Wednesday, September 28, 2011

College Athletes Being Short Changed!

Thursday, September 29th, 20011
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


With TV income at an all time high, and with attendance breaking records nationwide, the college football season is off to the most successful start in its history. Football in my home state of Louisiana is the major subject of discussion as the LSU Tigers were ranked number one in the nation by the Associated Press poll for this week. But out of the euphoria and excitement, scandals seem to be breaking out at new schools weekly, with top players being accused of selling memorabilia, and taking cash from adoring fans for a little spending money. Is there something wrong with the present system?

There certainly is a rapidly growing pot of money throughout the college system. Fans pay through the nose to attend major college athletic events. As an LSU football season ticket holder, I personally pay $840 just for the right to buy my season tickets. The seat ticket, itself, is $54 per game. Similar surcharges are also applied to basketball tickets. So there are big bucks coming into major college programs all over the country. Top-level college sports are big business. LSU, for example, receives some $100 million in revenue each year from ticket sales, television rights, concessions, parking, and logo sales, which is about five times what the school receives from tuition.

In a recent edition of The New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks, who generally is on the mark with his observations, yearns for a return of what was portrayed as “the golden age of the amateur ideal.” According to Brooks, “The amateur ideal was a restraining code that emphasized fair play and honor. It held that those blessed with special gifts have a special responsibility to hew to a chivalric code. The idea was to make sport a part of the nation’s moral education.”

Well and good, as long as the athlete who is trying to pay for honor, and is also the sole producer of the huge college athletic income, can pay the bills. All this income comes from one source…the athletes. Yet these young men and women are paid only enough to cover the basic college expenses — room, food, tuition and books. No pocket money to go to the movies, no gas money, no extras whatsoever. So we have college athletic programs raking in millions on the backs of talented, disciplined, hardworking athletes, without sharing the revenue with those responsible for generating it. Such a system is ill-defined at best and hypocritical at worst. The universities, administrators, and coaches are reaping great value — even luxury — provided by their recruits, and the players, themselves, are given only a Spartan subsistence.

In this month’s Atlantic Magazine cover story, Taylor Branch writes superbly of “The Shame of College Sports.” He refers to the Knight Commission, an unsympathetic group set up by the NCAA to review possible compensation ideas for college athletes. “Scholarship athletes are already paid,” declared the skeptical Knight Commission members, “in the most meaningful way possible: with a free education.” Branch bemoans their attitude, writing that “this evasion by prominent educators severed my last reluctant, emotional tie with imposed amateurism. I found it worse than self-serving. It echoes masters who once claimed that heavenly salvation would outweigh earthly injustice to slaves. In the era when our college sports first arose, colonial powers were turning the whole world upside down to define their own interests as all-inclusive and benevolent. Just so, the NCAA calls it heinous exploitation to pay college athletes a fair portion of what they earn.”

Branch goes on to conclude that it should be a no brainer to go ahead and pay some stipend to college athletics. But like Hamlet, Brooks’ New York Times article struggles with imposing questions that trouble him. “How would you pay the athletes? Would the stars get millions while the rest get hardly nothing?” He then surmises that “The lingering vestiges of the amateur ideal are worth preserving.” So he is OK with everyone in the system profiting but the athletes. Me thinks Brooks doth protest too much. Most of the reasonable advocates of athlete compensation are talking about merely some additional spending money.

It was a little better than 40 years ago when I was lucky enough to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship. I was given a housing and food allowance that exceeded my costs, as well as “laundry money” that allowed for weekend dates, gas, and a few frills above the basic scholarship costs. What I received then was equivalent to some $250 in pocket money if the same were allowed today.

But the NCAA tightened up the rules, and college athletes get less today than athletes like me received some years back. Most college athletes live off campus, and are given a monthly stipend for their room and board. I’m merely suggesting upping the ante and increasing this monthly amount by a couple of hundred bucks. Is that really going to corrupt the system? Or are we merely going to allow a little breathing room for an athlete to buy a few essentials and maybe fill up their car with gas. Would such a small compensation really “corrupt the world of amateur athletics” as Brooks concludes?

Supporters of the present system will argue that there is the opportunity for these athletes to move on to the pros and make big financial returns. But we all know that very few make it to that level. They may not even end up with the basic skills necessary to succeed in other workplaces, since only a minority of student-athletes in major sports even graduate. LSU football and basketball players generally graduate at a rate of less than 40%.

The system in place now allows our young college athletes to be exploited, and the exploitation is being committed by their adult mentors. What a deal — your body in exchange for a pittance of basic expenses. A little monthly expense money is not about to corrupt the system. Providing $300 a month to all athletes on full athletic scholarship seems reasonable. March Madness, as is always the case, turned out to be a financial bonanza — but not for the kids that many of us paid to watch. They deserve a better shake and a small piece of this huge financial pie.


“Look I get it, there are tickets, jerseys, video games, souvenirs, and concessions being sold largely because of the players on the field. “Everyone,” so to speak, is making money except the players.
Sports writer Donnie Blackhawk

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at (F)

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Looking Back and Lessons Learned!

