Sports

Slave Trading in the 21st Century

FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA — ESPN recently aired an expose about international students who are being imported to the United States by high schools for the purposes of building successful basketball programs. FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA — ESPN recently aired an expose about international students who are being imported to the United States by high schools for the purposes of building successful basketball programs. The allegations of recruiting violations made against the International Student Exchange Company are similar in principle to indentured servitude and slavery once used to meet workforce needs in the early days of this country. Eastern European students and African students were the two groups featured in the expose. The eastern European students appeared to have been recruited from war-torn countries, such as, Yugoslavia. African students appeared to have been recruited from across the continent but primarily from the lower socioeconomic class of their countries.

The major difference between this 21st century brand of indentured servitude and slave trading is the willingness of players to be imported.

For years, intercollegiate athletics have been branded as a “plantation system”. However, it is important to remember that the players are being recruited to work on the high school level, therefore attracting much more attention because interscholastic athletics is really supposed to be amateur athletics. The recruiting violations justified by high schools as necessary to building winning teams have the potential to negate any opportunities these students might have for obtaining a college athletic scholarship. For instance, the NCAA mailed lists of all basketball student-athletes to their respective schools, asking how each student-athlete who attended a private high school had paid their tuition expenses. The purpose of the list was to offer the student-athletes the opportunity to self-disclose payments made by third parties on their behalf in order for them to play basketball for private high schools. With that said, within all Division I institutions, approximately four student-athletes self-disclosed. They subsequently served suspensions at the college level for events that had, in fact, occurred at the high school level. The overall response of collegiate coaches and institutions was that the NCAA was going too far. Therefore, no other student-athletes disclosed the requested information and nothing has been reported since on this subject. However, for international imports the impact can be much greater.

Much like the slave trade of old, international students are imported via the services of a broker. The broker markets the players’ skills to high school programs seeking to reap the perceived benefits of successful basketball programs. On the surface, it appears to be a “win-win” situation. Eastern European and African students have the opportunity for a better life in the United States, and high schools gain instant contributors to their basketball programs. So, what is wrong with this “win-win” situation? Plenty.

Recruiting violations aside, profit from the trade of human beings is wrong, not to say illegal. Just as the argument that poor, inner city kids could not get into college without athletic scholarships is full of holes. So, too, the argument that poor international students are receiving good American educations is full of holes. Both arguments fail because, in both cases, education for the student-athletes is treated as a by-product of athletics. Education is the extracurricular activity; basketball is the curricular. In the cases presented by ESPN, the brokers were paid by high schools for bodies. Invoices were presented for payment for the costs of transportation, room and board for players until they reached their final destination.

In reviewing our own history, we find that indentured servants were the first imports to this country. However, indentured servitude failed because one of two things happened once the poor, white bondservant became acquainted with the new environment. In some cases, they served their 7 years and

March 17, 2003
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