How Much Are You Paying for That Linebacker?

Ohio legislators would rather subsidize student-athletes than see them get a union paycheck.
Don't get any ideas, men. Photographer: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The fight over the unionization of student-athletes has, inevitably, become a political issue. Earlier this week, a group of Ohio Republicans introduced an amendment to the state's budget stating that college athletes are not employees of their respective universities.

The amendment was an obvious preemptive strike, intended to make sure that athletes at schools such as Ohio State don't get any ideas from the eggheads at Northwestern who initiated the union drive. (Northwestern football players were recently granted approval to unionize by a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago. A decision from the national board is pending.)

Earlier this year, Republican legislators in Ohio introduced a bill to restore monthly work requirements for food stamps, which had been suspended in 2009. Here's what Ohio Republican Representative Jim Jordan had to say at the time: "It's sad to see one of the two major parties step over the line and say it's good when people work less."

It is sad, Jim. Which makes it all the more curious that Ohio Republicans are trying to prevent Division 1 athletes from becoming gainfully employed. The Northwestern Wildcats aren't even asking for market-rate wages. They merely want Northwestern to pay medical expenses related to sports injuries, and for their athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of tuition and associated expenses (laundry, travel home for vacation, etc.).

For all of their rhetoric about the value of work, the legislators opposing unionization are endorsing public subsidies to student-athletes in lieu of jobs. According to an analysis by, athletes at Alabama's eight Division I universities received nearly $5 million in Pell Grant aid during 2012-2013.

The money quote: "The University of Alabama had 131 athletes receive $566,495 in federal aid, with football players accounting for 51 percent of the total. Auburn had 112 athletes with Pell Grant awards totaling $539,327." Yes, you read that correctly, taxpayers. Through Pell Grants, you are subsidizing football players at Alabama, a university whose athletic department generates $143 million a year in revenue.

So now we have another reason to support the effort to empower college athletes: to turn takers into makers. The safety net is supposed to work for those who can't help themselves -- not for those being held down by a collusive racket.

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