Power to the Players Movement Gaining Momentum in College Sports

College athletes, the unpaid labor of College Sports Inc., are speaking out after decades of being discouraged to do so. The Power to the Players movement is growing stronger.
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The Great Florida State Twitter Uprising of 2020 may not be remembered for long. In fact, by mid-afternoon Thursday it already was dying out, less than 24 hours after it started.

But the very fact that it existed is a noteworthy sign of the times. It was another milestone in a whirlwind week that is part of an unprecedented year, as Power to the Players becomes an increasingly more real and tangible thing in college athletics.

The athletes are speaking up. The athletes are calling out fraudulence when they encounter it. The athletes are flexing the muscles they always had but rarely used, because the system so strongly discouraged it.

How far this goes, nobody knows. But it will be fascinating to watch what happens next.

The Great Florida State Twitter Uprising of 2020 began shortly after midnight Thursday morning. Seminoles defensive tackle and team captain Marvin Wilson fired off a tweet that called out his head coach, Mike Norvell, accusing him of lying to Tashan Reed of The Athletic.

Reed quoted Norvell thusly: “We’ve had a lot of open communication with our team, our players and our coaches. I went back and forth individually with every player this weekend. And that was something that was important to me because this is a heartbreaking time in our country.”

Wilson tweeted, in response: “Man this (poop emoji) did not happen mane. We got a generated text that was sent to everybody. There was no one on one talk between us and coach. This is a lie and me and my teammates as a whole are outraged and we will not be working out until further notice.” That Wilson tweet drew public support from some of his teammates, and there wasn’t any discernible public dissent from the Seminole players regarding it.

That overnight brushfire led to a Florida State team meeting today via Zoom call, which apparently did enough to douse the flames that could have engulfed Norvell before he’d even coached a game. It would have been a rather bad thing to lose the locker room before he can even get into the locker room.

Norvell issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying he was “proud of Marvin for utilizing his platform to express his reaction to my comments …” and saying that he sent a text to every player “to present an opportunity for open communication with me.” Norvell said some players engaged him and others did not, then added, “Marvin is right. It was a mistake to use the word ‘every.’ Particularly at this time, words are important, and I’m sorry.”

Wilson seemed to declare himself satisfied with the result of the meeting, issuing an Instagram post that said, “Took a stand we got what we wanted & we are moving forward. Appreciate Coach Norvell for encouraging me to use my platform and speak for what me and teammates believe in. Be the change that you need when you was growing up and help build black communities up and take back what is ours.” That was accompanied by a video from Wilson discussing plans to improve Black lives in tangible ways.

“We grew as a team today,” tweeted FSU defensive end Curtis Fann, Jr.

So the Great Florida State Twitter Uprising ended on an apparent positive note, and well short of a program-wracking insurrection. Just think how differently all this would have gone down as recently as 2019, and every year before that.

A college player calling out his head coach on social media and declaring that team workouts would not continue until the athletes said so? First of all, it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened at all. But if it had, the result far more likely would have been a suspension than a team meeting and an apology from the coach. Fan backlash would be severe. The media likely would have piled on.

Not today, not now. Phony coaches who talk a good game about caring for players but don’t play it are facing new levels of scrutiny and accountability. Dictatorial coaches are facing greater challenges to their authority. Myopic coaches who expect players to care only about their sport are facing an imperative to widen their scope.

If the horrific killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests nationwide have done anything positive, it’s this: it has uncorked a lot of Black anger that needs to be felt by everyone in America; it has given a voice to people who rarely felt they were being listened to; and it has empowered Black athletes to take advantage of their prominent societal standing and speak out on issues that matter to them.

Even college athletes, the unpaid labor of College Sports Inc. Look what else has happened this week in the college space:

• A former Clemson player called out head coach Dabo Swinney for applying no discipline to a white assistant who directed the n-word toward another player a few years ago. That created another tempest for Swinney, whose response Monday to the killing of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide protests was rather underwhelming.

• Organized by the football team, a cadre of Missouri athletes gathered and took a knee at the iconic columns in Francis Quadrangle, then marched into downtown Columbia, where dozens of them registered to vote.

• Georgia Tech announced that nine of its teams, including football, will cancel all mandatory activities on Nov. 3, Election Day, in order to vote. All the men’s basketball coaches in the America East Conference pledged to give their players the day off on election day as well, as did Gonzaga’s Mark Few.

• On Tuesday, former Alabama gymnast Tia Kiaku accused assistant coach Bill Lorenz of making a racist comment to her and two of her Black teammates during a practice last year. A day later, Lorenz issued a public apology.

Paradigms are shifting, and they have been for a while now. Less percussively before this week, for sure, but it’s happening. When the NCAA formed its working group to study Name, Image and Likeness reform last spring, that was a major movement. When that group came back with its findings this spring and said the NIL bylaws must change, that was another major movement. Now we’ll see where Congress takes it, perhaps accelerating the notoriously slow and cautious NCAA pace of change.

College players are going to get paid. And after the events of the past week, college players are going to be heard. Expect this all to trickle down to recruiting as well, with new challenges to the old status quo.

Atlanta-based quarterback coach Quincy Avery, who has worked with former Clemson star Deshaun Watson and current Ohio State star Justin Fields, tweeted the following last week: “I think as a parent of a highly recruited athlete you should ask some questions if you never saw the HC speak out about social issues. I'm curious how you think they can take care of your son (if) they don't care about what people of color deal with.”

Jason Smith, head men’s basketball coach at prep-school powerhouse Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, tweeted this: “Parents & prospects- as you schedule Zoom meetings with prospective college coaches this week, please ask how they feel about the current ‘leadership’ of Donald Trump. If there is a pause or hesitation, end the meeting, & consider revising school list, immediately!”

And Mikey Williams, considered by some to be the No. 1 basketball recruit in the class of 2023, said on social media this week that he will consider attending a Historically Black College of University if he goes to college.

If you’re a college athletic administrator and you think the ground is moving beneath your feet, you’re not imagining things. The tectonic plates of College Sports Inc. are shifting. Power to the Players is a tectonic rumble. Ignore it at your peril.