The most talked about play of the college basketball season so far happened on Wednesday night as Duke’s Zion Williamson injured his knee after one of his shoes split open. It was less than a minute into the game when the star forward fell to the hardwood. Williamson was forced to leave the game against arch-rival North Carolina and did not return. Reports are that he suffered a knee sprain and is listed as “day to day.”
The build up to Wednesday night’s matchup was as intense as it has ever been in the storied rivalry. Ticket prices were rivaling that of the most recent Super Bowl. Celebrities, including former president Barack Obama, were on hand to see the contest. The reason for the hype was primarily Williamson, as the uniquely talented freshman is expected to go number one overall in this year’s NBA Draft. Alas, these high paying customers only got to see him for a short period of time before his night was over.
More than anything, this incident is shedding light on the absurdity to which college basketball conducts itself. A player who was the biggest reason for the ticket price and television ratings surge damaged his body while receiving no compensation for the revenue he was clearly responsible for. There is currently an ongoing debate within the sports media as to whether Williamson should even return to Duke’s lineup since he can’t possibly raise his draft stock any higher and could risk further injury. When the organization that a player plays under won’t allow their athletes to get paid, continuing to play under these circumstances might be too big of a risk.
One of the more interesting aspects of these opinions on Williamson’s future is how many on the political left are calling out the NCAA and questioning their unwillingness to financially compensate the athletes that comprise it. For example, The Ringer’s Roger Sherman was very critical of the current system in his latest article and lamented the situation that leads to elite athletes being exploited in this way. Sherman admitted in an NFL article he wrote back in September that he is a socialist. Yet his arguments criticizing the inability of collegiate athletes to profit off of their talent are intensely capitalistic.
The Ringer’s embrace of a socialist philosophy does not end with Sherman. The website has published numerous articles offering glowing praise of democratic socialist congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. As many of us know, she and others are in favor of dramatically raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Many who champion her cause have cited highly taxed European nations as a model for the United States to follow.
However, if one’s disapproval of the NCAA seizing all of the revenue created by its talent is so great, then why is the seizure of wealth by the state something to celebrate? Why does the government get to limit compensation via taxation if the NCAA’s prevention of compensation is so wrong? Why do those who desire the state to seize more private wealth not see the similarities to a collegiate cartel that seizes all of that wealth? Are the government and the NCAA really that different when put into this context?
While it is true that the NCAA prevents all wealth from getting into the hands of their athletes while governments take a certain percentage (based on income bracket), it isn’t clear why a lesser degree of income extraction is so much more virtuous. After all, if total income confiscation by an entity is seen as complete exploitation or even a form of slavery by some, then at what reduced level of confiscation does one cease to be exploited or enslaved? This question conjures up Robert Nozick’s “Tale of the Slave” in which he takes the reader through nine steps of slavery conditions that gradually improve. It starts with the master collecting 100% of the slave’s wages and ends with 3/7 of his wages being taken by a less cruel ruler. But the final question is still, “at what stage do you cease being a slave?”
The current tax policy put forward by Cortez and championed by others would raise the top tax rate to 70% after the ten million dollar mark is reached. Should Williamson become the NBA superstar many predict that he will be, he will have no problem reaching this number at some point in his career. However, the label that the political left throws around so frequently as a target for scorn is the dreaded “one percent.” The threshold for arriving in this exclusive club is not 10 million dollars but actually slightly less than $450,000. If we want to trot out the Scandinavian nations that the progressives seem to be so fond of, the top tax rate (that is significantly higher than that of the US) kicks in if a worker makes only around one and a half times the national average (roughly a $70,000 a year salary in the US). Here in America, a worker has to make eight times the national average in order to be subject to a lower top level tax rate.
So no matter if politicians want to soak those who make 10 million plus, the one percent or make this country more like northern Europe, the elite of the NBA are going to take a hit. As it stands right now, Williamson and other future NBA stars in the college game are having all of the money they accumulate confiscated by a ruling entity. Once they are out from under that rule and able to profit off of their talents, the ruling entity known as the state will lay claim to a sizable portion of what they are compensated with. Just like the NCAA claims that the benefits of attending college justify its withholding of any payment to their athletes, the government will claim that the benefits it bestows on society justify any and all taxation they wish to impose. Those on the left who advocate for collegiate athlete compensation and bemoan NCAA exploitation are oblivious to how the state lays its claim to privately obtained wealth using a similar farce.