1 Timothy 5: 17-18
17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
Last week, we talked about paying workers a fair and livable wage for their work. There is a large group of unpaid employees in a beloved and billion dollar American industry. The industry is collegiate athletics and the employees are currently called student-athletes. Anyone who sincerely believes that student-athlete is an accurate term for privileged adolescents has probably never been on an athletic team of any significance. They have probably never heard of two-a-day practices, weight room sessions, or film sessions. They were never on special diets or special study sessions. They never had to schedule their classes, vacations, or family celebrations around practice and competition schedules. They probably never had to take summer courses to maintain academic eligibility to remain on a team. All of this effort that is standard for collegiate athletes all over the country is deemed by many as not being worthy of meaningful income. That participation in collegiate athletics is enough of a privilege in itself that no other reward should be necessary.
As noble as this may sound, it is utter hogwash when one considers how much money is generated by collegiate athlete. The NCAA makes greater than $950 million annually. This sum doesn’t include individual television and endorsement contracts that major schools like Michigan, Duke, Texas, USC, Notre Dame, and Florida have. Nor does the sum include the millions that college coaches are allowed to generate for themselves. In 2015, a financial website, NerdWallet, calculated the revenue projection of individual division 1 collegiate basketball players at the top 25 schools based on rankings at the beginning of the March Madness tournament. They calculated that the average player in the tournament generated $487, 617 in revenue. When one considers that this amount is based on television revenue, collegiate players are generating even more money.
Nonetheless, the players are expected to be grateful for fancy locker rooms, dorms, and cafeterias for all the money they generate. They are not to expect stipends, salaries, and any meaningful compensation in any shape or form. If so, they forfeit their eligibility to play and may bring punishment to their respective universities.
Given all the work and discipline that is expected of these student-athletes to bring not only pride and glory but riches to their institutions, it is shameful that they aren’t allowed riches for themselves. Just like preachers, doctors, police, and firemen, these student-athlete-employees provide a valuable community service and should be compensated for their services. If ox are expected to eat freely the grain they produce while they work, then so should these adolescents who generate millions for their collegiate communities. It is in the Bible.
Apostle Paul’s take on Deuteronomy 25:4 suggests that productive labor is deserving of meaningful compensation. Whether it is a living wage or paying student-athletes, the Bible supports paying people for any labor they provide that we profit from.