Monday, April 21, 2014

Recent cases of convenient equality

With the state of amateurism in college sports under threat (i.e., the lawsuits by current and former college athletes seeking various kinds of compensation for their efforts), policymakers and keepers are somewhat panicked about what this could cost.
The NCAA, of course, has been putting considerable efforts into countering claims that student athletes are anything but students.
Earlier this month, Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr helped them out by invoking a gender equality discourse to claim that it would be impossible to pay student athletes like they were employees--a fear that has been amplified with the National Labor Relations Board ruling that the football players (scholarship only) at Northwestern University do meet the definition of employees and thus could unionize.
"What is going to happen to the smaller schools? What is going to happen to the minor sports? What is going to happen to the Title IX women's sports if, for some reason, a union forces universities to have a much more expensive athletic program for a few sports?" Alexander said on the Senate floor.
First of all, there are  no "Title IX women's sports"--that's not a thing.  
Second, once again we have the ever-so-unhelpful football/basketball versus everyone else binary with Title IX as the perceived divider. Except this time Title IX is being invoked in a positive way by people who are not women's sports advocates or feminists. How long will the Title IX love last? Until the next attempt to weaken the law and make it more amenable to schools that would like to funnel more resources into major sports and not have to balance this with the needs of female student athletes?

Next, last week, Judge Claudia Wilken, a US District judge, made a significant ruling in the now five-year long case initially brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon (now a class-action lawsuit) in which the plaintiffs are seeking an end to the NCAA's rule that student athletes cannot make money off of their likeness, image, and name. Judge Wilken ruled on the summary judgment requests of both the NCAA and the plaintiffs (she granted it to neither, the trial should begin in early June) but said that the NCAA could not present as an argument that paying athletes (which the NCAA argues is part of the end of amateurism that would come with athletes who make money from their status) would harm women's sports.
It was a win for the plaintiffs. And it's a little bit of equality karma.
From the Courthouse News Service:
 The NCAA could support women's sports and less prominent men's sports in other, less restrictive ways, Wilken said.
     "For instance, the NCAA could mandate that Division I schools and conferences redirect a greater portion of the licensing revenue generated by football and basketball to these other sports," Wilken wrote.
     "The NCAA has not explained why it could not adopt more stringent revenue-sharing rules," the judge wrote, granting the athletes summary judgment on that issue. "The challenged restraint is not justified by the NCAA's claimed desire to support women's sports or less prominent men's sports."

Both of these examples illustrate an unfortunate trend that occurs outside of sports all the time: when it serves the needs of various institutions, fairness and equality for women gets invoked. When fairness and equality are less convenient, less beneficial, more costly the latter is emphasized over the former. The discourse remains inconsistent as do the actions of the fair-weather (which only seems to come when there's something afoul in men's sports) advocates.