I like Jalen Rose. He seems to be a good guy – smart guy. But he is so wrong about a potential boycott by players of the NCAA Tournament, it makes me ponder whether my assessment of Rose is close to accurate.
The idea of a boycott or strike is silly, but if players decide a stance against exploitation of amateur athletes while others make millions is worth the sacrifice of missing March Madness, hey, good for them.
I love boat rockers – those so furious with the status quo they take a substantial and sometimes painful stand. Our nation was founded by boat rockers. Abe Lincoln was a boat rocker. Muhammad Ali was a boat rocker. Bobby Kennedy rocked boats. Martin Luther King Jr. is the king boat rocker.
Jalen Rose was not a boat rocker. Rose wants others to take the stand he was unwilling to – sit during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in order to challenge the unpaid status of athletes who generate great wealth for others.
He played in two Final Fours in 1992 and 1993 without giving much – if any – thought to boycotting, but now he wants current players to sacrifice while he shouts “Atta boy!” from the ESPN set where he is very well paid to speak his mind.
Here are Rose’s comments about a potential boycott:
“I wish NCAA players understood the power that they now have. In a climate of so many things that are changing, so many discussions that have now come to the forefront that have been closeted for so very long – for a multitude of reasons. I wish NCAA players would exercise that power by boycotting the NCAA tournament.
“Imagine this: No different from what I said with the NFL players when they were doing their protest at the beginning of the year. Imagine if they would have shown up on a Sunday and decided not to play. The exact same thing with the NCAA tournament. How many people pay attention to collegiate basketball in March? (Millions). How many people in office pools and casual basketball fans or people who never watch basketball at all are filling out NCAA brackets? (Tons) Why are they filling out those brackets?
“Fun? Interesting?! They’re doing it to bet. They’re going it for the money…That’s why they’re doing it! So as a player, you now have equity. If (players) decided to band together and said, ‘We’re not performing tonight. We want to make a statement.’ Do you think reform would start happening real fast? I do!”
Rose’s wide-ranging inaccurate suppositions aside (like brackets are about cash for fans – they aren’t), he continues to profit on ESPN because of the brand he built as a member of the Fab Five. Without the Fab Five, Rose is Kendall Gill – a decent NBA player of minimal historical import.
And now he wants current players to sacrifice a wonderful experience with teammates as they chase history. His request is an insult to the players, who will now feel pressured to show the courage and temerity Rose was unable to summon when he was in the same position.
Tone deaf does not begin to describe Rose’s take. It was irresponsible, unfair, and impertinent.
Perhaps most important is the incorrect assessment of the power the players have. The supply of competent players will always exceed demand, and as long as that’s true – right or wrong – the power structure in collegiate athletics will remain mostly unchanged.
College basketball is not the NBA. The popularity of the NBA has been built through a star system. Fans go to see LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, and others. College basketball fans follow schools with which they have affiliation or a coach they like and respect.
This is especially true because of the churn provided by the one-and-done rule. Fans know that players are temporary jersey fillers.
When Rose dressed and played in the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Tournaments, he lost his opportunity to claim status as a high-minded activist.
This boat needs to be rocked, but only by those who are current passengers.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.