Your Whole Life is Thunder

By Johnny Ginter on July 31, 2013 at 2:00p
A business, manGotta admit, the dude rocks a suit

So, for the purposes of this post, I wanted to find a cool quote about privacy to put in my intro so I might be able to trick some of you into thinking that I'm well read and insightful. Since 10 seconds on Google didn't turn up anything relevant from quote superstar Mark Twain, I went with this one from author David Brin:

"When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else."

Which is a pretty good quote that fits in perfectly with my theme today! And since Mr. Brin, science fiction author who lives in Encinitas, California with his wife Cheryl, is so smart, I figured I need more information on the dude. An uncomfortable amount of information.

Literally three minutes later, and I have his home address, phone number, wife's place of employment, and where his youngest son goes to school. I'm reasonably sure where his oldest son works and I'd try and dig up some dirt on his daughter but that just seems a bit much.

Here's the thing, though. There probably aren't a lot of people on this site or in the general population of the planet who really feels the need to know any of that information. David Brin is an accomplished and award winning author. But he's not a football player, so no one cares where the guy walks his dog or if his wife spits her gum out the window of her car or the underpass where his sons roll bones with a gang of bikers every Thursday night.

And that's because David Brin the human is boring. But that's good! Boring is an asset to be cherished. Boring is a warm blanket of social indifference wrapped around you in a cold winter of discontent, and it's way better to be boring and comforted than awesome and freezing your ass off. Okay, maybe only sometimes it is. Being awesome is still pretty awesome.

One of the things that I think all the drama over the Manziels and Hydes and Robys of the world has incontrovertibly proven is that college football players from major programs are essentially state employees. Never mind that they don't make an official salary, the public scrutiny that they face on a regular basis makes them de facto public servants. And as public servants, football players aren't just beholden to the rules that govern their sport and their contract with the university they attend, they're also being made accountable to the scrutiny and standards of society at large.

Which isn't always a bad thing. Most people on this site, and likely elsewhere (excepting insane trolls like Travis/Bayless/Bianchi/etc), agree that the punishment meted out the Carlos Hyde is fair. He's over six feet tall and is at least 240 pounds of scary-ass dude and charges filed or not, he tried to hit a much smaller woman when he had no real need to. If 195 pound, non-famous Johnny Ginter took a swing at a woman in a dank hellhole of a nightclub, I hope that I'd face the same scrutiny from my friends and family.

On the other hand, Ramzy's column from yesterday.

And since I agree with every word that he wrote about the kind of insane microscope that college football players are under, I thought I might take this one step further and envision two worlds: one in which we deserve unfettered access into the daily lives of young adults, and another where we don't. The former is called "horrible nightmare of a world in which we'd all be completely screwed" and the latter is called "real life."

College athletes as public servants

College athletes as college students

  • Paid salaried wage, which is then publicly accessible
  • Work is based on a literal contract, with terms and conditions
  • Can lose position for anything that even appears unscrupulous or unethical (despite not being illegal)
  • Can be disciplined for opinions that don't adhere to
  • General fund for things like retirement, lost wages, injury, etc.
  • Schedule tightly controlled
  • Rules on when and how to accept money from others, if it's allowed at all
  • Expected to be accessible to media
  • No limits on ability to make money, either from own image or through paid jobs
  • Little scrutiny on personal life, privacy is an expected right
  • Difficult to lose status through perceived moral shortcomings
  • Can express themselves and opinions freely
  • No fund or collective savings to protect from financial instability
  • Schedule relatively free; fewer demands on time
  • Media has limits on accessibility
  • Someone can buy you a one dollar five piece nugget from Wendy's without it being a violation of an archaic code

So one thing you might've noticed about this chart is that the current state of college football is that players lives are effected by rules on both sides. On one hand, they're expected to be the public servants that the media, fans, and the NCAA expect them to be, but on the other hand, we wouldn't find them as interesting if they weren't college students who are prone to doing things that would make a public servant blush.

If a college athlete is going to be expected to be a public servant, with all the expectations and pressures that go along with that, then treat them like one by making what they do a job. If that isn't the expectation, then maybe both fans and the media need to back off more than just a tad. But you can't pick and choose, especially when those in power to do the picking and choosing seem to be doing it with the expressed purpose of finding ways to eliminate monetary options for that athlete.

I'm a high school teacher, my parents are high school teachers, and many of my aunts and uncles are teachers, high school coaches, and administrators in the public school system. Our salaries are a matter of public record, we are beholden to rules and regulations that we have no say in, and our private lives and opinions can cost us our job. But since it is a job, and we do have contracts and unions and lawyers and paid salaries, that's an acceptable part of the privilege of teaching.

