Last month, author Dave Zirin visited KU to deliver a keynote address for “The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports,” presented by the KU School of Business, the Langston Hughes Center and Kansas Athletics. The event, co-sponsored by the KU Alumni Association and streamed live for alumni, included an unfiltered discussion of race at the intersection of big-time college athletics.
In his no-holds-barred talk, Zirin, who is sports editor for The Nation magazine, tackled challenges involving racism, sexism and the exploitation of collegiate athletes, an issue that he cautioned has grown out of control. He argued that the NCAA may be nearing a breaking point.
“If we don’t get student athletes at the table, there is the risk of the entire system collapsing,” he told the audience.
During his talk at the Kansas Union, he also gushed about KU. Referring to his visit as a pilgrimage, Zirin was impressed not only by Allen Fieldhouse but also by his tour of the academic support facilities. He confessed to the crowd, “I actually do believe that Kansas is special, and I’m not just saying that because I’m here.”
He meant it too.
In Zirin’s latest article published today in The Nation, he puts Kansas on a pedestal, echoing his sentiments from that night.
“There is something else about Kansas, which I witnessed first hand. …I saw something that I have never seen at other big-time state basketball schools: utter engagement of the athletes with the academic and campus life.”
Zirin suggests that, by virtue of its reputation as a basketball superpower, Kansas has an obligation to help lead efforts to reform college athletics.
“As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and Kansas has a responsibility to not only feel content about what they are doing in Lawrence but to challenge the NCAA to fundamentally reform.”
Other than Kansas, he wrote, “one would be hard pressed to think of a major institution that has the credibility to stand up to the NCAA and be heard.”