About a week and a half ago, Nelson Mandela, the Dhali Llama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Liu Xiaobo collectively delivered one of the greatest speeches on world peace in the 21st century. It was critically lauded almost universally, except by Vladimir Putin, because, well, Vladimir Putin is a dick. In the trying times we seemed to be immersed in, it was the cool-cloth-to-the-hot-brow the streets needed.
Just look at what some of our foremost thinkers and philosophers had to say about Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins' speech at Big Ten media weekend:
CHICAGO – Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins received a nearly one-minute standing ovation for his speech at the annual Big Ten luncheon, and during the ovation coach Mark Dantonio can be seen mouthing the word “special” to new Minnesota coach Jerry Kill.
- Greg Johnson, The Grand Rapids Press
Throughout his engagement, Cousins also laid down a few wisecracks to keep the crowd feeling light.
"If you want to break your finger, touch my bicep," he told the audience.
- Michael Ferro, Michigan State Examine
People flooded Cousins and his parents in Holland with phone calls and text messages after the Holland Christian graduate’s moving message on July 29 about the privilege of being a college football player, among other topics.
- Jon Schultz, The Holland Sentinel
It was an "awe-inspiring" speech in some corners of the internet. It appeared in various Tweets and re-Tweets on my Twitter timeline, usually with something like "WOW WHAT A SPEECH" or "WHAT AN ELOQUENT YOUNG MAN" attached to it. Now, my attention span only operates in about 45 second bursts; (people over 26 just wouldn't understand), so naturally, I hate speeches. The other night, however, I got bored of watching soccer goals on YouTube, so I decided to see what one of the sharpest minds of my generation had to say.
My first thought after reading/watching it was... really? This is what earns rounds of applause in a room of some of the B1G's most influential personalities? A speech that waxes poetic on what an honor it is to play football in the B1G 10? On what a privilege it is to play football in a stadium packed with tens of thousands of people? On what a privilege it is to play against a rival coach who is 85 years old and is one day going to be killed during one of his practices by the 16th collision he never saw coming?
What is so thought provoking and awe-inspiring here?
Few things. First, I think we're all privileged here. I'm a broke college student and it sucks. Am I privileged? Uh, judging by what's going on in Somalia (pictured to the left), I'd say so. If I were to give an entire speech on this concept, would it be hailed as awe-inspiring? I think this all goes without saying.
Secondly, the idea that this is a golden bullet in the "should college athletes should get paid or not" debate is as comical as it is ludicrous.
Third, reading between the lines of Cousins' speech, where he used the word "privilege" 23 times, I think it's pretty easy to discern what he's actually saying: "DEAR NCAA & OLD PEOPLE, FORGET THESE SCANDALS. WE GET PAID LIKE PRINCES. HONESTLY. COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS JUST AS PURE AS YOU SO DESPERATELY WANT IT TO BE. AND YES, OHIO STATE, MY TROLL GAZE, WHICH IS MASTERFULLY CLOAKED IN POLISHED PROSE, IS TRANSFIXED DIRECTLY INTO YOUR GREEDY SOULS RIGHT NOW."
You could almost hear college presidents and NCAA President Mark Emmert cackling with glee.
I'm sure the NCAA elders are already cooking some half-baked scheme like "cost of attendance" scholarships, which will enable them to quell this debate for the next 25 years. Unfortunately, Cousins, who, all kidding aside, is probably in the 97% percentile of public speakers in the 18-24 demographic, missed a chance to actually change the obtusely framed debate.
The most frustrating thing, for me at least, was that he threw around the word "privilege" 23 times and never once talked about what privilege actually means in the current NCAA system.
To be clear, Kirk Cousins is probably a better human being right now than I ever will be. Hell, I'd wager he's better than most of the degenerates reading this article on their company's computer right now. (Use your personal smart phone to browse the internet, rookie).
But, this current system was built for kids like Kirk Cousins. He grew up in Iowa, a son of two college graduates (back when a Bachelor's degree was worth something), and like all white kids in Iowa (redundant, I know), grew up dreaming of becoming a Hawkeye star. He attended a private Catholic school. Of course after high school, he had but two MAC school offers ... until at the VERY LAST MINUTE... Mark Dantonio descended from the skies and offered him a scholarship to Michigan State. He red-shirted his freshman year, and now he's a fifth year senior leading a scrappy Michigan State squad (which will probably culminate in him losing 42-17 in the Outback bowl to the 5th best team in the SEC). He's also majoring in something called "Kinesiology".
