NFL Draft Drama

With the 25th pick in the 2019 National Football League draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected wide receiver Marquise Brown from the University of Oklahoma. As he mounted the podium, Brown could not hold back the tears. He stands some five-foot-ten, weighed in at under 170 pounds, and had suffered injuries. Still, there is no rule against running fast, and Brown can cover 40 yards in 4.3 seconds. So the Ravens made him a first-round pick.

With the 31st pick of the draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Kaleb McGary of the University of Washington, and the offensive lineman was overjoyed to hear his name called. The family had lost their farm to foreclosure and Kaleb wound up living in an RV. Yet McGary had played on, and the six-foot-seven, 317-pounder impressed the Falcons with his speed and vertical leap of 33.5 inches.

Many other players overcame hardship to gain selection and beyond the lucrative professional contracts, the athletes had another good cause to celebrate. During their college careers they had been playing for zero money, though they earned countless millions for their schools and the NCAA because people will pay to watch them. Under NCAA rules, the athletes cannot even market their own name and image. They are given tuition, which amounts to payment in kind, and hardly on a level with the revenue their raise.

Jerry Tillery of Notre Dame, the 28th pick by the Los Angeles Chargers, earned a degree in economics and before graduation worked for a hedge fund. Tillery is a rare case, and less than 2 percent of college players will be drafted by the NFL. About 50 percent of college football players do not earn a college degree.

“It is the talent of 500,000 unpaid athletes that fuels the NCAA’s billion dollar revenue stream,” explains North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, a former student athlete. “The current student-athlete model prohibits college athletes from having financial rights to use their name, while allowing an unrestrained, tax-exempt organization to monetize their images to fill stadiums, sell memorabilia and sign multibillion dollar contracts. That gets at the heart of what is wrong with the way we are currently treating our college athletes.”

Walker wants the athletes to benefit from a portion of the significant revenue they help generate. For all college athletes, especially those who remain undrafted, that would be a good call.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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