The Proletariat Athletes

Michigan Stadium brings in over a hundred thousand spectators every game, generating millions in revenue (from wikimedia.org).

Michigan Stadium brings in over a hundred thousand spectators every game, generating millions in revenue (from wikimedia.org).

Saturday mornings in the fall, millions of people flock to collegiate football stadiums across the United States to watch their favorite teams compete. This is an American tradition which benefits the spectators, players, university staff, and sponsors. Children dream of one day being able to run onto he field in front of a crowd of thousands as student-athletes. These student-athletes, who represent the university in their respective sports, play on a level most could never dream of being on, which generates profit for the university. Here lies a difference between collegiate sports and high school sports, collegiate athletics generate large profits for universities in contrast to menial amounts for high schools. Where does this money go? Well it goes to the university and sponsors, not the players. Applying the viewpoints of Karl Marx, one could argue the athletes are much like the proletariat, while the university and patrons are the bourgeoisie. These two groups would therefore be in a class struggle. 

Karl Marx's idea of the proletariat (student-athletes) and the bourgeoisie (universities) is very applicable to collegiate sports (from wikimedia.org).

Karl Marx’s idea of the proletariat (student-athletes) and the bourgeoisie (universities) is very applicable to collegiate sports (from wikimedia.org).

Karl Marx in his publication, The Communist Manifesto, argues for the existence of a class division between the wealthy and the workers. The bourgeoisie are the upper-class and wealthy division of society which owns what is called the means of production, these are the methods and materials required to create goods.  While this group owns the means of production, they do not produce the goods themselves but rather have workers fulfilling these duties. These laborers are by definition poor and given by Marx the title of proletariat. All that the workers have to offer to the bourgeoisie is their laboring ability which is their only reason to be employed. The proletariat works for the bourgeoisie and according to Marx, the proletariat will eventually overthrow their employers. For this to happen, the proletariat would first realize their exploitation and then use their numbers for this rebellion. Marx argued the end result of this struggle would be classless communist society.

In the case of collegiate sports, the athletes generate profit for the university and sponsors whom control the means of play. These means of “play” as I am calling them are an application of the means of production. They would include the facilities, equipment, coaches, and team which are required for the competitions and create financial yield. These means are completely dependent on the schools while the players are used for their skill in this system. Without the players, this revenue has no method of being generated but then without the means of “play”, the players have no way to play their sport at the collegiate level. In this sense, the players are dependent upon the universities and corporate sponsors just as the proletariat is dependent upon the bourgeoisie. The athletes are not receiving financial benefits, just the opportunity to play while those who control the means of “play” control the profits. Marx here would argue these players will “revolt” against the universities and sponsors to create a more communist system.

Ex-Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter pushed for the formation of a union for student-athletes (from thegrio.com).

Ex-Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter pushed for the formation of a union for student-athletes (from thegrio.com).

Obviously there will not be violence brought upon by this supposed revolt; strikes and legal battles would likely be the methods of change. The fighting force would in my opinion be a college athlete player’s union, much like the one proposed by Northwestern football players. This union would work for the collegiate athletes to be paid in dollar sums, which would financially limit the control of universities over sports. A number of athletes disagree with the current system and their leadership would help the other hundreds of thousands of athletes to support the cause. The means of “play”/production would be disrupted because players are central to the business of collegiate sports. This disruption would be quickly corrected due to the possibility of losing millions of dollars. However, this would not create anything close to a classless communist society but rather a system where the financial fruits of athletes’ labor is shared among all involved. It is only a matter of time before athletes attempt a “rebellion” of sorts and they are given financial compensation for their efforts. Marx would argue for this revolution into a state of equality between the student-athletes and the universities. This American tradition would be, for better or worse, changed forever into more of a business than a game.

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One thought on “The Proletariat Athletes

  1. There is surely a class struggle between universities and student-athletes. This is evident not only in the pay-for-play debate that you mentioned, but also in the push for more scholarship money and better facilities for certain teams. Players do not currently get to reap the financial rewards of their own work that the universities enjoy. I think you made a great connection between this struggle and the one outlined by Marx, as they are connected in ways I did not see before even as a student-athlete.

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