Black Youths Lost, White Fortunes Found

Sports Betting and the Commodification and Criminalization of Black Collegiate Athletes

Since 2018, legalized sports betting has become commonplace in several states and may soon become commonplace in others. Yet, the conversation does not end once the gambler wins or loses a bet on their favorite team’s bowl game. Instead, the unintended—but far from unforeseen—result of such legislation is the immense harm to collegiate athletes. Some athletes will make a rational choice to participate in under-the-table fixing of games. But, in response to such a choice, the student may become liable for criminal and civil violations of state law, be in breach of contracts with the NCAA and their university and lose opportunities for future play and employment. Instead of searching for the root of this problem, governments, associations, and society will look to vilify the athlete. Can one, however, truly blame an athlete for making a rational economic choice in light of their exploitation and monetization? Society will argue yes and turn back to how such betting harms the integrity of the game. With such integrity harmed, society will say the most important social cost of sports betting is the delegitimization of nationally syndicated sports. But is that truly the most important cost?

Rather than focusing on how legalized sports betting may turn away fans who become apathetic to rigged matches, academia, news, and colloquial conversations alike should instead consider the cognizable harm to collegiate athletes. The time to look past the commodification and criminalization of college athletes is gone—we must all acknowledge their vital role in the game and protect them accordingly. For, in reality, the true integrity of the game comes from the athletes and the value they bring to us all. This Article argues that the only way to prevent this immense social cost to collegiate athletes is to continue prohibiting legalized sports betting. We do not argue that this will solve the problem of commodifying and criminalizing athletes, but we hope that we will become one step closer to acknowledging the value of every athlete’s life beyond the court or field.

a. Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law. S.J.D. 1979, L.L.M. 1968, University of Wisconsin Law School; J.D. 1967, Vanderbilt University School of Law; B.A. 1964, Washington and Jefferson College. I would like to extend my appreciation to J.W. Kindt and Marianne D’Souza.

b. J.D. 2021, Emory University School of Law; M.S. 2018, B.S. 2017, University of Texas at Dallas. I am forever indebted to the counsel of Natasha Spreadborough, whose constant validation of my research keeps me sane and motivated to change the world. Finally, the greatest appreciation goes to my late grandmother, Ursula Bratschitsch. From a displacement camp in Stuttgart, to a townhouse in Hamilton, to home in Atlanta, a woman who fought for everything and stopped for nothing. I owe my world to her. Dziękuję babcia.

The full text of this Symposium is available to download as a PDF.