Posts about college athletics appear separately on this site in the Ongoing Debate section under NCAA Sports.


George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated has launched an ambitious model to investigate the feasibility of paying college athletes. His results so far are posted on the SI site, prefaced admirably as follows: “The mission of our universities is to educate, but college sports is big business, and no one wants young athletes exploited.”

I applaud Dohrmann for this effort. It seems well motivated, and it shows that knowledgable people are thinking seriously at last about the fundamental structure of college sports.

Still, readers should pay attention to the basic design of Dohrmann’s model. Its starting point is the current athletic budget at leading universities, and its question is how much if anything those athletic departments can afford to pay their players. Not surprisingly, he concludes that “the vast majority of athletic departments do not generate enough profit to pay athletes.” Any revenue for such pay has been allocated elsewhere. Dohrmann’s model tracks the difficulty of re-allocation on a presumption that money to pay football and basketball players must come from the elimination of other teams.

This framework seems skewed to me. It purports to be an open-minded exploration while tacitly accepting too much of the status quo. “SI [Sports Illustrated] is not advocating paying college players,” Dohrmann states at the outset. “That’s a decision best left to college administrators.” Embedded there is a presumption that those administrators unilaterally can and should decide whether or not to pay their key talent. Why should they? What boss would give up discounted labor, especially when the resultant savings have been distributed among the bosses and coaches themselves?

I suggest a more basic starting point. Who should be involved in decisions about pay for college players? Does exclusion from the process exploit them inherently? If athletes are entitled to bargain for their own livelihood, like other citizens, then colleges must be free to pay them or not. A market would evolve. Salaries for coaches doubtless would decline. The overall college community, including the players, would make decisions about whether and how big-time sports are compatible with education. Players would cope straightforwardly with separate standards in two careers, academics and (often) commercialized sports.

Currently the system is rigged by a shaky cartel agreement through the NCAA. My survey of NCAA history, which appeared in The Atlantic, is now expanded and current for $3.99 in a ebook, “The Cartel,”. By confronting the hoax of amateurism, Sports Illustrated could re-build George Dohrmann’s worthy model on a sounder basis.

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Leonard diCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover

Leonard diCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover

I saw the Clint Eastwood film “J. Edgar” over Thanksgiving. Its portrait of Hoover is more personal than political, emphasizing his character through episodic moments in relation to Hoover’s mother, his self-molded Bureau, and the lifelong companion Clyde Tolson.

Eastwood handles the gay subtext with restraint, which is an admirable contrast to the widely embraced but fanciful rumors of a late-night Hoover in tutus and evening gowns. This private Hoover feels real on film, within the context of scanty historical evidence, which is quite an achievement.

“J. Edgar” is necessarily selective from a vast range of cases through which Hoover developed the FBI’s impact and influence across 50 years. The film skips the 1940s and 1950s entirely. It concentrates on the 1930s Lindbergh kidnapping, and it compresses the tumultuous 1960s into a glancing peek at Hoover’s war with Martin Luther King.

The Atlantic posted on its website a review that essentially took Hoover’s side in that war, criticizing the film and somehow invoking my King-era trilogy as evidence. This was quite a surprise. I found both the argument and the citation a bizarrely distorted claim, to the point that they invert fair interpretation. This was awkward for me, because The Atlantic had just published my historical essay, “The Shame of College Sports.” In another sense, the dispute illustrates the range of free expression. The Atlantic promptly posted my response, which is re-printed below.


Editors, The Atlantic

We received a response to this piece from Taylor Branch:

“John Meroney cites my work in his review of the Clint Eastwood film on J. Edgar Hoover, which is fine, but your readers should not be misled. I do not agree with Mr. Meroney’s interpretation of the relationship between Hoover and Martin Luther King.

That relationship was complex, especially when triangulated by each man’s simultaneous dealings with presidents through the tumultuous civil rights era. It is true that Hoover has been unfairly caricatured by gossip. It is also true that he was perhaps the most adroit bureaucrat in American history.

However, his fifty-year tenure in a position of secet authority did corrupt J. Edgar Hoover, which should come as no surprise to any student of U.S. constitutional theory. He became ever more an autocrat who resented and circumvented the accountable standards of free government.

