’s not to say Northwestern was running a similar scam (disclosure: I’m an alum). But the point is that those who think most big-time college athletes are at school first and foremost to be educated are fooling themselves. They’re there to work and earn money and prestige for the school.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent. Before joining Slate, he was an editor at The Atlantic and and staff writer for The National Law Journal.