COVID-induced chaos has seemingly awakened NBA and college football players to the power they possess.
In a two-day NBA players strike that threatened to end the 2020 Playoffs, LeBron James and his fellow player representatives pushed team owners to retool their arenas as polling sites for the upcoming election. This occurred after players had already secured $300 million in donations to black communities from team owners as well as league-sponsored ads promoting social justice. While the players' boycott did not last long, it set a precedent that will likely change professional sports forever. Players hold the power in professional sports, and they're harnessing it toward their goals for society whether fans like it or not.
The power structure varies in a college sports system where student-athletes drive profits for their schools, athletic departments, and coaches… at least traditionally. But now that LSU star Ja'Marr Chase has opted out of his junior season with the reigning National Champions, NFL-ready underclassmen have a model for minimizing risk once solidifying their draft stock. While players like Ja'Marr Chase have little to gain from returning for additional seasons, this kind of loss can cost a school like LSU and a conference like the SEC a Playoff appearance or even a National Championship. Schools are no longer indispensable to players like Chase, but players of his caliber hold more value than ever before in the eyes of Athletic Directors and coaches. If the NCAA doesn't better incentivize these players to play at least three years, we may see more risk-averse college football players opt out of future seasons, a more mercenary-like approach from those players, and ultimately an inferior college football product. After PAC-12 players threatened an NBA-like strike earlier this offseason, I would not be surprised to see players of Chase's caliber leverage their value toward driving player compensation in coming seasons… and perhaps toward social reform as well.
In this podcast episode, Professor Mike Lewis and I further discuss the rise of player power in college football and the NBA. We also discuss how a theater-less future would impact the film industry in a rare non-sports segment at the end of the episode.