Hoover’s lifelong domain was a homogeneous FBI hierarchy of white males with a handful of Negro chauffeurs and man-servants. He fought to keep it that way. His personal animus toward King was strong and steeped in racial prejudice.

In my view, Mr. Meroney’s commentary on The Atlantic website is even-handed only in appearance. He consistently excuses Hoover’s motives, overlooks his violation of democratic norms, and attributes his responsibility to others.

This portrait amounts to an apologia. Hoover deserves censure instead, balanced with chastening awareness that U.S. citizens as a whole left him in power too long.”

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Several domestic and foreign media outlets have asked whether I see connections between the explosive Penn State sexual abuse scandal and the structural flaws I perceived in a recent survey of NCAA college sports.

The short answer is yes. (My inquiry first published in The Atlantic’s October issue, is currently available in an expanded ebook, The Cartel.)

Any prolonged exploitation demands aquiescence that can be imposed only by gross disparities in power. The governance of college sports is telling in this respect. By fiat, the NCAA has concentrated almost complete control in precisely those college officials alreay fired or indicted at Penn State: the coaches and chief administrators.

So far, the NCAA has remained almost silent on the periphery of an unfolding investigation at Penn State. “To be sure,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert in a four-sentence statement, “civil and criminal law will always take precdence over [NCAA] Association rules.”

This deference to law is proper. It is also strikingly humble in contrast to the NCAA’s customary posture of quasi-legal authority. Sports officials speak formally of NCAA “legislation,” and the enforcement process for college scandals mimics the judicial aura of regular courts.

The gruesome allegations from Penn State stripped pretense quickly aside. NCAA rules have no standing in law. Their enormous influence on college campuses, allocating billions of sports dollars nationwide, rest wholly on private collusion without sanction from any level of government.

I think the most positive development since the Penn State revelations has been a rash of spontaneous seminars to examine the insulated world of college sports. How could athletic officials conceal abuses so long at such human cost? What reconciles the diverse roles of student and citizen, player and worker, teacher and fan? Can big-revenue sports be compatible with quality education? Who decides?

There is a healthy new cry for accountability. Some professors argue that faculties must no longer abdicate their share of responsibility for the university as a whole. Some students realize that NCAA rules exclude them all from membership, denying players the basic rights of representation, due process, opportunity, property, and freedom, among others.

Inevitably, reform would grant NCAA players, like Olympians, a stake in sports governance. Newly established checks and balances could curb the corruptions of concentrated power, but change will not come easy. The NCAA system is deeply entrenched at more than a hundred schools where big-money sports are glorified. It promotes greed, punishes the weak, rewards the exploiters, and fleeces the players, all while claiming to police itself. An overhaul, while sadly too late for the Penn State victims, is long overdue.

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Seth Davis has attacked me again in a CBS Sports Network commentary on November 7. Here’s a YouTube link, with apologies for the introductory commercial.

I’ve transcribed Davis’s remarks. They are printed below so that readers can compare our views in one spot.

First, some housekeeping. Davis says in this broadcast that my original magazine article appeared in the September issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Shame of the NCAA.” It was the October issue, in fact, and the title was “The Shame of College Sports.” These errors, while minor, took some willful neglect because the broadcast projected an image of the actual Atlantic cover on the screen next to Davis. (The article has now been expanded into a $3.99 ebook, “The Cartel,” available at

His substitution of “NCAA” for “College Sports” could have been Freudian. Davis does seem to identify with the NCAA, and champion its cause, but it may be purely coincidental that his parent CBS network pays the NCAA $770+ million each year just for broadcast rights to the March Madness college basketball tournament.

Davis indicts me for failing to cheer an NCAA reform handed down in the past few stormy weeks, which allows the major sports conferences to pay college players up to $2,000 more per year. He says I’m not cheering because my real goal is to destroy college sports. That’s not true. I’m a UNC alum who loves Carolina basketball among many college sports. My inquiry led me to question and finally reject only the NCAA’s right to impose amateur rules on college players without their consent.

