No fans are more engaged in the fate of
their college athletic teams than those of us who graduated from Duke
University. Every Duke graduate currently above ground lived through several
years of basketball frenzy while on campus and the latest grads will even have
a great football team to cheer on after they leave. Duke has also won NCAA titles
in men’s lacrosse and in women’s golf and Duke student-athletes have graced
Olympic teams as well.
For a small, private liberal arts school, we have had
some great athletes from Dick Groat and Art Heyman to Christian Laettner and
Shane Battier to Bob Wheeler and Mike Souchak to Grant Hill and Mike Curtis
(Google them). Some of these men went on to play in the pros and made a fair
amount of money. As far as I can tell none made money for themselves while they
attended Duke, but each made a great deal of money FOR Duke. Now for the first
time, this accepted paradigm of not paying student athletes while reaping the
benefits of their labors is being challenged. And it is being challenged by the
The basic premise is simple.
Student-athletes play for and are coached by the person with the largest
compensation package on campus, the big sport coach. Yet the students are not
paid at all, their subsequent medical care necessitated by their participation
in high-risk sports like football is not covered by the colleges for whom they
played, and should they be injured as freshmen, their further tuition support
is not even guaranteed. This seems wrong to more than just a few of us.
For those who have lived with these athletes as
fraternity brothers or sorority sisters and as neighbors in adjacent dorms and
quads, we fully appreciate that once the cheering stops and the vast majority
of the men and women who compete in college athletics have no chance of turning
those skills into income, they, like we, must depend upon what we learn in the
classroom to carry us through life. Further, most of the rest of us were not balancing
our class schedule with hours of daily practice.
Some of these students have only one way up and out
from their low income past to a productive future. That is the college athletic
field. Few make it to the pro stadia of the NFL or arenas of the NBA. Many of
these athletes are one knee injury away from losing the education they know is more
valuable than the pro contract most are unlikely to ever see.
For my fellow, less athletic Dukies who
went to medical school, their undergraduate campus life before leaving the
ranks of what my father-in-law the Mt. Sinai Chief of Pathology called the “civilians”
to become doctors was quite different. Most of us spent our time as pre-med undergrads
studying, especially organic chemistry and undergraduate physics. We aced the
MCAT and were admitted to an American medical school which is an almost
guaranteed entrance to a good income and successful life as long as one stays
away from the criminal justice system and the IRS. We risked no injury as long
as we didn’t blow up the chemistry lab. Is there really any comparison between
the drive to gain student-athletes some minimal rights in the face of their
current indentured servitude and the privileged physicians of America? I think
there just might be.
More and more, doctors are taking what the
system will give them rather than having any access to reasonable
self-determination. Providers of medical care are moving further and further
away from being the small business men and women they were not so very long ago
to being employees and cogs in the great American health care-industrial
complex that has turned the provision of medical care into an assembly line of
unneeded antibiotics to raise patient satisfaction scores, hospitals with
on-demand kitchens and cable TV, and urologists with their own radiotherapy
machines at the ready should their prostate cancer patients choose external
beam therapy over robotic resection—when neither may be appropriate.
Do I think the docs ought to go to court like
the student-athletes are doing to challenge the authority of the NCAA? No. They don’t need to. All we have to do is
continue to do the right things for our patients, prescribe drugs only when
needed and get a little help from the FDA and FCC to get direct-to-consumer
drug ads off the air as inappropriate marketing to people who cannot buy the
advertised product without a prescription. In other words, get back to our
I give the new legal move against the NCAA
by the student-athletes great kudos. It is long overdue for the students to
reap the primary benefit of their sacrificing their bodies for a mere education
while the universities they “fight” for, are reaping the profits. They are
there to make the university money and they do. Hopefully most get an education as well. They deserve a cut of the profits and surely a
lifetime guarantee of health care for injuries, especially traumatic brain
injuries, incurred in the performance of their jobs for a university.
Medicine goes nowhere without the doctors.
We should stop acting as if the administrators are in control. They could no
more remove a hot appendix that President Richard Broadhead of Duke could sink
a game-winning foul shot.
Administrators frequently have to be reminded of
what their use and function are. (I know
I did and there was no shortage of faculty members in my office to remind me). They
are supposed to be working for the docs and the student-athletes, but when
these two groups are the major reason for huge influxes of cash into the
coffers of those in charge, they should be forced to share. It’s only right.