Todd Gurley Is Not Free
This Saturday will be a great day for myself and the entire Dawg Nation. Todd Gurley will be back in the Red (Yes, RED) and Black. Mizzou will probably lose (if not Saturday then eventually), and the Dawgs will have the opportunity to use a win over Auburn as a catapult back into the fringes of the playoff picture.
All of that is very good.
But we are fooling ourselves if talk about the return of Gurley as a ‘victory for the good guys’ or, especially, if we are foolish enough to say that Todd Gurley is finally ‘free.’
Todd Gurley, and no other college athlete for that matter, is free.
The fact of the matter is that throughout this reinstatement process—and we can never let our joy cloud this out—UGA reinforced rather than challenged a system that is fundamentally unjust. UGA chose to play the game in the way that programs who do things the ‘right way’ play the game — by the book, without protest.
On the one hand, this is a very admirable thing to do. We refuse to let players who don’t deserve to wear the Red and Black suit up for us. We do not shy away from the fact that our players do things that are not now, nor have they ever been morally acceptable. We follow the rules as they have been set, believing that those rules exist for a reason.
Richt’s unwillingness to play the ‘game’ of ‘play first, ask questions about morality later’—one that Jimbo Fisher has mastered like no other—is a really good thing. And if he ever stopped doing that I would be the first one to call for his job.
On the other hand, however, there is a vast difference between doing things the right way from a ‘we don’t let rapists play for our football team’ perspective and doing things the right way from a ‘Amateurism is the only acceptable moral philosophy’ perspective. You see, there is a ‘right way’ that most all football fans can agree to (‘Don’t valorize or reward people who do immoral things’) but then there is the right way according to the NCAA (‘Athletes are only allowed to make money for us, not for themselves). The NCAA’s ‘right way’ will continue to exploit young (mostly black) athletes until someone challenges it.
UGA ultimately failed to do that, and that disappoints me.
Todd Gurley is not free. Nor are any of his teammates. That is a problem that ought to be addressed. I thought UGA was the program to begin the push, and I thought this was its moment.
There are many who would say that what UGA has done is standing tall, that it is defending Todd Gurley’s career and brand against an organization that would have him never play another snap if they were so inclined.
There is perhaps some merit to that opinion. But in reality, what UGA did was play the NCAA’s game, albeit very much to UGA’s benefit. But so long as the game continues to be played by programs that are true power brokers in the sport, the game will continue without interruption no matter how many people get left in its wake.
The ‘game’ needs an interruption.
Not because it is a moral imperative that athletes become millionaires, but because the rules that prevent them from doing so are in place only to prevent anyone but those in power from benefitting off of their labor.
It has been my contention that UGA was in a unique position to fight those rules. Every day that Todd Gurley wasn’t on the field was a day that hurt the NCAA more than it hurt any other entity in the equation.
Todd Gurley, honestly, probably benefitted from not playing, as it would have kept him injury free until Draft Day. The State of Mississippi finally learned how to win so Mike Slive could have sat back and let the NCAA sweat without worrying about his conference’s chances of getting a team into the Playoff (and we will probably still find a way to get two in anyway).
Finally, and this is key, if Greg McGarity had turned this into a real fight he would have had, for the first time ever, the full support of public perception.
UGA has passed on that opportunity.
Do I understand why they did it? Certainly.
But I wish that my Alma Mater had chosen to die on this hill rather than live to fight another day. Because that day — the day of an actual fight — will never come so long as programs like the University of Georgia continue to do whatever they can to keep the NCAA out of their hair.
In short, the NCAA is still a bully, and Georgia, like every other program, gave the NCAA its lunch money with the customary amount of contrition and gratitude.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate Todd Gurley’s return. And maybe UGA will get to have its cake and eat it too. Maybe UGA cashes in on one of the greatest players in the history of College Football AND leads the charge to have the rules that punished him changed in the future.
But all I have is today.
And today, despite all of the overtures towards a seismic change on the horizon, things have stayed exactly the same. Today the only person making money in this situation is the guy who created the “Free Gurley” shirts, not the athlete whose name that shirt bears. Today, college athletes still willingly agree to become unpaid minor league players who make billions of dollars for a countless number of people other than themselves, and they do it because that is the only way to ever have a chance at the career they want. Today, the price of college athletes everywhere is still ‘fixed.’ Today, like every day we’ve ever known…
Todd Gurley is not free.