In numerous interviews lately, I’ve welcomed the announced bonus for players while pointing out that the NCAA tortures ordinary language to insist that the $2,000 cash is not “pay.” The NCAA wants credit for generosity without any breech of amateur pretense. If the slightest compensation for athletic performance were acknowledged as such, players inevitably would gain standing to bargain. Instead, the NCAA tenaciously asserts a unilateral right to bestow benefits or not at its discretion, like tips to a bellman or waiter.

The tip system has become harder to defend in lavishly commercialized college sports. By excluding players from basic rights, the NCAA concentrates power unchecked in college athletic departments, where coaches have the gall to say they must keep the money for the players’ own good, to protect the amateur purity of youth.

Seth Davis distorts my portrayal of NCAA history, but it is far more important that he has ducked every challenge to justify the amateur rules imposed uniquely on college athletes. Here as usual he resorts to bluster for lack of grounds in law or principle. “Whether you like it or not,” Davis declared on the air, “college athletes are in fact amateurs.” This dismissive stance faithfully echoes the NCAA.

Contrived monopoly is a formula for exploitation, economic and otherwise, as sadly evident in the unfolding criminal scandal at Penn State. The best news from there so far is that classes across the Penn State campus are beginning ad hoc discussions on the structure and governance of college sports.


CBS Sports Network Commentary

Broadcast November 7, 2011

SETH DAVIS: The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors recently approved legislation that will allow conferences to give athletes an additional two thousand dollars to meet the costs of attending school. Since so many critics have been calling for just that kind of change, you might have expected the change to be greeted by roars of approval. Instead, it’s been met with deafening silence. That’s because many of the people who have demanded more money for students are actually demanding the end of college sports as we know it.

That is the explicitly expressed hope of renowned civil rights historian Taylor Branch, whose story headlined “The Shame of the NCAA” caused massive ripples when it was published in the September issue of The Atlantic. In the countless interviews Branch has given since then, he has repeated his prediction—his wish—that the NCAA will someday soon go away. He has pointed out that the United States is the only country where major college sports takes place, as if that’s a bad thing. And he has repeated his ludicrous analogy comparing college athletes on scholarships to slaves on a plantation.

There’s a great disconnect between the dialogue initiated by Branch’s article and the one that produced the reforms the NCAA just passed. I think that’s a good thing, because whether you like it or not, college athletes are in fact amateurs. They’ll never be compensated like professionals, but I’m glad the NCAA has found a way to get them a little bit more money to go with the priceless opportunity they’ve already been given to receive a free education.

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Last Thursday in Washington, my wife Christy and I were pleased to be part of the annual awards ceremony held by Search For Common Ground (SFCG), a sterling NGO that works on tough reconciliation projects worldwide. The organization is led by two of our dearest friends, John and Susan Collin Marks.

One of this year’s honorees, rapper Emmanuel Jal of South Sudan, electrified the crowd with a surprise performance of dance and song. The evening brimmed with inspirational stories and music, ending with freedom songs led by Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock. For me, it was quite a contrast from the comic whirlwind of appearing on the Colbert Report the previous night.

2011 Search For Common Ground Awards

Here is a photograph of Diane and me with her award. We were both pretty happy.

A blog on the SFCG website describes the ceremony and the six honorees for 2011.

My part in the program was to present the final Common Ground award to Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Bob Filner, and Diane Nash for their pioneer roles in the 1961 Freedom Rides fifty years ago. I have known and admired John Lewis since 1968, and worked for him at the Voter Education Project out of Atlanta in the summer of 1969. Like John, Diane Nash was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. She deserves greater recognition as an influential force in the civil rights movement. For decades now, I have told her that whatever actress plays her in a film version of my trilogy, for which there is renewed hope now at HBO, will deservedly become a star.

Below is the text of my presentation at the ceremony.

Presentation Remarks by Taylor Branch
Honoring the 1961 Freedom Riders

Search for Common Ground Awards Ceremony

The Carnegie Institute for Science
Washington, DC

October 27, 2011

The word “movement” in social history holds many meanings. Movements begin with a stir of inspiration, sometimes when only one person feels moved. They adapt or not by leaps of analysis and faith. They can grow by contagious response of hidden but limitless potential.

