Should college athletes be paid? The perennial debate over whether the NCAA is taking advantage of its amateur athletes has reached the legislative agenda at the Capitol.
Assemblyman Chris Holden on Wednesday unveiled a measure taking initial steps to loosen the restrictions on professionalism in college sports: Assembly Bill 2747 would give California student-athletes the right to organize and allow them to earn money from commercial sponsorships.
"College athletes are currently playing in an exploitative situation," Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who played basketball at San Diego State University, said. "They are forced to pursue a higher education without the same rights or financial freedoms as any of the other students on campus."
Holden said his bill is a matter of civil rights for athletes, who are not able to profit off their own image and skill the way the universities they play for are. He proposed that any income from sponsorships be held in a trust until after a student graduates or loses their eligibility, giving them a financial cushion if their career ends in injury or they want to continue their education.
AB 2747 would also require coaches, trainers and other team staff to report to law enforcement any abuse of players that they become aware of, after the recent scandal at Michigan State University where Dr. Larry Nassar molested hundreds of female athletes for decades without intervention.
The NCAA could not immediately be reached for comment. Holden said the organization, which regulates college sports and generates more than a billion dollars in annual revenue, is his ultimate target; if AB 2747 becomes law, he said, the state could sue to make them comply.
"We're trying to force the NCAA to do the right thing," Holden said.
Defenders of the current system argue that student-athletes are adequately compensated through the higher education they receive. But critics say they players are putting their bodies on the line to make others rich while they have no recourse if they are hurt or face retaliation from their universities for speaking out.
Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player who founded the College Athletes Players Association to advocate for players' rights, pointed to the example of Stanford University swimmer Katie Ledecky, who this week announced that she would turn professional ahead of the 2020 Olympics. She can now sign endorsement deals that may be worth millions, but she loses her eligibility to swim for Stanford.
"NCAA sports is financially rich, but morally bankrupt," Huma said, slamming top athletic officials for their "multimillion salaries generated from the blood, sweat and brain damage of their players."
In a statement, legendary basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar endorsed the bill. He said student-athletes "have been treated like indentured servants."