Everyone seems to be talking about what a joke the NCAA’s penalty for Texas A&M‘s Johnny Manziel is. They are partly right to do so. The NCAA clearly has no intention of disciplining a player who has the potential to make them tons of money over the next three seasons.
However, the discipline (or lack thereof) of Johnny Manziel presumes that he actually did something wrong. To be sure, Manziel broke the NCAA’s rules when he allowed his name and likeness “to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products, or accept payment for the use of their names or likenesses.” But again, the fact that the rule exists does not make that rule just and does not mean that Manziel did anything inherently wrong.
I play the saxophone. I spent the last eight years of my life as a music student at Washington State University, where I played in several university ensembles. I received some scholarship money, but I wasn’t paid to play in those ensembles. I was, however, allowed and even encouraged to hustle my own gigs as a musician and make money on the side with my talents. This was entirely acceptable.
So why can’t athletes do the same? Johnny Maziel’s autograph is worth way more than my saxophone playing (at least for now), but the principle is the same. I don’t think that universities should pay their athletes, but if they are able to earn money using their skills, talents or even just their names an likenesses outside of their university service, who is the NCAA or anyone else to stop them? Many of these players come from under-privileged backgrounds and have worked long and hard to become elite university athletes with dreams of someday playing in the NFL. Their skills have clear monetary value to their universities, TV networks, retailers and news organizations, yet the NCAA insists that they have no right to any of that money. This is both unfair and unjust.
I’m not familiar with Manziel’s background, but it doesn’t matter. The NCAA has no right to tell him what he can and can’t do with his own likeness on his own time. As long as he isn’t out committing crimes with it, Manziel’s skills and likeness are his, not the exclusive property of Texas A&M or the NCAA. The punishment he received is most certainly a slap on the wrist at best, but he still doesn’t deserve it.