On Mother’s Day Sunday of 1961, not for the first or last time in civil rights history, Diane Nash acted forcefully to expand the identity and purpose of young colleagues in the freedom movement. “What do we do now?” she asked suddenly at a picnic. They were celebrating the success of a harrowing forty-night desegregation campaign at Nashville’s movie theaters. Everyone said the news bulletins were terrible about the bus burned in Anniston and the Freedom Riders beaten in Birmingham, but her insistent question baffled them. Why us, they responded, when the tragedy was way off yonder in Alabama, and why now, when their own battered movement needed recuperation?

“Way off yonder is where we decide it is,” Nash declared. If publicized beatings could stop the Freedom Riders, she added, the nonviolent movement would shrivel everywhere and die. She made them miserable with her vision of responsibility until the Nashville students resolved to move not by plans or petitions but by swift and disciplined witness to the very spot in Birmingham where white mobs had bludgeoned the first wave of Freedom Riders. They renewed the stalemate over whether an integrated bus could move, literally, a foot beyond the Birmingham bus station. They persevered to create a movement that gripped the White House and eventually the whole world with a broader conception of freedom.

Some may object that these Freedom Riders were too fiercely militant for this award, but the nonviolent student movement was an ideal catalyst for common ground. They remained steadfastly prepared to die but not to kill or injure for their cause. They absorbed more beatings and went deliberately to jail, making eye contact with oppressors. They unified means and ends across barriers of conflict. Their movement pulled together distant heartstrings to build common ground on common citizenship and humanity, setting in motion not only new laws but daily justice and freedom still enjoyed by millions of people with every breath.

It is altogether fitting, and a privilege, that Search For Common Ground honor these three people on behalf of the 1961 Freedom Riders. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta has been steadfast from the first inspiration, when few paid any attention to the original riders, through his sterling career in public service. Rep. Bob Filner of San Diego left Cornell to join more than four hundred contagious responders on Freedom Rides into prison in Mississippi, from which they emerged transformed and transforming. Last but not least, Diane Nash spurred a leap of commitment in the highest tradition of democratic self-government. She gave the Freedom Rides her fire of enlightened determination. We invite all Freedom Riders present to join her now on the stage.

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Fred Shuttlesworth

Photo from

There was an emotional reunion and farewell on Monday, October 24 at the funeral of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. He died of natural causes at 89.

I was honored to be there with so many people from the civil rights movement, who rightly acclaimed Shuttlesworth as its boldest and most fearless nonviolent leader in the face of segregationist repression.

Many preachers in the pulpit far exceeded the prescribed time limit for remarks, of course, but most of them were worth it. Rev. Joseph Lowery, who delivered the signal prayer at President Obama’s inauguration, had everybody helpless with laughter and then tears at 90. The ailing C.T. Vivian appeared by video from his home in Atlanta. Andy Young responded gracefully to gentle humor about being too nice and bourgeois for the tastes of a firebrand like Shuttlesworth.

I sat next to Martin Luther King, III. Just in front of us, Rep. John Lewis stayed for the entire 6-hour service and never seemed restless. Old friends greeted each other and stopped by to chat softly during breaks. Among many others were Rose Sanders of Selma, Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul & Mary, Bernard Lafayette of SNCC, historian Diane McWhorter, Dick Gregory the crusader comedian, and the former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who at last won convictions in the Birmingham church bombing case from 1963.

There was also wonderful music. For me, the most moving moment occurred when Shuttlesworth’s four children summoned about twenty of his descendants to the rostrum and sang a spontanous spiritual that started ragged but gathered precision and close harmony in many parts. They inspired tears in the congregation and stepped down with modest dignity, saying “grandaddy” has always wanted them to sing when they gathered.

All of us did our best to find a fresh angle of tribute when our turn came to stand in the pulpit over the coffin. Xernona Clayton, who worked for Dr. King at SCLC, preceded me with one of the stories from my prepared remarks, but that was fine with me. There was a clock running to reduce longwindedness, and I wanted to shorten my tribue anyway.

