Exploitation in College Athletics

Ed O'Bannon (via Grantland)

Ed O’Bannon (via Grantland)

In their 2004 article for The Nation, Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier describe athletes speaking out against injustice. Some of the influential professions mentioned include Adonal Foyle and Steve Nash of the NBA, as well as Tiger Woods and Billie Jean King. Candaele and Dreier argue that there is a lack of athlete activism today, and I would agree that this is true. While recent events have inspired protests from athletes, like members of the St. Louis Rams, there are few athletes willing to speak out. College athletes are usually even less apt to speak out, because their futures often rely on scholarships that can be taken away.

(via USA Today)

(via USA Today)

Earlier this year, in April, members of the University of Northwestern football team broke that trend. They made an effort to unionize their team, and take their treatment into their own hands. The effort is still very much ongoing, and is being fought by the NCAA. There has been plenty of controversy in recent years over the NCAA treatment of players. Schools and the Association profit heavily off of the use of player names and likenesses, but the players themselves never see any of this money. We read earlier in the semester about Ed O’Bannon, the former UCLA

A Northwestern player before the union vote (via the Associated Press)

A Northwestern player before the union vote (via the Associated Press)

basketball player suing the NCAA over the continued use of his name and likeness. The Northwestern players represent a different situation, and a change in tone. They are current student-athletes taking aggressive action against what they see to be an injustice. Previously, most athletes to speak out on any institutional issue have been former players like Ed O’Bannon, or the NFL players suing the league over head injuries.

According to the Grantland article we read about Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit, athletes are more or less required to help their institutions profit from the use of their images. It is hard to argue that this is not exploitation. In fact, exploitation is defined as “the action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.” By this definition, the NCAA is surely exploiting its student-athletes. They make sure that athletes create revenue for them, and they do this by playing their sports. While some have stood against it, there are too many who have not. Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier’s call for more athletes to stand up is as relevant as ever. The more athletes to call for justice, at any level of sport, the better off everyone will be.

The Lasting Effects of Marxism in Berlin

The Berlin Wall (via WikiMedia)

This past month marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since construction began in 1961, the Berlin Wall has stood as a symbol for oppression and division. The wall originally divided the Capitalist occupied West Berlin from the Communist occupied East Berlin. The two sides had been divided by the allies t the end of the Second World War. Each side saw the other as the enemy, and the armed guards and security checkpoints lining the wall were a constant reminder of the tensions of the Cold War. Many tried to escape over the wall during its 28 years dividing Berlin, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries. The wall finally fell in 1989, as Germans on both sides chipped their way through and celebrated. This proved to be the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, one of the last true Communist states.

Building the Wall (via WikiMedia)

Building the Wall (via WikiMedia)

While the wall came down 25 years ago, there is still a sense of separation in Berlin. The new unified German government had big plans for the city, but these never quite came into fruition. The city lost population, and lost much of its identity as the wall was destroyed. The hatred of Communism in the West led to the destruction of much of East Berlin, a scar that has not been erased with time. The two Germanys were distinct and each had their own history and character. The hasty attempts to eradicate Marxism had a much different effect than what was anticipated. Rather than bringing the two Berlins and the two Germanys together, they have been kept markedly separate.

East Germany was forced to accept West German customs, including currency and national traditions, continuing the oppression that they had felt under Communist occupation. While it came from a new source, the feelings of division still existed. Rather than a physical wall, there was an invisible wall erected between the Germans and the rest of the world. Foreign governments once again worried about the power of a unified German state. Unification brought about bigger issues than it solved. Now there was an economic and governmental burden here, as well as a social burden for former East-Berliners who were often treated with reproach.

(via the Associated Press)

Most of the wall has now dissapeared, and rather than serving as a historic warning against the faults of the Cold War, the efforts to push it aside remind many of the problems it symbolized. There are few parts left standing in their original places (like the one pictured on the right), but most have been removed or taken as souvenirs. Berlin has surely changed since the wall came down, and some of the immediate negative effects are no longer as visible, but the city and the country have not been restored to any sort of former glory. The effects of Communism and division are rooted too deep, and the efforts to bury them have not succeeded.

Marxism and the Group Project


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (via WikiMedia)


(via WikiMedia)

In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels outlined their ideas for the communist state. Among these are the abolition of private property, state ownership of the means of production, and the “equal liability of all to labor.” In America, we have always had an aversion to communist ideas, yet they still find their way into certain facets of society. There have always been socialist ideas present in government, and even in our schools. In the case of schools, the group project can be seen as an example of Marxism in action.