Friday, September 16th, 2011
Perdido Key, Florida

POST 9/11?

The world around us has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. When the 9/11 attacks blindsided America, two billion people -- one third of the world’s population -- were glued to television and computer screens, watching the attacks unfold. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube to update the tragic events of that historic day. Since then, the country has modified how it communicates. But is America’s world view any different? Are we better prepared for future terrorist attacks, and if so, at what price? How much are we willing to compromise our civil liberties for greater security? And who in our government is asking these critical questions or trying to develop reasonable answers to them?

Our country bounced from reacting to a few Saudis who brought down four planes with box cutters to an all out war in Iraq. Looking back and with the knowledge we have now, was it a disastrous mistake to invade Iraq. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, who brutalized and killed his own people. These atrocities are still happening in other Arab nations, and in a number of African countries as well. But is it America’s role to be the world’s peacekeeper at whatever cost?

Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power’s book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” is about humanitarian intervention. Power strongly supported America’s armed involvement in both Bosnia and Rwanda, but she says that the U.S. made a mistake by invading Iraq. “My criterion for military intervention with a strong preference for multilateral intervention is an immediate threat of large-scale loss of life.” She concluded that such a threat was not met to justify the Iraq invasion. Power will be a guest on my radio show in the weeks to come.

Perhaps an assassination attempt of Hussein and his top leadership was warranted. But a 10 year war at a cost approaching a trillion dollars has left 4500 Americans dead, and 32,000 wounded. And over one million Iraqis, most of them civilians, have met violent deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion, according to a study conducted by the prestigious British polling group, Opinion Research Business.

As Bill Keller wrote in The New York Times this week, “The world is well rid of Saddam Hussein. But knowing as we now do the exaggeration of Hussein’s threat, the cost in Iraqi and American lives, and the fact that none of this great splurge has brought us confidence in Iraq’s future or advanced the cause of freedom elsewhere, Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental failure.”

But we are Monday morning quarterbacking here, and it is easy to second guess in hindsight. But nonetheless, our military leadership too quickly embraced the rhetoric of Ahmed Chalabi, who was then the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and former Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. Chalabi was a real charlatan in convincing the U.S. that they had a winning strategy and should play ball with him. I had the opportunity to talk with Chalabi in Washington last year, and I quickly found him to be a charmer and quite convincing. But he led the U.S. down a primrose path that now seems to have no end in sight.

With so much false information floating out of the Bush administration, it is little wonder why there was such a strong support base for invading Iraq. If I had been in congress, I too would have mistakenly supported the war effort. But we now find ourselves having been sucked into supporting freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan while America is more at risk here at home from the slide of our own economics. Simply put, with no additional revenue, and some members of congress even hollering for tax cuts, how much more worldwide spending can the U.S. sustain?

Sociologist Charles Kurzman, who asks the question: “Why are there so few Muslim terrorists?” In his new book, “The Missing Martyrs,” Kurzman writes: “If terrorist methods are as widely available as automobiles, why are there so few Islamist terrorists? In light of the death and devastation that terrorists have wrought, the question may seem absurd. But if there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom, why don’t we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?” He concludes that Al Qaeda has failed to successfully recruit by any significant numbers. So how much more do we feel needs to be spent in America’s efforts to be free and safe?

Of course America should have a major world presence. Jefferson began the precedent when he sent Navy ships to attack the Barbary pirates back in 1802. The U.S. needs to be bold and aggressive in supporting and defending American interests abroad. But it also needs to be selective.

Afghanistan emits many of the same issues that need to be addressed in Iraq. And history tells us we could be engaging in a lost “nation building” cause, there as well. Many have tried to invade or “work their will” in Afghanistan, and all have failed. Failure drove away the Mongols, Alexander the Great, the British, and the Russians who lost 25,000 soldiers and saw the Soviet Union collapse. Considering the limited and undefined gains, can the U.S. afford to continue to wage such a fight?

Finally, how many tradeoffs are the American people willing to make when it comes to giving up basic freedoms? Government often overreacts in time of emergency by stripping away civil rights. Look at what Lincoln did by suspending habeas corpus at the outbreak of the civil war. This week’s USA TODAY/Gallup poll finds that fewer Americans are willing to trade their civil rights for more security. After 9/11, in 2002, 47% of the population was willing to let government violate “basic civil liberties” in an effort to fight terrorism. That number has now dropped to 25%. More Americans are realizing and accepting Benjamin Franklin’s admonition that, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

On my radio show next weekend, I’ll be talking with Thom Shanker, a Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, who has written a new best seller, “Counterstrike, The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.” He concludes that the Arab war effort, though prohibitively expensive, was worth the price. A twenty-first century war on a decentralized multinational network of terrorists could not be fought using conventional methods. It was imperative for the U.S. Military to develop new approaches and techniques. And it looks like that search for new approaches and techniques must continue for years.