The response to this is that it's a privilege to play college football, that the joy of being lauded by millions is enough recompense to make up for all the inanities of the NCAA system. 15 or 20 years ago I might've agreed with that, but the math has changed. More and more is being demanded from players in terms of privacy, time, and whatever standards the internet has decided to arbitrarily place on an athlete (note: these standards change for every player). The idea that they aren't as accountable as any other publicly paid employee is dead wrong.

I understand that it scares some people to point out that the concept of the student-athlete is dead. There's something special about the idea of someone working as hard in the classroom as they do on the field, which earns the Renaissance Man adoration that we pile on athletes. And maybe that's the concern; that if we admit that they're really just professionals no one pays, it somehow cheapens the experience.

But that's the reality. College athletes, particularly college football athletes at big name schools, are now public servants with little expectation of privacy and a disproportionate amount of accountability. If we are going to expect professional behavior from guys like Manziel and Hyde and Roby, then let's start treating them like professionals.


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Ethos's picture

Although I support providing additional scholarship money to help with random expenses, I stop short in supporting a salary or some other benefit that reflects a job.  Is it a full time commitment?  Absolutely, but nobody is forcing them to play football, or basketball, or whatever other sport.  That is a choice they make solely on their own (and probably with some advice from family)
I think the NCAA or the schools have a responsibility to make things extremely clear with the athletes on just how public they are, to go as far as providing them classes on how to handle themselves publicly, defend themselves (in the case of the Ball incident in Wisconsin for instance), and general classes to help them for their possible futures (basic economic classes to help them balance a check book, etc). Maybe have NFL or professional sport Alumni provide seminars or advice on the next transition like how to pick an agent, how to read a contract, etc.
These are things our "educational institutions" have failed with their athletes, not monetary.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Michael Citro's picture

Startide Rising was great. David Brin can write and stuff.

pjtobin's picture

I have never heard anyone else say and stuff before. I have a new found respect for you Mr. Citro. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

buckeyepastor's picture

Manziel crying that he just wants to be left alone is a bit like the Kardashians saying they want the cameras to leave them alone.   And for the ten thousandth time, the elite college athlete is going through a 3-4 year grooming process with free room and board and, if it means anyting to them at all or not, the opportunity to a free college education.    The special teams, "scout-team" scholarship player even if not headed to the NFL is at the very least being given a free ride to a degree that hundreds of thousands of other students are going broke trying to acquire.  Whether they are getting what they're worth all along the way or not, they won the damned lottery as is compared to their peers.   And we can cry all we want about the unfairness of expecting these kids to not get into trouble, but it's part of the system that they've chosen for themselves.    

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

wojodta's picture

I agree. I don't think college players should get paid anything more than a small stipend. I do think it sucks that their every move is scrutinized but, like you said, they know that going in.

NYCBuckeye's picture

This was an interesting take, but with respect to the point made about privacy one has to ask – is the majority of the lack of privacy not self imposed? The prevalence of social media can be a double edged sword. On one hand, it provides us recruiting and football insights that those who did not have a premium membership at a recruiting site or ESPN couldn’t retrieve. On the other, athletes who seem to aimlessly tweet about whatever is on their mind (non-football related), have to keep in mind that many people are watching (and none of this is a surprise, as they see their number of followers/friends).
I am not active in social media, but when I was, I knew not to post anything incriminating for fear of a potential employer seeing it. If they were to judge me based on this, I would be in no position to complain because I said/posted it into a public domain. Johnny Manziel seemed to embrace the spotlight until there was backlash. He chose to post the tweet about leaving College Station, drinking in clubs, etc. It’s not like a newspaper source wire tapped his phone or hid in the bushes of his home. Without twitter/instagram/facebook, privacy becomes far less of an issue, particularly that which is self imposed.

ejoceans's picture

I don't agree with most about players getting paid. It wouldn't bother me one bit if they did get paid because of the revenues they bring to the school. Lets take Braxton for example. I'm pretty sure the ppl who show up at every game and pack the shoe to see him rip up the turf are paying a lot more than his education cost. As far as ordinary students go, well, thats just what they are...ordinary. Not everyone has the skills it takes to do what some of these kids do and there for the have to pay. Now of course there are the kids who get the full ride through the grades they get(which will go a long way by the way) and that may be better than the football players that are ok in college but not quite good enough to go pro. As far as the guys posting crazy things on twitter and such well they are not that stupid to not think ppl are watching especially if you are a high profile player. As much as I hate to say this I think Urban should implement a zero tolerance policy to the kids so if you don't have enough sense to walk away from a confrontation then you cant be apart of what we are doing here!! No questions asked!! Nip this acting out and drunkin bar crap right in the butt. IDK what do you think about that kinda thing? Is that too far or right up your alley?

