The term “student-athlete” has a surprising history
In Taylor Branch’s fascinating article, “The Shame of College Sports,” in September’s The Atlantic magazine on the history and often hypocrisy of the NCAA, acclaimed author Taylor Branch reveals an unexpected reason behind the usage of the term “student–athlete”: avoiding worker’s compensation liability.
Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.
Collegiate athletes certainly suffer injuries during their playing careers on campus. Many of these athletes receive items of value from the university, in the form of scholarships, lodging, meals, athletic gear, etc, which, if they were called “employees,” would be part of their wages for worker’s compensation purposes. Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.
According to Mr. Branch, the term “student-athlete” came into play in the 1950s when the widow of a student who died playing football in Colorado for the Fort Louis A&M Aggies brought a worker’s compensation claim for death benefits. The Colorado Supreme Court, agreed with the college that the student was not an employee at the time of injury, using the following interesting language (ironic in the big business of current revenue-driven college athletics):
“It is significant that the college did not receive a direct benefit from the activities, since the college was not in the football business and received no benefit from the field of recreation. In fact, the state conducted institution, supported by taxpayers, could not as a matter of business enter into the maintenance of a football team for the purpose of making a profit directly or indirectly out of the taxpayers’ money.” (State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Industrial Commission, 135 Colo. 570, 314 P.2d 288 (1957))
Wow. A court may have some difficulty using those words in today’s atmosphere. Regardless, Branch’s article detailed how, since that ruling, the NCAA has continued to use the term “student-athlete” as a shield.
Check back with us on Monday to find what Wisconsin workers’ compensation law can tell us about this issue.