In this class, one of the assignment options is the group project. Many of our classes assign group projects as a preview to working in the professional world, where working in groups is essential. In many ways, the group projects we are assigned in classes fit Marx and Engels’ ideals outlined in their Manifesto. When given a group project, students will often divide the tasks between the members of the group, just like the division of labor that is central to Marxism. They all are working together for a common grade, just like laborers under Marxism work for their common sustenance. In Marxism, the means of production are controlled by the government, similar to how a teacher controls the objectives for the project. Group projects also establish a single grade for all members of the group, getting rid of private grades just like private property.

The group project can be seen as a microcosm for the failures of modern Marxism. One of the biggest fears that come with it is that the other members of the group will not carry their weight, causing everyone’s grade to suffer. One of the biggest shortcomings of Marxism in practice is that the separation of labor is not always efficient, just like the group project. Because each member of the group is usually made responsible for their own part of the project, it is essential for everyone to do their part in order to have success.

(via WikiMedia)

(via WikiMedia)

Critics of Marxism often say that it cannot work in practice because there is no incentive for workers to do anything. There is also little incentive for students to do their work in a group project, because those who are less motivated may expect the others to pick up the slack for them. They will still reap the benefits of the group grade, but without doing any actual work.

After the Soviet Union formally collapsed in 1991, Marxism was considered a failure in practice. While we cannot expect the downfall of the group project anytime soon, it highlights many of the same problems that brought down the Communist Bloc.

Freedom or Fraud?

London's Canary Wharf, the Banking District (via The New York Times)

London’s Canary Wharf, the Banking District (via The New York Times)

Only a few short years after the second-largest financial crisis in American history, the big banks are back in the news again, with less than positive headlines. This time, the world’s largest banks are under fire for manipulating currency exchange markets to make a profit. Individual traders made up to $500,000 on single transactions thanks to their collusions. The conspirators were from a variety of banks in America and Europe, including JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and UBS, among others.

These banks rigged the price known as “The Fix,” which is the intraday benchmark exchange rate for a currency (in this case between the Euro and the U.S. Dollar). By fixing “The Fix,” these traders were able to make large amount of money at the expense of those who were unable to predict these benchmark prices. The Fix is set every day at 4:00 PM, when the London Currency Markets stop trading for one minute in order to set the benchmark for each currency.

“The Fix” Explained (via The New York Times)

Regulators in the U.S., Britain, and Switzerland were quick to come up with fines and punishment, announcing that the banks that settled owed a total $4.25 Billion for their currency-rigging activity. While investigations by the Justice Department are still ongoing, these fines are a major step towards greater transparency in the Investment Banking sector, especially the notoriously grey area of forex markets.

There are many people, especially here in the U.S., that are adamant about keeping regulation out of the financial industry. Even after all of the issues with irresponsible loans and bad investments, a good percentage of Americans believe that the government ought to leave the big Investment Banks alone. While some may believe in this pure form of capitalism, it is a great opportunity to apply the ideas of John Stuart Mill that we have recently discussed in class.

Mill wrote that the freedom of individuals must be protected, but government should intervene in the case that other people may be harmed. The case of these banks rigging the prices of international currency exchanges harms individual investors and smaller banks as well, and is therefore the exact sort of situation in which Mill would have called for intervention by the U.S. government.

(via The New York Times)

(via The New York Times)

The long leash that we give to big banks seems to be as loose as ever. Even after regulators supposedly tightened their grip following the financial crisis, these large banks are still able to take advantage of their size and power at the expense of others. Mill’s philosophy would be very useful for the authorities that supervise these institutions, as these banks clearly need to be reeled in further. While these banks seem to think they are free to act in any way they see fit, they need to be held accountable for their harmful actions. While this settlement is surely a step in the right direction, more regulation is necessary to keep our Investment Banks in check.

Freedom and Football


(Property of the New England Patriots)

In his best known work, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill outlined his views on the concepts of liberty and freedom of speech, among other major issues. While Mill was against censorship, he only promoted the liberty of the individual to a point. He believed that people should be able to do as they wish unless they harm others. In the case of government, Mill only advocated intervention when it was needed for the protection of society.

