Yesterday may have brought Chicago the largest snowfall since 2011’s snowpocylopse, but it’s officially March, and everybody everywhere knows what that means – March Madness! The Cinderella Stories. The Sweet Sixteen. Bracket Busters. Buzzer Beaters. An amazing avalanche of alliteration everywhere!
Of course there’s the basketball, but even more than that, it’s an educational experience: on Selection Sunday (more alliteration), you learn about the existence of all these colleges you’ve never heard of and which no one gives a fuck about unless they went there – places like Austin Peay, Coppin State, and even some college actually called Stephen F. Austin.
There’s new vocabulary: I mean, who the hell would know what a “bracket” was without March Madness? And of course the math, as you use simple addition to calculate your total points in the office bracket pool.
And while you’re learning about each school’s mascot online—deciding who would win in a fight between a Buccaneer and a Viking (the mascots of Charleston Southern and Cleveland State, respectively)—preparing to make your picks to enter the $5 a pop office pool, a pool that could net you a cool one hundred dollars, there will be significantly larger piles of cash at stake elsewhere.
Last March, Turner Sports and CBS inked a deal with the National Collegiate Athletic Association—the NCAA, the member organization to which any college or university must belong in order to participate in March Madness, the same organization that makes all the rules by which the colleges’ and universities’ sports programs must abide—whereby CBS and Turner Sports agreed to pay the NCAA 10.8 billion, with a B, dollars for exclusive rights to broadcast the NCAA basketball tournament in the US for the next 14 years.
So what happens to this money? Well, it goes directly to the NCAA, which then divvies it up to its member schools in some complicated and likely inequitable way that we don’t have time to discuss tonight. And while CBS and Turner obviously had to dish out a significant chunk of change, in return they get all the billions of dollars in ad revenue generated by so many people watching these young, amateur basketball players—“student athletes,” as they’re so affectionately called—giving it their all to win the glory of a national championship. And what do the players get?
These men and boys—and let’s be honest with ourselves here: like it or not, no one is filling out brackets in your office for the women’s tournament or packing sports bars to watch women’s basketball—these young men and boys in their late teens and early 20s, playing a sport that, especially when you pair it with college football, generates millions and millions and millions of dollars for their universities in the form of things like ticket sales, merchandise sales, television revenue, and increased alumni giving, what do these athletes receive? If they’re lucky, they receive a full scholarship to take free college classes, get free books, and have a place to live while doing so, a scholarship that some studies estimate still falls short about $3500 each year of the true price of attending college.
But the coaches – the coaches are a different story. For example, last fall, the new football coach for THE Ohio State University signed a contract that gave him at least four million dollars a year. And even the coach of a shitty basketball team—say, for example, Chicago’s Big Ten Team, Northwestern University, Bill Carmody—makes over one million dollars a year for the work he does ordering around teens and 20-somethings.
But really, this is all par for the course in our current age of worker exploitation. It’s easy to think about—and easy to ignore—all those factory workers in Asian and South American countries, getting paid pennies an hour to make electronics and clothing and pretty much anything you can make out of plastic, items which are then sold here in the US at astronomical mark ups, with all that extra profit going to executives and stock holders.
But worker exploitation is not exclusive to far away lands. You have people paying 3, 4, 5 dollars for their venti mocha chocolate latte at Starbucks, sold to you by someone earning $9 an hour—about $18,000 a year—while the CEO of Starbucks, when you add up salary, stocks, and other incentives, earned over $65 million dollars in 2011. Here in Chicago, you have workers on Michigan Avenue earning less than $10 an hour, selling shirts that cost them the equivalent of what they make in a week.
In college sports, there is a growing movement to give the students a piece of the pie, but it’s been slow going. For a month or so last winter, there was a plan floating around to pay some student athletes a $2,000 stipend, hoping to at least close the scholarship/actual cost of college gap, but after over 100 college athletic directors and commissions signed letters of protest, the plan was rescinded.
In an age where income inequality and economic oppression are hot topics of the day, it’s important for sports fans everywhere to recognize their own place in the problem and to think twice—or four, or eight, or 64 times—while supporting student athlete exploitation with their time and money. And if it’s really the basketball that you love, why not check out some high school basketball games, or even join a league of your own? God knows you need the exercise. You might even save some money that you could use to help pay down your massive college debt that you incurred attending your exploitative alma mater in the first place.
(And if you like reading about college basketball, check out another blog I wrote in 2012 on the topic: In Defense of 64)
So, for the few of you who may regularly try and read my blog, and for all the rest of you now reading the archives, my blogging has been very sub-standard in the past year, but I wanted to alert you that the advent of a new open-mic reading series should hopefully have me writing something every month (at least). It’s an offshoot of the weekly “live magazine” The Paper Machete, held here in Chicago, that (for now) they’re calling THE MASH. It started in February, but I didn’t hear about it in time to write a piece to share. But I went last week — they’re happening at Horseshoe, 4115 N Lincoln Ave, the first Wednesday of every month @ 8pm — and I plan on posting the musings I share there here on my blog each month (for those who can’t come and hear them in person). They’ll be commentary on pop culture/politics/the world/recent news events, and hopefully they will give me reason to write about the kind of things I like to write about in the first place.
