With every football Saturday that has gone by since the start of this season, I have seen at least two new t-shirts dedicated to fellow student-athlete, Denard Robinson. These creative t-shirts have sported phrases such as “Nard Dog,” “Shoelace,” “Let’s Get Denarded” and are worn by students all over campus. While these t-shirts are great in the fact that they recognize outstanding performance and reflect positively on Robinson, they pose a problem to the Athletic Department and the NCAA.
The Athletic Department recently issued cease and desist letters to local businesses, which ordered a discontinuation of the production and sale of individualized t-shirts glorifying current Michigan student-athletes due to NCAA rules, according to a Sept. 21 article in the Daily. The rule states that no NCAA student-athlete or business can make money off of current players. The reasoning is that getting money in exchange for play is meant for professionals.
This doesn’t just mean getting paid to play. Athletes also have to be careful about autographed apparel, public appearances, personal promotion and private lessons. Student-athletes have to be very careful to not violate these rules or their loss of amateur status and eligibility to play in college could be compromised. And when businesses capitalize on the fame, they are also breaking this rule. Even though student-athletes are not involved in making these t-shirts, it’s considered self-promotion and could endanger an athlete’s amateur status.
If I were given the option of watching a professional team or watching a college team, I would choose college almost every time. That goes for football, basketball, tennis, baseball, hockey — everything. There is something special about being and watching an amateur athlete. When you watch a college team, you know their motives. Student-athletes are playing the game because they love it and it’s a part of their education. It’s about the team, the University and the game, not the self-gratification. A vast majority of college athletes will not play professionally, so they realize that this is their time to shine, that they should leave it all on the court and to give it everything they have. There’s no reason to hold back because it will be over in four short years. I’m not saying that professional athletes don’t love what they do or that they don’t have immense passion for the games they play, but after the wins and losses there’s still a paycheck. And that changes the way they play and the atmosphere of the team.
There is also more community support coming from everyone including everyone from students, alumni, teachers, faculty and fans for college teams. For example, if you’re a Lions fan, and you happen to be in New Orleans when the Saints win a Super Bowl, you will most likely go out and celebrate the Saints’s win. But let’s say you’re a Michigan fan and Florida wins a national championship. I highly doubt you will be doing the Gator chomp or wearing that hideous shade of orange (though I do know there are crazy pro sports fans that will disagree). But that’s because there is more behind college programs. There are some 15 other sports, tradition, an entire university and more people invested in a college than a professional sports team.
There is also something to be said for the loyalty in college sports. By the time a professional athlete is done playing, they could have a laundry list of teams they’ve played for, but their college will still be listed as one.
Which brings me back to the t-shirts. There are always going to be outstanding players that get more glory and press than others. And with all the hard work they put in, this credit is absolutely deserved. But let’s not let this recognition take college athletics into a professional arena. Professionals have to worry about paparazzi, tabloids, public image and trust, but let’s leave that for them. Let college athletes be college athletes and learn to grow up and succeed along with everyone else. Keep the celebrity of professional athletics in professional athletics.
Personalized t-shirts, autograph signings, money and celebrity are all perks of making it to the next level. Though it is no doubt a smart business move to make money off of outstanding performance, it’s taking away from the atmosphere of college sports. Let the wins and outstanding performances be about Michigan football — not individuals.
Courtney Fletcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.