Should College Athletes Have Better Health Care? This Documentary Kickstarter Thinks So
It's one thing for me to rail against the NCAA and call them one of the shadiest cartels this side of Medellin. It's another to talk to a former "student-athlete" about what needs to be done about the system.
Former USC Trojan lineman Bob DeMars has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary he is directing and producing called "The Business of Amateurs". Also produced by former LAist contributor and USC uberfan/alumnus Zack Jerome, the project is exploring solutions that focus on protecting the health of the athletes.
"It's not about should we be playing players," DeMars explained. DeMars played for USC from 1997 to 2001 and played for head coaches John Robinson, Paul Hackett and Pete Carroll.
For him it's about looking out for the well-being of the players as many continue to be plagued by their injuries years on down the road. "These are guys that are doing an average of 44 hours a week," DeMars said. Currently the players are considered volunteers all under the guise of amateurism. "I'm talking about a job and workers' compensation."
Former USC football head coach Pete Carroll with Bob DeMars in 2001. (courtesy Bob DeMars/used with permission)
It is a bit personal for DeMars he still continues to feel the effects posterior cruciate ligament tears in both knees, hernia surgery and a severe neck injury that causes pain down his right arm if he turns his head the wrong way."It's not that I can't walk around and that I'm hobbled right now. What's going to happen in 20, 30 years when my muscles are no longer strong enough to be that intermediary?"
One of the arguments people hurl out is the myth of the free education.
"Unfortunately I'm the exception to the rule as someone who gets value out of their degree," DeMars said. He noted that some athletes are functional illiterates and that their degrees—if they complete them—are useless.
"The only people that are in college that aren't qualified to be there are specific athletes, namely basketball and football. When you have a bunch of guys who are unqualified to be in college and they get a bunch of tutors to try and find a way to graduate, a lot of them aren't able to use that degree when they finish college."
Another myth he dispels is the big-man-on-campus myth. "A lot of people think that athletes live these privileged lives. The reality is that they're doing 40 to 80 hours a week for their sport alone. They're expected to be good students on top of that. I don't know anybody who works 40 hours a week at a job and goes to school and does well. Unfortunately I missed probably 20 percent of my classes in college just because I had to sleep at some point.
"You think these guys are living high on the hog. It's the total opposite. You get training table which is a free meal during the football season."
Despite all of this, he does feel the tide is starting to sway towards the athletes. DeMars points to the gruesome injury of University of Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware during this past NCAA Tournament.
"As I was putting together the pieces for this Kickstarter campaign this happened. As much as it broke my heart, part of me was thinking maybe people will recognize a little bit what's the value this kid is going to lose if he can't go pro. Let's see what happens when somebody who is 6-foot-9 has a bunch of screws in their legs when they're 60. These are some of the things that people never thought about before, or didn't think about as often."
DeMars also pointed out this isn't about universal health care. "I don't see how people can be against taking care of the injuries of these athletes who carry their team on their back only to have these long-term repurcussions."
As of this afternoon, the Kickstarter campaign is a little more than halfway through their $30,000 goal.
Former Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley tweeted about it:
A video of the Kickstarter campaign: