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The Bible’s Case for Paying Players

Amateurism as we known it is about to change. In defiance of the NCAA, California has passed legislation prohibiting its universities from penalizing student-athletes for signing endorsements, monetizing their own likeness, and even working with agents. Other states are quickly following California’s lead, including Kentucky, which is reportedly drafting its own bill as we speak. Simply put, we may very well be witnessing the final season of true amateur athletics.

Not surprisingly, this has led to a fierce debate among fans—some viewing it as the demise of college athletics, others as necessary progress. I for one am in favor of the change. Not necessarily as a fan (although can you imagine UK coaches now able to sell the ravenous market demand that is the #BBN???), but even more so, as a Christian.

Surprising to some, the Bible is actually a revolutionary document on the issue of economic justice. What emerges from passages such as the Old Testament Laws and Proverbs are innovated concepts of private ownership, free trade, and just transactions. We take these principals for granted, but that is only because we inhabit a culture where they are assumed. Historically speaking this is not the case. History is dominated by feudalistic systems until the 16th Century when Western Europe, influenced by the Biblical Worldview, began practicing what we now know as capitalism. Since then, capitalism has proven itself to be the greatest economic system the world has ever known. (As an aside, I recognize support for socialism is on the rise in America, but as I argue on my podcast this week, this is in reaction to the abuse and exploitation of capitalism rather than the principles therein)

But the Bible grounds the tenets of capitalism in much more than mere pragmatics. That is to say, it’s not an issue of effectiveness as much as an issue of justice. Which brings us to the dilemma of college athletics. I believe these state legislations will prove to be a good free-market correction to what has become a massive problem, which is the glaring disconnect between amateur and professional athletics (one day you’re broke, the next day you’re a millionaire). Eventually it will be amateur athletics that suffers, even more than it already is. Professional athletic associations are rapidly changing, and without significant change on the amateur side, the day will come when every elite athlete will simply bypass college for the pros. So allowing for money in college athletics will go a long way to preserving its excellence. But that’s not why I’m supportive. I’m for it, because it’s the right thing to do. Again, the Bible espouses the justness of private ownership, and on a most basic level that must include the ownership of own’s own likeness.

The undeniable reality is that the NCAA, along with its conferences and universities, are massively profiting off of the billion-dollar industry that college athletics has become. And I don’t begrudge them for it. I have no problem with coaches and athletic directors being the highest paid employees at public universities, because that’s what the market demands. And the truth is that these athletic programs are in turn bettering the universities they support. Even beyond the campus, local communities flourish because of college sports. Could you imagine Kentucky’s economy without UK Athletics? (Goodbye KSR, cursed be the thought) So yes, the capitalist in me is comfortable with the industry of athletics as a whole.

However, the issue I have is the glaring injustice that the only ones not benefiting are the athletes themselves. The very likenesses that are being leveraged for profit, are themselves not sharing in those profits. That is the very definition of exploitation. And spare me the scholarship argument, nobody else receiving a college scholarship is prohibited from making money on their own.

That said, I know the naysayers will struggle with the idea of corrupting amateurism with money and agents. And I sympathize with that struggle. The purest in me wants to preserve the uniqueness of amateur athletics competing for the love of game not money. But we have no one to blame but ourselves. It’s an issue of market demand, and we the consumers with our unfettered obsession for college sports have created this billion-dollar monster. It is what it is. College athletics is one of our culture’s most profitable industries, but the only ones not profiting are the athletes themselves.

It is past time for the exploitation to end. Thou shalt not steal. That includes stealing from the likeness of an athlete.

Robert Cunningham is the Senior Pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @tcpcrobert and send any comments or questions to [email protected]

Article written by Robert Cunningham

17 Comments for The Bible’s Case for Paying Players

  1. Larkin123
    6:18 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    Are you the preacher from blazing saddles?

  2. Cletis75
    7:28 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    Well said. If the NCAA hadn’t used exploitation as their business model, they wouldn’t have this issue coming. I honestly hope this breaks the NCAA and there becomes another authority.

  3. bigblue2284
    7:38 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    You gloss over the scholarship because it doesnt support your opinion. Athletes can have paying jobs like other students during the summer.

