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Jalen Johnson, Duke, group of people at basketball stadium
Photo by Ian Mackey on Unsplash


Jalen Johnson the “Student” Athlete

Jalen Johnson opted out of the remainder of the men’s basketball season at Duke University and declared for the NBA draft earlier this month. People were quick to call him a quitter, especially after the Blue Devils started winning without him. Some critics even went so far as to say that he should refund the college money because he has decided to not play and wait for the draft while others were quick to shoot down that notion with the idea that college athletes are unpaid/underpaid labor. 

The idea that college athletes are unpaid labor is slightly absurd and I would be slightly inclined to agree with some notion that discusses how college athletes might be underpaid, but I think there are a few things that should be addressed when making either argument. 

One thing that bugs me about the whole college athletes’ pay argument is that people make it on both sides but neither side understands the other. What I mean to say is that people don’t understand that college athletes might get a free ride, but someone has to pay for that free ride. This is where some people would argue as there is not one clear cut answer. Some people say scholarships don’t cover all college costs; others will say that it does, and while both statements are true, people are missing the simple fact that these athletes are being compensated to play their designated sport even if they only get a partial scholarship. 

There are thousands of people out there right now fighting the same battle with academic scholarships and post graduate work programs, but those people are finding ways to make it work without complaining despite the fact that the college is reaping the majority of the benefit from their work. This is why I would agree that maybe the college athletes are underpaid because college’s have all these students there on scholarships and things of that sort, and while some situations and agreements do compensate them financially, college has a bunch of hidden costs that no one really considers when they send someone off to college; which brings me to my next point.

People don’t consider the hidden costs of going to college. For instance, I dated a girl that was an art major and some of her art professors would have her spend enormous amounts of money on art supplies for various projects. Obviously there were cost effective options that could have made things easier, but this is one of those expenses that no one really calculates in the cost of college just like no one accounts for the lives that any college student may want to have outside of class work and/or sports. 

Essentially I see both sides of the argument and the reason I think the whole debate is absurd is because college is a place for learning not sports– and that’s not to say that I don’t think that people should play sports in college; I just mean that most of the student athletes would rather just be playing sports any way and I say let them. 

I’ve never really understood why athletes had to be students because a lot of athletes only go because they want to play their sport and they worked at enough to play in college and potentially go pro, so why not remove “student” from their title and just make them athletes. The NCAA is nothing more than revenue generating business anyway so why not pick these kids from high school, give them a salary, and split the profits with the college/university so that the kids who want to learn still have an academic institution and their favorite sports teams still attached and the kids who want to get paid doing the sport they love can do so with the option to pay for their degree at a discounted rate– call it an employee discount of sorts. 

In the end, I think Jalen Johnson did what he felt was best given his circumstances and I don’t blame him. Why risk the potential for future millions all to win a few games right now? Maybe if someone would listen to me and drop the whole “student athlete” thing and just pay these kids and stop forcing them through a system half don’t want to go through anyway, we might stop seeing people opt out of seasons early for pro a draft.