The notion of collegiate athletes receiving compensation outside of their typical scholarship has fueled debate topics for the majority of the 21st century. The NCAA has repeatedly cited that student athletes cannot receive monetary benefits for their work because that would violate their amateurism status. They also cite that the athletes are amateurs because they do not receive compensation. This circular logic is where the crux of this decade long debate arose.

Darius Robinson is a strong advocate for the payment of collegiate student-athletes, which he expressed during his exclusive interview with us at Armchair.

Robinson is a former college athlete himself, having played college football at Clemson University from 2010 to 2013. The 5’11” cornerback from College Park, GA, was given a rare opportunity that very few college athletes ever receive: a chance to play professionally. He signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2014, which would be his first and only season in the NFL.

Darius Robinson (41) warms up during the Buffalo Bills’ training camp. Image Via: Darius A. Robinson (@drobceo) on Twitter

In 2013, Robinson’s senior season at Clemson, he and five other student-athletes joined as plaintiffs in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA court case. O’Bannon vs. NCAA was a class action lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, which aimed to provide financial compensation to student athletes whose likeness had been used by the NCAA for commercial purposes. This issue ultimately turned out to be just a small-portion of a much bigger problem – the NCAA’s refusal to pay student-athletes for their participation in their respective sports.

“I wasn’t your typical athlete”

  • Connor Bedenbaugh: “In the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, you were one of the chief plaintiffs in the case. For any unaware readers, this lawsuit arose due to EA Sports’ use of ‘player-likeness’ in their video games for their own profit, while failing to provide any compensation to the players involved. What made you decide to join in on the lawsuit with Ed O’Bannon?”
  • Darius Robinson: “While I was at Clemson, I was one of those guys who thought totally different from the other guys around me. I wasn’t your typical athlete. I found myself more aware of other things that were going on behind the scenes. I could see how they [the NCAA] would cover things up, while also telling us that we’re privileged and we’re blessed because we have a scholarship. Even though it’s true that I was blessed, I viewed playing football as an investment. When you have schools that are spending $20,000 and more each year to get players on campus, but are bringing in $17,000,000 in a bowl game, it starts to devalue the scholarship.”

“I was upset with the whole situation”

  • CB: “What made this issue one that was so close to your heart?”
  • DR: “When I was at Clemson, I tried starting my own business. The stipend we were getting each semester just wasn’t enough for me to take care of myself. That led me to start looking for other avenues to make money. I started promoting my own business, but since I was promoting a product and a business that wasn’t “Clemson”, they had a problem with it. I had a lot of issues with compliance trying to shut me down, along with my coaches wanting my focus strictly on football. At that point, I was just upset with the whole situation. When they started to send out emails about the case [O’Bannon vs. NCAA], I felt so strongly about it that I decided to jump on board. I felt like my voice should be heard, because there were others out there who weren’t going to stand up for it.”

“The sport is already professionalized. It’s the players who aren’t.”

  • CB: “In 2014, the courts issued their ruling, allowing colleges to place up to $5,000 in a trust for each student athlete (per year of eligibility). The NCAA obviously tried to appeal this ruling, since it categorizes financial compensation to players as a serious violation. Were you satisfied with this outcome, or is this something you wish to continue to fight for?”
  • DR: “I definitely think this is something we should continue to fight for. Obviously my opinion is a little bit biased since I was a college athlete, but when you start to become aware of what’s really going on, you feel like the entire industry is a bunch of hypocrites. They say they don’t want to compensate the players because they it “professionalizes” the sport, yet there are coaches with $6 million contracts, TV stations with multi-million dollar contracts, and corporations with millions tied up in advertising. You mean to tell me that they don’t want to pay the college athletes – the ones who are making this all possible – because it “professionalizes” the sport? The sport is already professionalized, it’s the players who aren’t.”

Not Just a Piece of Paper

Despite any negative experiences, there’s no love lost between Darius and his alma mater. He continued to express just how much he appreciated his time in college, even though he felt like several things needed systematic change.

  • DR: “I love Clemson, and I’m not trying to knock anything that’s going on at my university. But Clemson just spent $55,000,000 on a new football operations facility. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I think that it’s great. It just goes to show though exactly how much money these schools are bringing in. They can spend the money to add all of these extra things, like barber shops and slides, yet they can’t put a little bit of that excess money into the player’s pockets. It’s like everyone else is benefitting off the athlete’s hard work. I really appreciate receiving my education, but they try to put a cloud over these kids’ minds that their education is worth more than it actually is. When you leave your college, life becomes all about connections and opportunities. It’s not just about some piece of paper [a diploma]. A lot of athletes don’t have time to choose the big-time engineering-type majors, so they’re forced into smaller majors that don’t yield high paying jobs. The bottom line here is that college football simply can’t be called amateurism. It’s a professional sport.”

