College Athletes are Finally Feeling Their Power

This week, WVU football player K.J. Martin announced via Twitter that he has decided to sit out the 2020 season.  The projected starting safety said after many conversations with his family, “we feel as if it’s best to opt out and sit this season out due to my family and my own personal health issues (sickle cell, asthma).”

Martin, you will recall, is the player who raised allegations against former WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning of mistreatment and racism.  An investigation led to Koenning’s departure by mutual agreement with the University.

An unflattering conclusion here would be that the University bent over backward to thoroughly vet the accusations and then made the tough but appropriate decision, based on the investigation, to part with Koenning, and then after all that Martin decides he doesn’t even want to play.

But Martin, like an increasing number of college athletes, is exercising his power.  At last check, Martin’s tweet about his decision to opt out had 136 retweets and comments. The majority were positive.

Martin finds himself in the maelstrom because of the Koenning controversy, but he is not the only player sitting out this season for health reasons.  Some of them, like Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, are projected high round NFL draft picks who do not want to risk their health.

Meanwhile, hundreds more players who do want to suit up this season are not willing to put their faith in their colleges or conferences to look out for their best interests.

As many as 1,000 players from Big Ten schools and 400 from the Pac-12 have issued lists of demands they believe must be met for them to play.

The Pac-12 players’ demands include improved health and safety protections and efforts to end racial injustice in college sports and society. The Big Ten players call for “a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and well-being of players leading up to and during the upcoming fall season.”

These and other instances of college athletes making demands or speaking out represent what CBS Sports veteran college football writer Dennis Dodd calls a “revolution.”

“The adults had their chance,” Dodd writes.  “It has not turned out well, as they clumsily try to fit in a college football season amid a pandemic to gather revenue desperately needed for their universities. There’s only one problem for them: To get that money flowing in, they need their players in uniform.”

Until recently, that would not have been a problem. However, more big-time college athletes are realizing their true power as the generators of billions of dollars annually to pay for skyrocketing coaches’ salaries, palatial facilities, and non-revenue sports.

Additionally, social media give athletes their own platform. They are no longer beholden to university-controlled sports information offices to manage and distribute their message.

The athletes have power, and the use of that power, even if it seems wanton or misdirected at times, is causing a seismic shift in college athletics.

“With athletes formally organizing, history is being witnessed in real time,” Dodd wrote.  “They have finally realized, en masse, that they are the product.”






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