ASU generated almost $118 million in sports revenue during the 2020-21 calendar year, according to the Knight Commission. ASU has long neglected the athletes who make millions of dollars for the University, as well as athletes not playing in revenue-generating sports. It is long past time due for athletes at ASU, as well as at universities nationwide, to be treated like the workers and human beings they are.
Last summer, the NCAA updated its name, image and likeness rules to allow athletes to profit off their own images, ending the decades-long ban on university athletes from making money off their personal brands. This change represents a significant step in university athlete rights, and athletes should seize on the momentum of this change to request better conditions and compensation from ASU.
The systemic effort to misclassify athletes at universities as not being worthy of compensation runs so deep that it’s in the name we call them. The term “student-athlete” was coined by the NCAA in the 1950s to avoid classifying athletes at universities as employees so they wouldn’t have to receive workers' benefits.
This refusal to grant university athletes the benefits they deserve shows itself in ASU's current shortcomings in athlete compensation and support.
Taryn Hankins, a track and field athlete and senior majoring in nursing, wishes the University would better assist with the dietary needs of athletes.
“I do wish they would provide a little bit more in terms of nutrition because they push how important it is," Hankins said. "I just feel like sometimes it can be a little tough, putting together meals and making sure you’re fueled throughout the day."
Maria Kowal, a senior beach volleyball player at ASU majoring in biological sciences, also expressed frustration with the University's lack of nutritional support.
“If they covered at least the full week (of meals), I would feel better about it, but they don’t, so that’s one thing I wish they could improve,” Kowal said.
Kowal has seen some of her teammates struggling financially, and said that some "have had to get jobs, especially if they’re from out of state.”
Multiple ASU athletes said they wished their sport received more coverage from ASU, including Kowal, who also spoke to the differences in men's and women's sports coverage.
“I think especially with women’s sports, it’s kind of iffy … I feel like they have us there to make sure we have that sport, not necessarily to see us progress," Kowal said.
The treatment of female athletes at universities has been undeniably discriminatory in the U.S. The NCAA, for example, has undervalued and underfunded women’s basketball for years. In 2021, the NCAA provided much better gym accommodations for the men’s basketball tournament compared to the women’s basketball tournament.
Victoria Jackson, clinical assistant professor of history and a former ASU track and field athlete, said there are reforms that should be made to make conditions better for female athletes.
In an academic paper for Arnold Ventures, Jackson wrote, “Organizing Olympic sports separately (from football) could enable schools to comply with the gender equity law in substantive ways that expand participation opportunities in line with a scholastic model of sport."
Tina Doherty, a fifth-year water polo athlete at ASU, said she feels the stigma around athletes not caring for school work is her “biggest pet peeve” because she has “worked for everything.”
Clearly, athletes care about their education, too, and creating “a scholastic model of sport,” as Jackson said, could help athletes like Doherty.
While many athletes expressed appreciation and gratitude for the University and its athletics opportunities, they each had complaints. There is a historical context of athletes taking on issues they have had with their compensation, but they haven’t historically been extremely successful — and that is by design.
Dave Zirin, the sports editor at The Nation, said "the disempowering of athletes at universities is rooted in how incredibly lucrative college athletics are, particularly college football and college basketball. The more money there is to be made, the more pressure there is to have their labor under lock and key."
The lock and key that Zirin spoke of have had direct consequences, and those consequences, according to him, operate at a large scale.
“I mean, you hear athletes historically reach for the metaphor of slavery to explain what it’s like to work and not get paid, but also what it’s like to be dehumanized, to be treated as something less than human, like your body is treated as something expendable," Zirin said. "I think that the roots of that are deep in racial capitalism in this country.”
Athletes in revenue-generating sports are disproportionately Black people, and they generate billions of dollars for universities while still not being classified as workers. This revenue can come in the form of multi-billion dollar media deals.
Zirin gave a hypothetical situation where a contract increased by $5 billion. "Whose blood, sweat and tears have created that $5 billion, and where it should it by all rights go?” he said.
It seems obvious – the money should belong, at least partially, to athlete compensation and support.
It is clear that for both revenue-generating sports and non-revenue-generating sports, athletes deserve better conditions and compensation. They are human beings and workers who deserve to have their basic needs met, just like the rest of us. The resources are there to make a change.
The ASU administration, the NCAA, and the state and federal government should be pressured to ensure that athletes at universities are compensated and supported in the ways they want and deserve.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Wyatt Myskow, Logan Stanley and Grace Copperthite.
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.