Congressman Lawson hosts panel discussing mistreatment of college athletes
April 8, 2019
In The News
Congressman Al Lawson's latest challenge stretches beyond regional boundary lines. The District 5 representative is working on a campaign focusing on the civil rights of collegiate student-athletes nationwide.
As a former basketball and track star at Florida A&M University, Lawson knows all too well the difficult balancing act of playing sports as a full-time student.
Since his heyday as a Rattler, he's witnessed the massive economic expansion of the NCAA. Conversely, Lawson says he has watched athletes suffer as indentured servants under this governing body's ironclad rules and harsh penalties.
Recently, Lawson hosted a panel discussion on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to address the misuse and exploitation of athletes by the NCAA. The event also included a movie screening of the sports documentary, Student Athlete.
This film highlights the world of high-revenue college athletics through the stories of young men at varying stages in their careers. Student Athlete is an HBO Sports presentation in association with LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Jamal Henderson at SpringHill Entertainment.
Additional direction and production credits include Steve Stoute, Trish Dalton and multiple award-winner, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.
They each joined Lawson as panelists along with Natasha Cloud of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and former USFL, NFL and CFL player, Robert Turner II, Ph.D.
“Student-athletes are the backbone of any athletic program at a university. It pulls alumni and people together for great events. It provides great entertainment and resources to the university," Lawson said.
"It's unimaginable for most people how much resources these athletes bring to the university. We want to make sure they're treated with great respect and have the opportunity to share in the American dream. The athletic programs, through the NCAA, as well as the university, must take care of these athletes to give them a great start in life."
A crowd of more than 200 attendees was on hand to watch the film and hear commentary on the issues from the panelists. The audience was filled with fellow politicians, Washington, D.C.-area high school/college students along with current as well as former student-athletes.
"Student Athlete is about telling the important story of college athletes and the struggles and sacrifices they make with little to show for it," Carter said. "We’re proud that our film can help turn this long-time conversation into real action."
Lawson opposes the structure of athletes generating billions of dollars for the NCAA and their respective universities off the services of free labor.
He specifically cites the current one-and-done policy as a direct civil rights violation. The rule mandates a basketball player must enroll in school for a minimum of one season before submitting their name for the NBA Draft.
"The one-and-done situation is a civil rights issue. It should be eliminated," Lawson said.
"If a student-athlete is good enough like Duke's Zion Williamson and many others when they come out of high school, they should be allowed to make a living for themselves and their families. Universities spend millions of dollars on recruiting. They are there for one year, so they're not there to get a degree. It's a bad rule. This is one of the reasons why I filed the NCAA 2019 Act to get people to change it. People are beginning to sign on because they realize it's a great civil rights issue."
Panelists gather for a group shot after the discussion. From left to right: Robert Turner II, Ph.D., Trish Dalton (co-director/producer), Maverick Carter (producer/CEO of SpringHill Entertainment), District 5 Congressman Al Lawson, Steve Stoute (producer), Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (co-director/producer) and Natasha Cloud (WNBA Washington Mystics player).
Panelists gather for a group shot after the discussion. From left to right: Robert Turner II, Ph.D., Trish Dalton (co-director/producer), Maverick Carter (producer/CEO of SpringHill Entertainment), District 5 Congressman Al Lawson, Steve Stoute (producer), Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (co-director/producer) and Natasha Cloud (WNBA Washington Mystics player). (Photo: Kristie Boyd/ U.S. House Office of Photography)
Lawson also notated the contradiction in the rule. Baseball players can get drafted out of high school and go straight to a team's minor league farm system.
He additionally referenced the racial and economic inequities behind the one-and-done law. Those with the skills to make the leap from high school to the NBA are primarily African-Americans with financial challenges.
"About 95 percent of the guys are African-American. They come from deprived backgrounds. Therefore, they just want to do better for their families. When they have the talent, we need to go ahead and let them do it.
From a local standpoint, fellow Rattler Justin Ravenel stands in agreement with Lawson.
Ravenel recently completed his final season at FAMU as the school's all-time scorer in 3-point field goals. He will graduate this spring.
FAMU's budget isn't on par with Power 5 conference schools or other Division I programs. However, he knows student-athletes and their likeness are used to generate huge funds without any trickle-down effect in their favor.
"The NCAA is a business and cares nothing about athletes," Ravenel said.
"They don't care if we graduate, won't give us a reason on why we can't get paid and they don't acknowledge suggestions. I'm supporting him (Lawson) 100 percent. If he needs athletes to get involved, I'll do so."
Student Athlete originally aired in October on HBO. The recent NCAA tournament brought the subject matter to the forefront for a panel discussion.
The 90-minute film uncovers stories of unjust sanctions, billion-dollar TV contracts, recruitment spending, product-placement deals and the hardships of athletes.
"We filmed a number of players, a coach and a shoe rep over the course of two years," co-director Dalton said.
"Before we made the film, both Sharmeen and I were not familiar with college sports. The reason we got interested was because we started to find out about the human rights issues. We're both human rights documentary filmmakers. Quickly into our research, we realized that this is a human rights issues. Players are being exploited especially in the high-revenue sports of football and men's college basketball."