As for other writing, if you don’t know me personally, I wrote and performed a solo show last fall at the Chicago Fringe Festival called Sorry to Disappoint Me. That was my significant writing in most of 2012, and I’ve recently started a project that I hope to spend a lot of time in 2013 working on that will be mostly political/philosophical essays meant to be read in a compilation but could also probably be performed/read live (condensed versions, if not the full ones). I’m excited about that, and perhaps some of that will end up here.
And finally, I have a few performances booked in Chicago for 2013 — Essay Fiesta in March and WRITE CLUB in May — but I am focusing on the writing and not the storytelling scene, and then seeing if any opportunities for live writing may show up any time soon. (Though perhaps I’ll show up at The Moth sometime soon, too.)
So I hope to be more consistent — would love to hear if there’s anything you’d like for me to write on, and maybe I will!
It’s always about more than you.
(Watch the video first.)
So, as I’ve said before, sometimes I have the opportunity to blog at work, and I did so a few weeks ago after Hurricane Sandy hit New York city and took out so many of the transportation options there. Here is the blog I wrote as they recovered:
Today (and the past few weeks), millions are casting a ballot for President of the United States, and nearly as many will be asking one simple question: Does my vote count?
For many of us, the answer is probably, “No.” It’s not that our votes won’t be counted—in lieu of hanging chads, malfunctioning voting machines, and good old fashioned election fraud, our vote will tabulated and tallied in precincts across the country—but what we really want to know is, “Does my vote matter?”
Civics lessons across the country proudly push the mantra that every vote counts, that “one person, one vote” is the basis of a democratic society, but from New York to California, Texas to the Dakotas, nearly every state is already classified red or blue, its outcome a “foregone conclusion.” In the electoral college we seemingly have a voting process that is truly Orwellian, where some votes truly“are more equal than others.” (And I won’t even get into the issue of money in politics.)
Though he made some changes based on recent polls, a week ago Nate Silver’s 538 blog (published by the New York Times) classified only 9 states as “competitive”: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These are the “states that matter”, and even the candidates have no qualms about focusing their time and money in the swing states; in fact, according to fairvote.org, of the 252 campaign visits by the presidential and vice presidential candidates since the Democratic National Convention, 251 have taken place in one of these nine states, including 72 in Ohio alone. (The lone outlier was a stop by Congressman Ryan in Michigan.)
This sense of voter disenfranchisement isn’t anything new. While the swing states shift from election to election, many have probably lived their whole lives in states considered a “sure thing” for one political party or the other and felt like they really had no say in who was elected President.
However, examining the effect of the electoral college on the impact of one’s vote in relation to a person’s race leads one to discover a hidden world of voter disenfranchisement of people of color.
One obvious examination would be to look at the racial makeup of the “competitive” states. Based on the 2010 Census, there were approximately 237 million people in the United States 18 and over (the age necessary to vote), approximately 67.2% white. But the population of the 9 competitive states is approximately 71.9% white, a difference of nearly 5%—a significant difference, especially if the race ends up being as close as many predict it will be
However, looking at only these swing states unnecessarily skews the data. This is because, of the 110 electoral votes “in play” in these states, it is predicted President Obama would need only 33 (about a third) of them. So while these are the states in which candidates are still vying for individual votes to win electoral votes, these states will not decide the president in the normal sense of “receiving the greatest number” and thus brings about some mathematical ambiguity.
The true way to see the effect of the electoral college on people of color is to look at the electoral college on a national scale. As noted, the US 18 and over population is approximately 67.2% white; however, based on state populations in relation to their electoral college weight, the electoral college votes are distributed to a population that is the equivalent of 68.1% white. And while this may not seem like a significant difference, it is equivalent to adding 6.6 million whites age 18 and over to the population.
It is not simply the electoral college that cause the voices of people of color to be diluted in elections. Because most states have some form of voting restrictions for convicted felons (a population disproportionately made up of people of color), the number of people of color eligible to vote is reduced, increasing the distribution of white voters.
Also, some ambiguity comes into play because the census counts citizens and non-citizens (green card holds, those here on visas, undocumented residents) alike, with congressional districts and electoral college votes distributed not by the number of citizens but by the population. Thus, the voices of non-citizens—many who pay taxes—are repressed, again disproportionately affecting people of color living in this country.
There is much to be done in regards to election reform in this country to create a system where every vote bears the same weight and every citizen feels they are truly heard. Such reform includes the elimination of the current electoral college structure, a system that continues to disenfranchise millions of people every four years—whether they are aware of it or not.
Visit the National Popular Vote website to see one campaign to end the electoral college.
I write about privilege Wednesday, and BAM! all these other posts/articles about privilege show up in my life (mostly via facebook).
Here they are, for your reading (and viewing) pleasure:
Everyone’s a Crybaby (video — some “bad” words if you can about that kind of thing)