    • The Big Lebowski
      8:09 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

      The Scholarship is ONE FORM of payment for the services rendered by the “Student Athlete”,

      That has absolutely nothing to do with the NCAA taking the person of the Student Athlete and seeking profit from that person’s likeness and other personal assets such as their unibrow or their face or their body. The NCAA exploits student athletes because they are in a position to do so. This has nothing to do with amateurism. It has everything to do with profit.

      The NCAA has prohibited student athletes from signing record deals whilst they are on university athletic teams. How is that just? How does a music artist selling his work interfere with amateurism in sports.

  4. madarchitect
    7:39 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    How will this be “the final season of true amateur athletics” if the laws don’t go into effect until 2023 and after?

  5. neat1ky
    7:53 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    The 2023 refers to Calif not Fla, Ky or Ohio. And yes scholarships do matter as theyu are worth $120,000 and more. They can get jobs just like the rest of did. If they start making money off their likeness, then some of that money needs to go back to college to offset scholarships and some go lesser sports. I can tell this I will no longer support college athletes because that’s what separates them from professional sports that is suffering from support. I don’t know another area where u are getting trained for million dollar contracts and getting that training for free. Watch for what you wish for!!

    8:16 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    Well it also talks about selflessness and not to self promote. It also talks about greed etc… Self promotion would turn into pride and greed. Pride was the first sin and God hates pride. Greed turns into corruption and it has all ready started by saying the player can only sign a deal with whatever shoe company is tied to that school. Corruption is all ready taking hold and it isn’t even ready yet.

  7. mhs1964
    8:38 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    While I’m sympathetic to making players beneficiaries of a bigger slice of the pie I’m more afraid of the unintended consequences that could follow. Everyone seems to think that the size of BBN would make UK invulnerable to a fall in quality. I see that it would be the deep pockets of those capable and willing that would make the difference. Under those rules UK could not outbid Louisville for a local player. If Zion last year had been able to sign a contract with Nike last year, every UK fan would have screamed foul.

  8. The Big Lebowski
    8:48 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    If you were employed by Humana or LexMark and they insisted that they had all rights to your likeness, would that be just?

    You receive compensation from them.

    If you were employed by the University of Kentucky as a Professor of English Composition and they insisted that anything that you wrote on your own time was their property, would that be just?

    You receive compensation from them.

    What is the difference?

    How is the NCAA or a University entitled to the whole of a human being in exchange for 120 hours of courses?

    What form of sorcery is it that the NCAA employs to come by such mastery of humanity?

  9. The Big Lebowski
    8:50 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    Every time I hear someone justify the actions of the NCAA by saying; “…but…but…but…they get a scholarship!” as if that makes everything perfectly fine, I want to puke.

    Your employer gives you a paycheck, perhaps you should be their slave as well. Give them your firstborn and the blood of your parents.

  10. Kendrick
    9:29 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    Another crappy article by this dude. First it’s “Sawyer vs Terry” now this.

  11. satcheluk
    9:37 pm October 3, 2019 Permalink

    Anyone who doesn’t understand the Bible preaches both capitalism and socialism is willfully ignorant. No matter what your belief system is you cannot argue away the words and what they say. On either side.

  12. Chacosrule
    12:31 am October 4, 2019 Permalink

    1 Timothy chapter 6. Also Ezekiel 23:20.

  13. YourBoyBlue
    12:33 am October 4, 2019 Permalink

    Great article and I agree with every word.

    Mark this down though. This legislature will eventually lead to a huge conflict amongst those that support or do not support Title IX and I can’t help but wonders if the taxpaying middle class won’t be condemned to support the big business that is higher education once the universities no longer are able to exploit the athletes.

    Think about it like this. The money generated from ticket prices, concessions, and as Mr. Cunningham mentioned KSR itself has always gone to producing a business that provides jobs to so many people. If these laws aren’t written with the foresight to protect those people an economic catastrophe could be on the horizon. I know it sounds a little far fetched but if you think about how much money college sports generate and where all that money gets dispersed it’s easy to see that there will be a lot of people wondering where their next pay check is coming from.

  14. Tom Bombadil
    4:30 am October 4, 2019 Permalink

    Big L…..dont be a douche! Wtf

  15. Duuuuuude
    8:01 am October 4, 2019 Permalink

    So much for womens athletics.