John Stuart Mill (via Wikimedia)

Recently, the NFL has had numerous disciplinary problems with high profile players. Scandals involving Ray Rice of the Ravens, Richie Incognito of the Dolphins, and other athletes have been the subject of extensive news coverage. The newest issue involves former Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount, who was released by the team on Tuesday. Blount was dropped by the Steelers after he left the field early last Sunday, protesting his lack of carries in the game.

Blount has had disciplinary issues in the past, and his pouting during the Steelers-Titans game can be seen as the most tame incident to date. In this case, Mill would have said that LeGarrette Blount was well within his right to walk off the field, as his form of protest and expression of his opinion did no harm. Unfortunately, the previous incidents he has been involved in would definitely have caused the philosopher to call for his removal from the sport, and I would have to agree.


Blount in his first season with the Pats (via Wikimedia)

In 2009, when playing for the University of Oregon, Blount was suspended for punching one of his opponents before going and confronting a group of fans. After entering the NFL, he had another problem in which he punched a teammate in his first season with the Tennessee Titans. He has clearly been a major issue and a threat to the safety of other players, yet he continues to play in the NFL even after being released by multiple teams. The Patriots have now signed Blount to another contract, starting his second stint with the team.

In the wake of the Ray Rice incident, the NFL vowed to take a much harder stance on domestic violence, but they clearly care little for violence towards members of their own league. As a government of sorts over the sport of football, it is their job to protect these players, and that is simply not being done. Players like LeGarrette Blount have far outstretched the right to individual liberty and free speech by assaulting other players and even putting fans in danger.

Mill wrote; “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Going by this philosophy, the only time the NFL would even have the right to intervene and remove a player is in a situation like this one, so it is incredibly surprising that they do not act. After the league has supposedly been making efforts to “clean up,” it appears that the league could still use a lesson or two in Mill’s philosophy (as well as the one they’ve been preaching).

FIFA and the Social Contract

Football soccer goal netThe Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, as it is more commonly referred to, is the global governing body for the sport of soccer. It is meant to run much like the representative governments of countries all over the world, with a congress that assembles to make decisions. The Federation is also similar to other governments in the social contracts it makes with its “subjects,” in this case, teams all over the world. Clubs agree to play by FIFA’s  rules in order to participate in competitions like the World Cup and Champions League. In the case of FIFA, the social contract is quite Hobbesian. The Federations answers to no one but itself, and this has caused a fair bit of controversy over the years.

FIFA has long been regarded as a corrupt organization. According to Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandalsthere were widespread allegations of election-rigging in FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s 2008 reelection. The book also cited various demands for payment under the table in contract negotiations. In FIFA’s social contract, the worldwide members give the congress the right to make decisions and look out for their best interests, but the organization has repeatedly breached this contract.

Most recently, there is an ongoing scandal over the bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. FIFA officials were found to have accepted bribes from officials in Russia and Qatar, the two countries selected to host the next two world cups. While many are calling for FIFA President Sepp Blatter to be replaced, this is unlikely due to the way to organization is structured. As it would be under Hobbes’ contract, the sovereign, in this case Mr. Blatter, cannot be overthrown by his subjects. A recent New York Times article highlighted the apparent corrupt culture in the worlds largest governing body in sports, describing internal investigations made by FIFA. It cited “erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions” in FIFA’s internal investigations that further tarnish the administration’s reputation. According to the article, the Federation itself paid for the investigations, and “FIFA declared that FIFA had done nothing wrong.”

This lack of accountability was cited by critics of Hobbes’ social contract long before the creation of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Jean-Jaques Rousseau and John Locke are the most well known opponents of Thomas Hobbes’ contract, and their ideas are  commonly seen as the basic for modern democracy. Rousseau criticized Hobbes’ version of the social contract because he believed that the rich and powerful should not be the only ones involved in the governing of society. Locke believed that while people gave up some rights in a social contract, they still retained certain basic rights. This is the problem that has plagued FIFA for years. The rich and powerful members of the organization continue to influence a cycle of corruption that only angers and hurts the teams and players who are beneath them. The senior members and congress make decisions to benefit themselves because there are not rules in this social contract preventing them from doing so.

In a so-called democratic process, corruption and other governmental issues should be eliminated through the collective effort of the people. According to Rousseau, it is the general will of the people that should be the source of the law. In a modern democracy, it is the responsibility of the elected representatives to fulfill the general will of the people. This is not occurring in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. They are operating under a corrupt version of Hobbesian philosophy, and it will take a replacement of the sovereign by the will of the people to change the current course of the sport worldwide.