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State lawmaker's effort to compensate college athletes 'a conversation starter'

Mark J. Terrill
AP Photo
Washington quarterback Jake Browning runs against Ohio State during the first half of the Rose Bowl Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif.

A state House committee will hold a public hearing next week on a bill to allow college athletes to receive compensation. The athletes wouldn't be paid a salary but would be able to benefit from the marketing of their talents. The bill has been proposed by Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn).

KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked about the legislation — and the bigger issue it addresses — with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.


Thiel said the legislation proposes a novel idea.

"You're not asking the universities to start forking over more money than they already think they should. I think they should. Because they're making millions off the unpaid labor of these athletes.

"Sure, they're getting a scholarship, but they're often bringing in money that's many times more valuable than what they're getting compensated for in the scholarships.

"This idea makes the state an actor in this little drama, which has typically not taken place because the NCAA is a trade association, run by Mark Emmert, the former University of Washington president, that helps the collective will of the universities make money as an entertainment operation.

"And they're doing very, very well because they don't have to pay the labor force. They just give them scholarships. It's a scam. And it's been a scam for many years.

"This piece of legislation, even though it's unusual, is a conversation starter."


The legislation (House Bill 1084) has been referred to the House College and Workforce Development Committee. It's scheduled for a public hearing on Jan. 22.

Thiel doesn't expect it to go further than that. But he said it's a start.

"That's what this issue needs is more conversation among more state legislators about this inequity that's going on," he said. "(Rep. Stokesbary's) notion is that if the state is a player in this, he wants to let the marketplace give athletes a fair share.

"If a sneaker company wants to have (Washington) Husky quarterback Jake Browning endorse a sneaker, he can get compensated at fair market value.

"Now there are problems with that, of course. Not all athletes will be treated equal. But it's a starter. Some athletes deserve compensation if their likeness is being used to sell merchandise. That's always been the case that it should happen but it hasn't."


Thiel pointed out he's been a longtime advocate for compensating players. And he said the movement is growing.

"I've always believed that the NCAA is the second most reform-resistant institution in American culture next to the Pentagon," he joked. "They've successfully resisted reform. They've successfully resisted compensating players. And it's lasted a long time.

"The whole notion of amateurism is extinct in every other place in the world except U.S. college sports. It's an anachronism. It's a throwback to the 19th century British royal culture and it doesn't belong in the marketplace in the U.S.

"I'm hoping what happens here is this is a firestarter. That other legislators around the country will see this and say, 'Hey, is this something we can do?'

"The NCAA will say, 'Well, wait a minute, we're a national organization. We can't have this goofball state of Washington compensating players because it would be unfair.'

"And I would say the system is already unfair. And everything else in Washington is legal, why not this?"

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel with iTunes or Google Play now. You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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