And the award goes to... Colin Cowherd!
On Wednesday, he unleashed what was, by far, the single stupidest rant about paying college athletes I've ever heard. Deadspin reported on rumors this week that Cowherd is being wooed away from sports talk radio to do political talk. Maybe this was his idea of an audition tape.
Regardless, the intellectual laziness and aggressive ignorance on display were astounding.
The rant went on for about 15 minutes, so there's a lot of ground to cover, but the basic "argument" was this:
An undefined "You" only started harping on pay-for-play five years ago and it's not because you care about whether the players get paid. You're just resentful of the rich white coaches -- yup, he went there -- making a ton of money. That's all this is -- resentment against successful white men earning their due in a free market.
That's the argument.
Now for some of the gory details:
1) Cowherd set the stage by establishing that 47 percent of Americans don't pay any taxes at which point I thought -- "Good god. Not this again."
This moronic and utterly factual incorrect assertion was a staple of right-wing discourse during Obama's first term and more or less blew up in their collective faces when the infamous Romney video -- the one about the 47 percent takers -- became public in the fall of 2012.
The Center on the Budget and Policy Priorities has the details, but the basic points are these:
A) About 35-40 percent of households do not owe federal income tax in a given year.
B) Virtually all working Americans are, however, paying other kinds of federal taxes, notably payroll taxes.
C) There are a wide range of state and local taxes, including sales taxes, as well as federal taxes like gas taxes, that essentially everyone pays.
In sum, the 47 percent number is wholly made up and only a willful ignoramus would trumpet it.
What does this have to do with paying athletes? Good question. Apparently, the undifferentiated "You" only fake-interested in paying athletes comes from that (imaginary) part of lower-income America that doesn't pay taxes.
Let us unpack a little further this resentful anti-market individual who doesn't really care about the players but only wants to stick it to the poor little rich white guys that Colin is so valiantly defending.
Off the the top of my head, the two most prominent supporters of paying players are Jay Bilas and Sonny Vaccaro. Who can say with a straight face that they don't actually care about paying players, but only say what they do because they seethe with resentment at John Calipari's salary? I guess Colin can. But I doubt whether anyone else who's paid any attention to this debate would join him. Who else? Pulitzer-prize winning author Taylor Branch, whose viral 2011 article has shaped much of the current debate? The attorneys Jeffrey Kessler (who Cowherd did once have on the show) and Michael Hausfeld, each of whom is involved in litigation against the NCAA and its anti-market practices, the latter of whom was the lead attorney in the O'Bannon case? Ed O'Bannon himself.
Is Colin suggesting that none of these gentlemen pay taxes? Or that any of them is in this because of resentment at rich white men? (This is, it should be noted, an extraordinarily successful group of individuals, who have thrived under American capitalism).
Posing these questions sounds utterly ridiculous, I know. But this is where Cowherd's atrocity of a diatribe has left us.
Speaking of anti-market practices, Colin hilariously tried to lecture his straw men proponents of paying players that they don't understand that the large salaries that the Cailparis and Sabans pull down are just the way markets work.
Colin, let me explain this so that even a 6-year-old can understand (and then can explain it to you). The reason college football players and basketball players aren't getting paid is because the NCAA and its member institutions have, until now, interfered in the marketplace. They have been allowed to operate as a cartel that fixes the compensation for athletes at the level of a scholarship. In other words -- and the courts are coming around to this -- they have conspired against market competition, in violation of anti trust laws. That Cowherd, in his inimitable smugness, actually thinks market arguments support his position is a perfect encapsulation of how little he's learned about any of these issues (though, as he himself brayed, he's been doing this work for 30 years). So maybe, since it turns out Cowherd is the one hostilely opposed to the free market, he should take the advice he gave to his imaginary adversary -- move to Norway. (Though, as it turns out, Norway has plenty of rich people. So, better perhaps, a time machine to transport him back to the Soviet Union).
It also turns out that this undifferentiated blob of class resentment are also the same people who buy lottery tickets (believe me, I wish I were making this up). Again hilariously -- and again, in the sense that it was so stupid it hurt to hear -- Colin tried to explain that it's not rich people who buy lottery tickets, it's poor people. He actually said this as if he were shedding light on a heretofore misunderstood phenomenon. Rest assured, Colin, 99.9 percent of adults with functioning brain cells know who buys lottery tickets. See, the point here is that all those lottery ticket buyers -- who are now part of the undifferentiated blob that supports paying players, but not really, they just want to stick it to the man -- are hypocrites, because they want to get rich, too.
Then there was the idiotic digression into the little known fact that there are professors out there who make a fortune, but escape the resentment that Saban and Calipari do because their salaries aren't published in USA Today. Look, some of my colleagues make very good livings. But what the in the world is this guy talking about?!
(Breaking: add long-time NBA player Shane Battier to the list of non tax-paying, lottery-ticket-buying haters of rich white men, easily inferred from his support for paying college athletes).
There was a another misinformed digression into the Northwestern union case during which Cowherd tried to claim that the likely no vote by the players means the players support Cowherd's position (uh, no, it doesn't). And a laughable claim that because a volleyball player would have the opportunity to leave college debt free, there is no such thing as exploitation in college athletics (yes, Colin, volleyball players, as everyone knows, are the focal point of all the litigation and discussion around paying players).
As for his harping on the fact that the issue has only gained traction in recent years -- so what? Issues that simmer below the surface before suddenly bursting into full view arise regularly. It is a reality of social life. Would Cowherd allege some dark conspiracy to explain why gay marriage has only become a prominent part of our national discourse in the past decade? The O'Bannon lawsuit, the explosion in TV money flowing to the big conferences and the enormous increase in the salaries of elite coaches have all shined a light on the absurdity of not paying players. Dozens of economists, as well as other scholars ranging from anti-trust law to sports management have affixed their names to legal briefs and otherwise come out in support of the proposition that the NCAA is illegally constraining the workings of the market by denying players appropriate compensation. I find it highly doubtful that all woke up to this issue five years because they resent rich white men. And I am even more confident that virtually all of them pay taxes (though I can't vouch for their lottery-ticket habits).
I know Cowherd's job is to attract listeners. And a good portion of his audience probably ate this up. But I cannot believe that the execs in Bristol aren't embarrassed by such an all out attack on logic, minimal standards of evidence and basic coherence.
You can follow my musings on ESPN and other sports media here.