On October 10, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author Taylor Branch visited Elmhurst College to talk about big-time college sports, and how its structure enables universities with powerhouse athletic programs to take in billions of dollars while their players are unable to earn anything for themselves.
Branch’s talk was based in part on his 2011 Atlantic article, “The Shame of College Sports,” which sports commentator Frank Deford said “may be the most important article ever written about college sports.” For that story, Branch conducted 120 interviews and introduced historical information about the NCAA that led him to describe the NCAA as “a classic cartel” that preys on the futures of young college athletes, cloaking the enterprise behind the shield of amateurism.
Those who espouse the sanctity of the amateur “student-athlete,” including the NCAA, would say the idea of paying players is absurd. But to Branch it’s a matter of human rights, and not allowing players the opportunity to bargain, or to request compensation for their work, is to deny them their rights, he said.
Branch later released an e-book, The Cartel, which includes more of his findings on NCAA practices and “exposes decades of greed and self-interest.” A related documentary, Schooled: The Price of College Athletics, will be released on October 16.
The biographer of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a leading historian of the civil rights movement, Branch is best known for his landmark narrative history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The first book in that trilogy, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards. Branch’s most recent book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013), identifies 18 essential moments from the civil rights movement and includes selections from his trilogy.
Branch’s lecture at Elmhurst, The Shame of College Sports, was part of the Rudolf G. Schade lecture series and was sponsored in part by BMO Harris Bank.