WVU professor challenges 'exploitation' of college athletes in new article

By Kacie Whaley | Sep 15, 2017

MORGANTOWN – In the scholarly article "Groomed for Exploitation! How Applying the Statutory Definition of Employee to Cover Division I-A College Football Players Disrupts the Student-Athlete Myth," West Virginia University law professor Anne Marie Lofaso uses a fresh perspective to explore the exploitation of student-athletes by the schools they represent and presents insightful points on how many of these students have technically earned qualification for employee benefits.

In her West Virginia Law Review piece, Lofaso, who specializes in labor and employment law, explains how she experienced student-athletes being exploited for their physical talents first-hand when she attended Harvard College. 

Lofaso was a diver for the school's varsity swim team, spending nearly 20 hours a week in practice and endured a neck and back injury. She saw that the time and risk put into school sports was a major sacrifice that was challenging to balance and that cut into student-athletes' time spent on their studies, work life and social life, her article states.

Lofaso includes examples of students being neglected after sacrificing for their institutions, such as in the case of the Frostburg State football player who died due to a concussion that the coach had allegedly ignored. She raises the question of whether the sacrifices these student-athletes make should warrant some form of compensation, which in some cases, could come in the form of employee benefits. 

Lofaso uses Division I-A college football players as the best example of how student-athletes could be obligated to employee benefits. Not only do these players practice and play for long hours and suffer injuries, but the universities to which they belong make a profit off of the work these players put in. She identifies this as "structural exploitation," which she writes "focuses on institutions within a particular culture, which when taken together enable exploitation."

"It is easier to see how Division I-A college football players are in an employer-employee relationship because several indicia of the employment status are present," Lofaso told The West Virginia Record. "First, they are often paid in the form of scholarship. Second, their schedules are controlled by the coaches. Third, Division I-A universities are often profiting from their football players."

Lofaso contends that many of these student-athletes are groomed for exploitation from the time they begin playing sports in high school, as they are required to handle a lot of the same responsibilities as college athletes, all the while helping to promote their institution and not receiving reasonable benefits.

"There are many things that high school athletics departments can do to prevent the exploitation of athletes before they reach college," Lofaso said. "They can try to change the culture by limiting the amount of time that any student may participate in extracurricular activities. We need to see this as a child labor issue."

Lofaso's article ultimately brings awareness to the depths of student athletes being unfairly used by the very institutions they represent. While she recognizes that the exploitation of these athletes is likely to continue, she suggests that the students receive benefits that they have worked hard to deserve.

"Regardless of how universities, parents, alumni, fans, and athletes view this problem, we should all unite to ensure the health and safety of our children," Lofaso said. "All children who play sports for their high schools should be under a health care plan provided by the school, which would complement the health provided by their parents). The same should be true for universities – they must provide additional health care to ensure that medical treatment, physical therapy and other sports-related medical treatment is available to all athletes.  

"Moreover, all high school and college athletes should be covered by their school’s workers’ compensation plans."

Read Lofaso's article here.

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