Lets do this Brutus

skid21's picture

It wouldn't bother me if they were paid but I'm not sure how it would work. Using your example of Braxton. Would you pay him more than the guy at the end of the bench? What about non-revenue generating sports? What about athletes at schools where the athletic departments are in the red? Some could also argue that with or without Braxton the Shoe would still be sold out because most people pay to watch OSU Buckeyes rather than one particular player. If someone could figure that all out then I'm all for it.

iamcbs's picture

I love all the moralizing about why College Athletes shouldn't get paid, especially the one about how they knew what it was going in. Please remember that logic the next time you go in and ask your Boss for a Raise. Because when they hired you, you knew what it was!!

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion~Alexander the Great

steensn's picture

Please remember that logic the next time you go in and ask your Boss for a Raise. Because when they hired you, you knew what it was!!

Pure gold!

German Buckeye's picture

To put a regular guy/business slant on this argument, I think most here would eagerly sign up for a training or residency program where you'd get paid the equivalent of 40k+ annually, have generously portioned and nutritionally created meals by your personal chef free of charge, have a personal trainer to maximize your physical health and well being, have travel related expenses picked up by the company and as an aside, have thousands of people "like" you and what you do.  Oh wait, these college kids on scholarship are getting this now.  This "training" for the top of the class graduates results in millions of dollars once "training" is completed and are hired by their employer in their field of endeavor. 

AhhYes's picture

Easy to make it look generous when you mention none of the negatives:

  • Little to no free time, ever.
  • Grueling physical demands.
  • Potentially life-altering/permanent damage done to your person.
  • Extremely high behavioral standards relative to your peers.
  • Vanishingly small odds of a professional career for your trouble.
  • Should you beat those odds, a sub 4-year (on average) career awaits.
German Buckeye's picture

Sounds like you just described the standards I must live up to everyday as a Soldier...or a fireman, or policeman, etc.  I'd still take the pro's over any of the cons. 

Johnny Ginter's picture

but do you see the point here? you're already conceding that they're professionals. im not saying it's not a sweet gig to play cfb, but it's still a gig, and one that they can be dropped from at any time

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

No he's not. He's trying to draw an analogy. You want a more accurate one? You're a post graduate student on a team conducting research into cancer treatments, your work is crucial in a discovery that will ultimately result in a patent worth trillions of dollars to the University. How much of that money are you legally entitled to?
That is your real world comparison. Yes it happens all the time and it brings far more money into the school than the football team.
Paying football players (because let's be honest, when you try & create the 'myth' of the student athlete you're intentionally ignoring the vast majority of student athletes don't play football or men's basketball) should be a non-starter for anyone who places the best interest of the University over their desire to watch a few months of college football each fall.
If you really want to fix the problem; sever the unholy relationship between the NFL & NCAA. Force the NFL to subsidize farm clubs just like MLB. Put Johnny Manziel in a Fort Worth Wranglers uniform for a couple of years and you'll really see what his 'image' is worth.
That is the only real solution that isn't harmful to everyone except BCS level football players.

Johnny Ginter's picture

apples and oranges. a postgrad student doesnt have nearly the kind of intrusion into their personal lives or standard for personal behavior that a college football player (another distinction that i explicitly made). a graduate student also is doing work directly tied in to their personal and financial well being; take a wild guess as to the percentage of people who end up profiting from their area of obsession, grad students versus big time athletes in colleges, ESPECIALLY non revenue athletes.

and really, the truth is that plenty of non revenue sports require ridiculous time commitments from their players. the intrusion into their lives isn't nearly as big as in football or basketball, but the tradeoff is that a swimmer might be in the water/gym for 8 hours a day with almost zero recognition. you're assuming that a water polo player or hockey player doesnt have enormous monopolies on their time

my original point was that we already look at college football players and treat them like the minor leaguers that your solution treats them as. the problem is that solution is completely unworkwable and will never, ever happen. so the alternative is to rework the system that we have now or change our priorities.

NW Buckeye's picture

Johnny, Did you participate in college athletics? 

Jdadams01's picture

I would kill to have been able to have my every move scrutinized, have no free time, grueling physical demands, etc. for 4+ years if it meant that I got to be an Ohio State football player with a free education. I would gladly give up all of my college experiences for that and would have no regrets.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture


I like cookies.

pasadena buckeye's picture

Speaking of Brin I'm vacationing in Encinitas CA at the moment following every last article in 11 Warriors and I highly recommend this place if any of you ever make it out to Cali. It is one of the last true SoCal surfing communities left with great beaches, surfing schools for people at any level, awesome microbreweries and a real family atmosphere.

Pasadena Buckeye

andretolstoy's picture

Just got back from a location 10 minutes north of Encinitas on Monday. I didn't want to leave.

pjtobin's picture

I have mixed feelings regarding student athletes. I never attended college. So for me to debate would make no sense. I do enjoy reading these comments. And your piece Mr. Ginter added insight. Thank you. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad.