NFLPA Head Foxworth Calls for Change to the NCAA System
Domonique Foxworth’s time these days is in some ways similar to what it was like at the University of Maryland during his time in college—split between football and school. But the big difference is now what kind of school and what type of football business. His waking time is not in College Park; it is in Cambridge, Mass., attending Harvard Business School.
His time thinking football is not about practice in Baltimore or Denver; it is about the governance of football as president of the NFL Players Association and now as a producer of a movie whose implications could also have far-reaching effects on the collegiate level.
The film is called Schooled: The Price of College Sports, which will air on EPIX on October 16 and is the latest in a series of groundbreaking calls to action being felt throughout the sports, business, legal and collegiate worlds collectively in recent months—all of which are pointing to some form of change coming in the way athletics does business.
The last few weeks have been especially momentous for the cause, whether it is the multimillion dollar settlement of the Ed O’Bannon EA Sports likeness issue, select NCAA football players forming a silent protest with the mark #APU (for “All Players United”) on their uniforms at schools like Northwestern and Georgia Tech, or most recently the story broken by Bloomberg News on Tuesday night that mega-lawyer Jeffrey Kessler is forming a branch of his firm to represent college athletes against the NCAA in cases where financial rights may be an issue or opportunity.
All that is a snowballing mix of news, and Foxworth sits in the unique place where he can make an impact heading the NFLPA while hitting the books full-time with the Crimson. So with all that on his plate, and his college days as a student-athlete well in the rear-view mirror, why take this on now?
"College athletes don't have a platform or a voice—and I'm hoping this film, like Taylor Branch's article in The Atlantic a few years ago, will elevate the dialogue around this topic and help inspire some change in the business of college athletics," he said. "The main message I want to get across is that athletes deserve a place at the table. The framework of how decisions are being made today is unbalanced, and it always has been."
So is it about, as many have positioned it, that athletes should be getting paid to play in college? There are many that say no, it is not the issue. It is about fair and equitable treatment by employer and employee, an issue which Foxworth sees as going well beyond what goes on on an athletic playing field.
"I have said this before, but I see many similarities in what is going on in college sports to the Civil Rights Movement,” he added. “It is the same basic principle where you have a large group not being fairly represented in the decision-making process. Until things change and athletes have a seat at the table, the system of college athletics is broken."
That broken system was reflected in the recent comments in Schooled by Houston Texans star Arian Foster, who said that he accepted money not to play at the University of Tennessee, but to have food to eat at the end of the month—a violation which he sees, and many others do, as ridiculous, given the amount of money some institutions are taking in from athletes in major sports like basketball and football. Is Foster alone in his thoughts about the college system? Foxworth and many others do not think so.
M. Quentin Williams was a four-year football letterman at Boston College and has gone on to be an accomplished lawyer, lecturer and professor who has spent time in both the federal government and as a senior team official with teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars. Through all the benefits he received on a college campus, he still felt, as a freshman from a single-parent home he was ill-equipped to deal with all the challenges that large-scale college athletics brought on.
Like Foxworth, Williams believes that change is in the offing not just for elite athletes, but for all those who represent a university on the athletic field.
“The NCAA is at a crossroads and must properly address the issue of compensation for college athletes,” Williams said. “No longer can this institution deny these young leaders the fundamental right to be compensated for their services. This is a terrible imbalance that must be remedied immediately. And allocating funds to the athletes who put their bodies on the line for their universities every day is one way to handle this issue.”
Also like Williams, Foxworth’s time for the Terps was not an unpleasant one, although he continually, like Foster, felt part of a silent majority of athletes who were still being exploited despite the benefits of tuition and the bright lights of the NFL that followed his time at Maryland.
"As a college athlete I benefited from the experience and despite the system, and as I always saw the inequity in what was going on,” he added. “Athletes' undergraduate-degree options are dictated by the team schedule. And, there are many majors you would like to pursue—engineering, math, sciences—but you can't, because of the hours those classes require. The expectation is that my primary responsibility is to the team—which means 5 a.m. workouts, practice, weight-room training, watching film, travel for games. There are so many constraints on an athlete's time, it limits your experience—both in school and after college."
It is that overall experience which Foxworth—who in his NFLPA role has felt a strong drive to assist in the awareness of a host of social issues, including rights for the LGBT community and greater tolerance among athletes—hopes to see change for the more equitable under his watch. That’s why he has found the time to sign on for a film project and trumpet change in a system which he had benefitted from.
Will it make a difference: the film and the cause? Or will the system stay as status quo, without any equitable solution for those on the field? It is hard to say now, but the battle lines are being drawn, some heavy hitters are lining up and who knows—somewhere down the line it will be a study for HBS, one for which one of its current students is helping rewrite the playbook.
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.
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