Years ago, we used to praise college football players for staying in school, and touting the value of a college education. Now they are likely to be insulted by sports pundits, and called stupid for staying in school.
During the media day for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Jameis Winston was there to field questions about Florida State University's chances of winning another title, his Seminole teammates and Coach Jimbo Fisher, the strength of the conference, while others snickered about his crab legs caper, no doubt, that made him deservedly the butt of jokes.
But then he was asked about whether he should be financially compensated for his gridiron exploits.
"We're blessed to get a free education," he replied to the reporter, according to Pat Forde with Yahoo Sports. "My job as a Florida State Seminole is to be a good student first and a good athlete second."
I bet he wasn't expecting to get skewered for saying that. But he was.
"Maybe Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston should change his major to business. Because it's obvious that the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner doesn't fully understand economics -- and he doesn't comprehend the manner in which the billion-dollar machine that is college football is screwing him."
"Winston's talents and physical sacrifices generate revenue that isn't being fairly shared with him, thanks to a system that quite possibly violates federal antitrust laws by allowing the various colleges to hide behind an artificial limitation on what an athlete can receive in return for his efforts."
"Most if not all kids go to college to develop marketable skills. Winston's most marketable skills flow from his physical talents. The longer he plays college football, the greater the chance those skills will be diminished by serious injury. If/when the window opens for Winston or any other college player to be compensated for his abilities, the business savvy that would flow from a free education points to the unmistakable conclusion of getting paid now and finishing the education later."
Until then, Winston is unwittingly giving Florida State and the rest of the college system even greater value by aiding the process of influencing other kids to continue to get far less than they deserve for the services they are providing. If, after all, a free education is good enough for Jameis Winston, it should be good enough for them, too."
Graham Watson with "Dr. Saturday" piled on.
"Though it is interesting that a player who helped make his university millions and millions of dollars last season based on his likeness, his jersey sales and his play has no qualms about not seeing a dime kicked back to him."
"Lucky for other marketable NCAA players, the power conference commissioners see differently and have plans to provide cost-of-attendance scholarships and discuss other benefits for elite athletes should the power conferences gain the autonomy to do so."
Of course most of their ire is against the system. And there's probably some equitable way of sharing college football profits with the players. But there's no need to dump on Winston for being happy to receive a college education, and publicly serving as a role model for other athletes on this issue.
Lost in the debate about economic fairness has been that a college education is worth something. Those who hold a college degree have lower unemployment rates and earn more over their lifetimes. There are a lot of students who would love to get a scholarship to a research one school like Florida State University, or any other college in America.
Just a few years ago, Winston would be called greedy if he demanded more money for his likeness or signature. But it's refreshing to see someone of his generation, tabbed as self-centered, realize that a college education is, indeed a privilege. I sincerely hope he makes the most of his opportunity, and feel confident he'll finish his degree, even if he leaves early to go professional, as many pundits demand he does after this upcoming season.
Though sportswriters are quick to bring up Matt Leinart as someone who might have turned out better by skipping his senior season, staying for four years didn't seem to retard the National Football League (NFL) careers of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck.
Speaking of Luck, wasn't he being hailed for staying in Stanford University for his senior year just three years ago?
A lot can happen on the field, and in the classroom. But I hope Winston can show others over his lifetime yet another example of a college degree meaning something. If you're going to pick on Winston, you should save it for some off-the-field shenanigans.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.