Letter to a College Athlete

Dear College Athlete:

Congratulations on your full athletic scholarship! Above all else, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. For the next four years, you own nothing. Maybe you don’t think you own so much anyway, but let’s make sure you understand what we mean.

You don’t own your time. We will work you hard, but anti-slavery laws constrain us, so you will have some free time. Actually, having free time is misnomer. The time won’t be free. You won’t be able to take a part-time job. You won’t be allowed to attend any event that promotes a business, or makes money in any way. The time won’t be yours. It’s really ours. We’ll tell you the kind of activities you can do with it. We might also change our minds, or reinterpret the rules we make. You’ll be responsible to know beforehand what we might decide. It’s probably a good idea to just stay in your room, and not make much noise.

You don’t own your property. You won’t have much and most of what you will have, we will give you, but that doesn’t mean it’s yours. Don’t you dare trade, or give anything to anyone who might profit by it in anyway. Don’t even think about selling anything!

You don’t own your name. We might decide to make you famous. It depends on how useful you are to us. We might have national broadcast networks follow you around with cameras. You might make millions of dollars for your school, and our partner organizations. All this will be our decision, not yours. You may not use your name to promote anything, anywhere, unless we tell you to do it.

You don’t own anything you are given. There will be people out there who will want to give you things. It might be money, it might food, or it might be a car, clothing, or tattoos. Don’t you dare accept anything – except what we give you. And remember, that which we give you, you don’t really own.

You don’t own your relationships. Usually, it’s all right if you spend time with your family. We tolerate families most of the time – sometimes we even like them. But if a family member tries to profit from your fame – REPORT THEM! Report them immediately, and have nothing to do with them. Have nothing to do with rich people who might be tempted to give you things. Have nothing to do with agents who might help you advance, or profit in any way. We’ll give you coaches, tutors, teachers, and teammates. These will be your relationships for the next four years. Just to be safe, limit your interactions to them. If any of them does something we might not like – REPORT THEM!

You don’t own your imagination or talent. Imagination and talent is for after you’re free – after you’ve given us four years of your life to make us and your school look good. Assuming you’re not one of the tiny percentage that makes a living playing sports after college, you will need that imagination and talent. We hope you still have it by then, though we really don’t care too much. Don’t you dare put your imagination or talent to work for your own benefit while you’re at school. You may not write for profit, sing for profit, dance for profit, or speak for profit. We will decide what constitutes profit, and we have lots of imagination and talent in that area. Don’t even think about starting a business – not until you are out of school, and out of the public eye.

Remember, it’s not about your success. It’s about ours.

Here are some things to ignore. Ignore that we don’t place these restraints on students with academic scholarships, or artistic scholarships: only those with athletic scholarships. Ignore the high minority population among those receiving athletic scholarships, especially compared to those receiving academic or artistic scholarships. It’s totally irrelevant.

Oh, and please don’t inquire how much we profit from maintaining the bowl system instead of a traditional national tournament in major college football.

We’d like to say how much we hope you enjoy your college career, but to be perfectly honest we hope you just follow the rules, and make us look like we’re being righteous while we are oppressing you.


Jim Crow, NCAA

Stanley McFarland is a free-lance writer living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His book, Confessions of a Protestant, published by Mariwell Publishing, is available on Amazon.com.