U.S. Sen. Richard Burr inserted a cleated foot into his mouth Tuesday on Twitter.
Burr, a former football player at Wake Forest, fumbled the tweet after the NCAA voted to consider new rules that would allow players to profit from at least a slice of the gazillion-dollar college sports revenue pie.
Specifically, the NCAA Board of Governors unanimously supported permitting athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.”
Whereupon Burr, R-N.C., who for two seasons played defensive back for the Demon Deacons, decided to belly flop into the scrum.
“If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school,” Burr posted, “their scholarships should be treated like income. I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to ‘cash in’ to income taxes.”
The reaction was swift and severe, with about 6,000 replies — from the left and right — flooding Burr’s feed, but only about 900 likes.
As for the NCAA, it only did what was fair and right. And inevitable. One of Burr’s fellow Republicans, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, is pushing a bipartisan bill that also would allow college athletes to earn money from the use of their names and likenesses. Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in September legislation that allows college athletes to hire agents and earn money from endorsements. It would take effect in 2023.
At first blush, all of this does seem jarring. But it’s long overdue. NCAA institutions and coaches make millions of dollars off of college athletics while the players themselves, who actually provide the product, get very little.
Yes, athletes do receive scholarships in return for their services, but does anyone really want to argue that, say, basketball standout Zion Williamson was worth more financially to the Blue Devils than the cost of one scholarship, even to Duke?
Of course, the what and the why of this issue are the easy parts. The how? Not so much.
“This is not going to get solved overnight. This is going to go on for several years,” said Tom McMillen, chief executive officer of the Lead1 Association, which represents 130 athletics directors.
McMillen, a former Maryland basketball star and member of Congress, told The Washington Post: “Somewhere along the way it has to be tethered to education. Does that mean they don’t get it until they graduate, or they have to be in good academic standing? There are a lot of nuances and complications to it.”
That may well be true. But the first step was committing to doing right by athletes, who fuel a billion-dollar industry with their skills and get peanuts in return. And then figuring out the details.
As for Burr? Following the logic of his tweet any student who makes extra money on the side — say, a musician or a dancer or a chemist — should have his or her scholarship money taxed as well.
As Walker replied in his own tweet: “If scholarships are income, that makes them employees, not student-athletes. This isn’t about income. It’s about basic rights that every other American has to their own name.”
As both a Republican and an ex-athlete, Burr, of all people, should know better.
Why, he’s beginning to sound like a (dare we say it?) tax-and-spend Democrat.