So there is an ongoing learning process and the questions remain: How much cost in dollars and lives can Americans endure to fight seemingly fruitless wars? And what is the cost to liberty that we are we willing to sacrifice to fight terrorism? These are important questions that have yet to be answered!


"The trade-off between freedom and security, so often proposed so seductively, very often leads to the loss of both." -- Christopher Hitchens
Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Nation Still Struggling Ten Years Later!

Friday, September 9th, 2001
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


I have watched through a window a world that has fallen.
W. H. Auden

This Sunday’s date, 9/11, turned into the frantic dialing of 911 ten years ago. . A surreal feeling of shock and helplessness enveloped all Americans as we watched that day’s events unfold. In hindsight, we should ask many questions. Is America a safer place today? Maybe. But we also have witnessed a fundamental shift in our culture, where liberty and freedom have been compromised so that we supposedly feel “more safe.”

Ten years ago on that horrific day, I was at home, when a family friend called, a little after 8:00 A.M. central time to tell me about the first plane’s crashing into the World Trade Center. Like millions of Americans, I turned on my television just in time to see the second plane hit the second tower.

I was home alone, so I immediately felt the need to call the people closest to me. I was able to reach my mother, my brother Jack, and two of my daughters. I told them all to turn on their TV sets. I reached my son on his cell phone as he was entering the LSU Lab School. But, what about my oldest daughter, Campbell? I knew she had flown back to Washington late the night before, from California, where she was doing a story on the retirement of the president’s plane, a former Air Force One. Perhaps she was still home. I called her apartment, but got no answer. Then the third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington. Thoughts raced through my head. Was there a fourth plane -- or more? Wasn’t the White House a likely target? Was my oldest daughter sitting in her NBC office in the White House?

She didn’t answer her cell phone. I called the White House switchboard, which is noted for being efficient. There was a brief recording saying to hold on for an operator, then the line went dead. For a moment I feared the worst: a plane crashing into the White House, my daughter inside. Then I heard Matt Lauer on the “Today Show” say, “Now let’s go to Campbell Brown for an update across the street from the White House.” Campbell told a national audience that the White House had been evacuated and that she was broadcasting from a nearby hotel. She gave hourly reports throughout the day and late into the evening.

Like millions of Americans, I stayed glued to the TV all day. That night, my wife and I kept a long-standing dinner date with friends at Chris’s steakhouse, close to our home in Baton Rouge. Halfway through dinner, around 9:00 o’clock, my cell phone rang. It was my son James. “Dad, I’m still watching everything on television,” he said. “I just need to do something. Do we have an American flag here at home?” I told him we had one stored in our “flag box,” where we keep banners for the various seasons, as well as holiday flags for Christmas, Halloween, and Easter. When we drove into our driveway that night, a large American flag was hanging from the front porch, waving in the wind.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

It was still not possible to reach offices and homes in New York City by phone, but I was able to contact several friends on their cell phones. Many of them work in the Wall Street district, and we had often gathered at the top of the World Trade Center for lunch for insurance meetings. My friend, Attorney Kevin Salter was caught in the deluge just outside the World Trade Center, and had crawled for blocks without being able to see his hands in front of his face because of the smoke and soot. He will be a guest on my Sunday radio show this week.

The news was not good concerning my friend Neil Levin, who until recently was New York’s insurance commissioner. Several months earlier, he took a new job as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is the landlord for the World Trade Center complex. His office was on the 53rd floor of the North Tower, the first tower to be hit. Neil’s body was never found in the wreckage. A lengthy obituary, which paid tribute to his many accomplishments, appeared in the New York Times on September 22, 2001.

Ten years later, we have a lot of questions to ask, and a lot of consoling to do. How is it possible that there is such intense hatred for our country? Who is our enemy, and how do we do battle with them? Before 9/11, life was so normal and ordinary. Now we live under the so-called Patriot Act that has stripped all Americans of basic constitutional freedoms. We live with body scanners, “enhanced” pat-downs and “fusion” centers. For all of us, life will never be the same.

Down here in my home state of Louisiana this week, we lost an outstanding civic leader, who was known as a crusader nationwide for his commitment to improving the basic quality of life for the working American family. Victor Bussie is a Louisiana legend who had as much, or even more, political influence in his home state than did most Governors in his lifetime. He lived the great American dream of success, but his focus was what he could do for the average Joe. And he had the respect and friendship of presidents going back to John F. Kennedy.

Vic Bussie began his public career as a fireman in Shreveport, Louisiana. He grew through the ranks to become head of the labor movement in Louisiana as president of the state AFL-CIO, a job he held for 41 years. He led the charge for major reforms in Louisiana, including a strong code of ethics, equal rights for women, a minimum wage, workplace safety requirements, and stronger civil rights, to name just a few.

He became a respected national figure serving on the Federal Reserve Board, and his counsel was sought by a cross section of public and private sector leaders throughout America. Vic Bussie, ever the gentleman, lived a full life of 91 years. He will be deeply missed.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at