He's basically straight out of the college football utopia some people like to pretend we live in. He's the projection from the fantasy about sports that are spun to us when we're little kids and so masterfully stroked by some writers today. (HELLO MR. WRIGHT THOMPSON, HOW R U TODAY, SIR?) These are the same people that let their kids look up to athletes as role models, and then gets shocked when some of them don't live up to their expectations. (And anybody letting their child grow up looking up to somebody because they can throw a ball or run fast, I have a mere three letters for you: L-O-L).
But Cousins is merely a diamond found in the sewers, which the the NCAA powers-to-be will hoist into the air and then tell us all (from their multi-million dollar retreats) that the system really isn't broken. Meanwhile everybody is still up to their thighs in feces.
What Kirk Cousins ignores is the fact the stadiums would not be packed with tens (and hundreds) of thousands of people if everybody had the talent level of Kirk Cousins. (Doubt me? Who would you rather watch? Cam Newton or Kirk Cousins? Ohio State-Alabama or Northwestern-Louisville?)
It's the kids who don't come from privilege who are set up for failure.
A lot of kids coming into NCAA football programs don't come from two parent homes. Especially two parents who are college graduates. They don't have the structure the seclusion of Iowa can provide. Some of them play their youth football in a Miami youth league where people openly deal drugs and gamble on youth games. Some kids don't come from private schools in Iowa, but are pushed through broken high schools which are more than willing to coddle them and bend their grades. Where was talk of that kind of privilege?
What if Cousins were good enough to garner national attention, so he got exploited by the likes of ESPN, Rivals, and "street agents"? (I'm still waiting on the definition of that term, though). And what if he didn't come from a nicely structured family? What if he had felt responsible for his entire family's welfare since the age of 12 due to his athletic prowess? What if he had some creepy old rich guy posturing as his "mentor"? What if the college he attended had lowered the admission standards to let him in--and thus, by definition, set him up for academic failure at the institution he attends? What if he came from a neighborhood where education isn't even considered as a viable path to success? What if he had been manipulated by people with dollar signs in their eyes for as long as he could remember? What if his dad's church had needed $250,000 of reservations to meet city code, and he could raise that money by simply signing to play a sport at the right school?
No, there wasn't any mention of that kind of privilege.
In Argentina, there's a seven year old soccer prodigy named Leonel Angel Coira. This weekend, Real Madrid, the most successful sports team in sports history, signed him to a professional contract. As Michigan scumbag Ty Duffy elaborates here, it isn't as extreme as it seems, at least to anybody outside of America. "Leo", as the prodigy apparently goes by, will move to Madrid with his family, as his father has been lined up for a job by the club. There, instead of being sucked in by people trying to sink their sinister fangs into his potential net-worth, he will go to school and train with the club's under-9 team. (Yes, professional teams have youth teams over there. I'm looking at you, NFL, and your free minor league system you've carved yourself). There, he will go to school half the day and then receive some world renowned coaching. He will be educated, but there is no mirage of amateurism which is merely used by an organization of old dudes to exploit America's tax code (which is doubly infurating considering the current financial climate).
In America, our football players don't have that option. To make it professionally, because of the structure has been molded, coincidentally by those who benefit the most financially, they have but little choice but to enter the NCAA's realm and submit to their draconian rule book.
I'm still trying to figure out what is morally wrong with taking money that people want to give you. I'm still also trying to figure out what is ethically wrong about trading your signature for a fistful of cash? If my mother was having a hard time paying rent, and I could sell my signature to some clown for $500, I'm not supposed to do that so Mark Emmert's obese ass can get chauffeured around towns he jet-sets to?
If you're without privilege, the cards in America are already stacked against you. Not everybody was built for college, so can we just end that charade right now? We're crippling them as it is, passing them through our joke of an education system, coddling them, bending admissions rules because the coach says he's the difference between 10-3 or a Rose Bowl game, then shackling them by ridiculous, arbitrary rules.
The NCAA doesn't have to pay all the players--but the fact there isn't another option just hurts kids who already have a lot of the system stacked against them in the first place. Couldn't somebody like Terrelle Pryor--who was put on this earth to play some sport, but yeah, he needs to concern himself with geology classes--have benefited from getting professional coaching from an early age? What if instead of having to masquerade as a student for 16 years of his life and being surrounded by sycophants, his throwing motion was tinkered with every day until it was perfect by professional coaches? Would the sky not be the limit for Mr. Pryor then?
What about the privilege of having an NFL quarterback for a father--like Eli and Peyton both had? How good could Cam Newton have been if his dad was Archie Manning?
But no, there was no talk of that. People just fell for the greatest old-yarn-to-gold spindling since Rumpelstiltskin. At this point I don't even know why I get surprised.
It will just continue as it always has. The system isn't broken, but we'll always continued to be so flummoxed by a 22 year old athlete who can give a polished (albeit prepared) speech to a room full of people. Yeah, this system really works.