Laughing at the Critics

  • CB: “Many people, albeit those of whom most likely don’t understand the significance of this case, have been critical of the lawsuit because it’s resulted in a cease in production of the NCAA Football EA Sports series. Is there a message you’d like to relay to those critics?”
  • DR: *laughs* “Let me just tell you, us as players, we love that video game. So it’s nothing against the video game itself, it’s more so a matter of what’s right and what’s wrong. People will always try to justify things with something else, like saying, “they want this and that, but they already get that and this”. But one thing I want to say is that if somebody is going to be making money off of you, and if somebody is going to be using your own personal likeness and brand, then you should be getting paid for it. If all college players, right now, went on a strike…what would happen? The industry would completely shut down. So I don’t like seeing these players treated like they don’t have more value than they actually have. NCAA athletes can’t unionize like they can in professional sports, which violates our rights as athletes when you consider what the industry is earning because of us. They try to keep you dumbed down. They create this system where they try to hold your hand and do everything for you, which can be great at times. But this will ultimately cripple somebody who’s not fully aware of what’s really going on. They’re sent off into the real world only to get told that they helped you become a better man. But in actually, for some players, it’s like removing the crutches away from them. They try to keep us contained within this tiny box, which isn’t a benefit to the players in the long run.”

Helping the Players Help Themselves

  • CB: “Now Moving on to pay-for-play in a broader sense. Describe to me what would be your ideal method to provide financial compensation to student-athletes.”
  • DR: “That’s really a difficult topic, simply because there are so many different college sports. One thing that I believe would be ideal, is to find some special amount that they feel to be fair, and figure out a pay schedule to where they can pay the athletes on a bi-weekly basis. They should get paid on a normal pay-scale, so that they have a better understanding for how the real world works. It could be, just as an example, something like $250 every week or $500 every 2 weeks. Put the money in their pockets as if they were in the real world, so that they don’t blow all of their money at once. Use it as a way to teach them how to budget and manage everyday life. That system would help them understand that they can’t spend all of this money at one time, because if they do, they might not have any money for the next 2 weeks. If you give a player their allotment for the semester all at once, and you look at the number of college athletes coming from poor communities or households, they aren’t going to know what to do with it because they’ve never had that kind of money before. The majority of us within the African-American community are coming into this process from the bottom, so when you put $4,000 in our pocket all at one time, we’re going to spend it so fast. So I believe by paying them adequately, and paying them on a pay schedule to where they aren’t given too much at one time, then it would be much more beneficial to that individual. It helps them adjust to what’s to come in real life, and it gives them a better understanding of how the real world works after college.”

Eerie Similarities

  • CB: “There’s no doubt that a scholarship from a prestigious university is a very valuable,  high honor to achieve. However, with the NCAA being a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s only fair that players earn compensation for what is essentially their free labor. In fact, the definition of an indentured servant states : “An indentured servant is a laborer under contract of an employer for some period of time, in exchange for transportation, housing, and  food rations.” Ironically, this sounds eerily similar to what a student athlete is. What are your thoughts on these similarities?”
  • DR: “You’re absolutely right about that comparison. If you wind back time to when all of the college coaches were players themselves, they would have felt exactly how we feel right now. But now that they’re coaches and not players, all of a sudden they feel completely different. Looking at it on a broader scale, maybe each player isn’t an “elite” professional, but by bringing in that much money in their sport in general, they’re still professionals. If you look at the workers for corporations that bring in similar amounts of revenue, you’d refer to them as professionals. So why can’t college athletes be regarded in the same way?”

“From my perspective, they’re a dictatorship.”

  • CB: “The NCAA is legally classified as a non-profit organization, which exempts them from the taxation of a corporation, partnership, LLC, or LLP. What are your thoughts on their classification as a “non-profit” organization, despite earning $52 billion dollars annually?”
  • DR: “I’m a business-minded guy, so I know all about non-profit organizations. Non-profits are some of the biggest organizations in the world. With them being exempted from taxation like regular corporations, that’s even more of a reason why they should pay these players. This is a perfect example of them being selfish and greedy. All in all, it devalues the young men and women that they claim to care so much about. From my perspective, they’re a dictatorship.”

Payment for Athletes in Small-Revenue Sports

  • CB“Obviously a big issue for the NCAA in paying athletes is being able to pay players in smaller sports outside of football and basketball. Do you believe that only big-money sports, like football or basketball, should benefit from pay-for-play? Or do you think payment should involve every student-athlete?”
  • DR: “I think payment should definitely involve all sports, but the amount that the athletes receive should be proportional to the revenue that their sport brings in. Obviously, football and basketball are bigger-money sports, but that’s the life we chose. Just like in the real world, some jobs earn more than others. I do think there should be a set minimum that’s equal across the board for all sports though, but anything they earn beyond that should be proportional to the revenue that their sport brings in.”

It was obvious from my time speaking with Darius Robinson that his passion surrounding this issue goes far beyond his own personal concerns, but it more centered upon his genuine care for the next era of college athletes.

What advice did he have to give all up-and-coming athletes? “Be aware of what goes on behind the scenes, and always be open-minded”.

Hopefully for Darius, and for all college athletes, his courage to stand up against the NCAA will promote such “open-mindedness” for college athletes moving forward. We appreciate Mr. Robinson’s time to conduct this interview, and we wish him the utmost success in all of his future endeavors.

Author Details
Clemson University B.A. ’17 Charlie Whitehurst for President. #BoltUp #RIPJoseFernandez
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Clemson University B.A. ’17 Charlie Whitehurst for President. #BoltUp #RIPJoseFernandez

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