Using the sensitive tradition that endures fans of every college program towards the humility of our lumberjack-infested friends at the University of Oregon, Duck comments have been fired this week, over the antics of Husky basketball graduate Vinoy Overton.
As UW pummeled the Ducks in the Pac-10 basketball tournament in March, Overton sat glumly on the Husky pine, suspended by a fed up coach due to accusations from a 16-year-old high school student.
Let me say up front that this is NOT an attempt to defend Overton. It is not. We're all outraged over the charges against him and should be. Exploiting others for profit is never ok. Ever.
If you're unfamiliar with the story, earlier this month Venoy Overton was arrested and charged with promoting prostitution—forcing similar aged girls to perform sexual acts and then demanding profits be split with him.
Like most University of Washington fans and anyone familiar with the struggles of poverty, I too am horrified by what Overton is accused of. There is no excuse for exploitation of other human beings for profit, regardless of one’s own struggles.
Nothing justifies it. Not issues currently being wrestled with, not the NCAA doing the same with collegiate athletes, not past generations involved with slavery. Nothing.
The fact that it happens to be young women exploited for sexual favors in Overton’s case is particularly distasteful, and it’s especially difficult to fathom when it comes from college graduates who are supposed to know better.
Overton either skipped the classes that deal with such topics, or our educational system has been a dismal failure. If a four-year college grad can make it through coursework without the common tenants of basic morality wreaking havoc on one’s conscience, then as a society we’ve completely failed in our schools and universities!
Both fans and foes of the University of Washington basketball program see that behavior as “punks running a muck,” where a tattooed athlete, coddled and praised from an early age, sees himself as above the law and therefore willing to participate in any scheme for profit without consequences.
And yet just when I'm about ready to pick up the first stone, I have to ask myself if I’m not being just a tad hypocritical, since so many things in my own life are not exactly pure and pristine.
Attitudes about matters that nobody else sees, hidden away in the deep corners of my life.
We have the NBA, a professional basketball league, demanding hundreds of millions from taxpayer money for new un-needed arenas. Money that probably aught to go towards schools and roads, blackmailed out of communties.
How is mis-spending millions of dollars less immoral, than what Overton did? From where I sit it seems very similar in terms of immorality.
Venoy Overton is just a kid, while some of us throwing the stones are older than some mountain ranges. You could blame his sins on youthful stupidity, but what could possibly be the excuse of accomplished businesmen that exploit the poor for profit?
Reading and hearing comments from sports fans, it appears the hypocrisy is wide-spread.
One particular comment from a devoted Duck fan makes me wonder why people in Oregon feel so self-righteous?
"Log in your own eye” I believe they call it.
Said Oregon Duck fan Chris Anderson:
“Hey Phil, Vinoy Overton is a class act isn't he. Sounds like he should have been locked up a long time ago, but at least Seattle was nice enough to let him help you guys out first!! You're right, huskies are classy”
I got ticked off when I read that, but mostly because Mr. Anderson’s comments are closer to being correct than incorrect.
It’s difficult for fans at UW to claim the moral high ground, when one of your own former players is making the kind of statements that Venoy Overton is alleged to have made.
But what Oregon fans might want to think about, is how Overton exploiting people for profit is any different than Phil Knight and Nike exploiting people for profit ? Phil Knight has made, and continues to earn, profits from firms that abuse and exploit the poor.
Oregon fans claim that Phil Knight is merely sub-contracting the manufacturing process. Ok fine, but does that not make him directly responsible for the way in which these manufacturers conduct business? If you sub-contract with a independent business, in reality you become part of that business. Especially when your business is the vast majority of their business.
In the University of Oregon's case, they too have become directly linked to the abuse Phil Knight is being accused of in the third world. The profits Nike makes from firms that pay their employees 21 cents an hour while working in unsafe conditions, are now financing the Ducks football & basketball programs.
In both Overton's and Nike's sub-contracting situations, humans are viewed as simple assets like saws or pencils, exploited for what they can earn. Disturbingly similar to the slavery of prior generations, of which this generation feels so morally superior.
And it's not really a liberal vs. conservative matter either, since Overton and Nike have nothing to do with politics. But if you insist on making it political, which ideology insists that forcing women into prostitution is just? Which one condones eight-year-olds sewing soccer balls for 12 hours a day?
Perhaps the biggest sin Overton committed was getting caught and publicized?
Tell me again, how much money did that new “Deep in the Woods” arena cost, which Mr. Knight donated to Oregon? Where did that money come from? How was it earned?
And what about the uniforms, and the new locker rooms, and everything else that the Duck program enjoys? Who financed these buildings? Wasn't dirty Phil Knight's fingerprints over the entire organization at Oregon, from blue prints to who gets hired as a football coach?
It appears the only difference in these two cases is that the guy who made the most money from this sort of behavior is getting away with it, while the guy who just got started doing simular things, got caught.
Other than that, what's the difference? Exploitation is exploitation! It doesn't really matter who is doing it.
Accusations continue to flow, insisting Nike has not reformed and has no intention of doing so. In spite of contrary promises made at Congressional hearings over a decade ago. Nike continues to earn millions of dollars from exploiting third-world workers, in conditions that most of us wouldn’t tolerate for our least favorite pet.
And yet Oregon fans feel justified to criticize Overton, if recent blogs are any indication, for doing roughly the same thing to young women that Nike is accused of doing to kids even younger. Only in the later case, Oregon gets to share the profits for new stadiums and pretty uniforms.
Sorry, but I'm not seeing that either institution has the high ground in this matter. Maybe it's time we all sit down and do some self-reflecting instead of hating on a 22-year-old former basketball star whose career and future is now ruined?
Is taking money from someone earning it via worker exploitation, any less horrendous than what Overton is accused of doing?
I say no it is not. BOTH situations make me suspect that whatever we're teaching our kids needs to change. This is not what we envisioned four decades ago during all the peace marches and cries for justice.
This is just more of the same!
Other links pertaining to recent activity on this subject
For more on this subject by the same author, see: Nike, Phil Knight and the University of Oregon: Should the Ducks be Doing It?