The Politics of the Todd Gurley Case

I’ll try not to unnecessarily project my private hobbies into this blog, but since I’ve been following the Todd Gurley case (the University of Georgia’s incandescent star running back suspended for apparent sale of his autograph in violation of NCAA rules) since it broke late yesterday, I do want to mention a political insight that’s occurred to me.

Reading various comment threads collecting the reactions of an overwhelming white, male, and conservative fan base, I’m struck by the extent to which I am reading expressions of fury at the economic exploitation of poor African-American young people by powerful institutions. There’s almost zero support for the NCAA’s existing (if legally zombie-like, given recent court decisions all but tearing up its “amateurism” doctrine) policies prohibiting sale of autographs and likenesses of “student-athletes,” and a great deal of anger at both the NCAA and its member-colleges for harvesting this material for enormous profits. Indeed, the general feeling is that Gurley’s being punished less for breaking rules than for threatening the power of a cartel. I haven’t read anyone citing Marx’s Surplus Theory of Labor, but it wouldn’t be that out of place.

This show of solidarity is most intense among Georgia fans, of course, who are watching what might have been a memorable season go down the drain, but from what I’ve read, it’s very widely shared among college football fans, who might otherwise be expected (a) to wax sanctimoniously about rules being violated (can’t have any “amnesty,” doncha know) or (b) to enjoy the punishment of a “spoiled” player who dared defy the sacred traditions, however threadbare, of The Game.

I won’t pretend these attitudes are likely to spill over into issues less elevated than the secular religion of football. But you never really know.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.