The service was filmed for podcast. If you’re interested, I’m sure the voluminous eulogy tributes will be available soon via Google. Here is mine in advance.

Tribute Remarks by Taylor Branch

Funeral of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth

Faith Chapel
Birmingham, Alabama

October 24, 2011

To the Shuttlesworth family, all the church families gathered here, to former members of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and to every friend of freedom through nonviolent bravery and sacrifice, let me say what a bittersweet honor it is to help bid farewell to the earthly form of the movement’s unsurpassed champion, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

I knew him best through many years of scholarship. Our personal contacts were limited, although I’ll never forget marching right beside him through Memphis on the 30th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, with Rev. Shuttlesworth ever the intrepid leader, telling stories while he said boldly “Follow me,” and “Everybody get out of the way.”

On visits to Selma and other places, we reminisced about the history that he had made and I had studied. Once long ago at a small church in Baltimore, Rev. Shuttlesworth was acknowledged but declined to speak, saying he was too tired, but the next thing we knew he was revved up to full throttle with his arms outstretched wide like this, banking and twisting as his words flew with the spirit. My wife Christy was astonished by the spell of his sermon. Rev. Shuttlesworth was a bantam in size, but she said his hands were huge and expressive. He was rough-cut as a boy. He once told me he may even have had a whiskey still way back in the woods, but the Lord’s call to the ministry gave him new grace, and in the pulpit his sermons soared on the full wingspan of a 747.

More than fifty years ago, early in his fight against segregation’s citadel here in Birmingham, a frightened minister announced that God had appeared to him in a vision with instructions to call off Shuttlesworth’s protest. Rev. Shuttlesworth answered with a fiery eye, crying out, “Since when did the Lord send my messages through you? The Lord told me to call it on!”

Still, we should remember that not even he could win freedom by himself. The dam of change broke from Birmingham across the United States, and indeed across the world, only when almost two thousand children went to jail here in 1963, some as young as six years old. In the annals of history, I know of no comparable impact from the witness of youth except perhaps the Passover sacrifice of firstborn sons in Egypt. Birmingham’s children actively marched through police dogs and fire hoses so fierce that a stream of water cracked several of Rev. Shuttlesworth’s ribs on May 7.

He exhorted the mass meeting to continue the marches, telling once of an old country farmer whose daughter kept asking him, “Daddy, what makes the lightning bugs light up?” And the farmer mumbled and scratched his head, because he didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know. She pressed him, and finally the old farmer replied, “Well, baby, I’ll tell you about the lightning bugs. The stuff is just in ‘em, that’s all!” Rev. Shuttlesworth drove home his point with a twinkle. “And it’s the same with the spirit that these black folks be free,” he declared from the pulpit. “The stuff is just in ‘em!”

Years later in Baltimore, he approached the end of his spontaneous sermon. “I’m looking for a place to land!” he called out, arms stretched wide, but again and again he soared off on new wings of inspiration. Now at last he has landed with the angels of justice, the angels of democracy, the angels of love and salvation. May he abide with them as we tend the spirit of Fred Shuttlesworth. It can light up the world. The stuff was just in him. Let us keep it bright.

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Taylor Branch in high schoolBelieve it or not. That’s me, #85, about to tackle the opposing #30 for my high school Westminster Wildcats of Atlanta, Georgia in 1963, not long before the Kennedy assassination.

Needing a scholarship to attend college, I played through several shoulder injuries that season to keep the attention of recruiters, and came within two days of signing a grant-in-aid commitment to play for my home-town idol Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech, which was then in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

Luckily for me, the chance for an academic scholarship at UNC in Chapel Hill came just in time. I took it, and reluctantly gave up football, because I knew my body would have a hard slog in the college game. (Tech had talked to me already of having surgery before the fall.) It was a turning point in my life.

Forty-eight years later, I agreed to revisit the world of college sports for The Atlantic magazine, this time as a nostalgic outsider to explore the history of NCAA games that seem to be in perpetual scandal. It was quite an adventure. Ours is the only country in the world that hosts big-time, big-money sports events at institutions of higher learning. How and why is a colorful story, featuring the “flying wedge” and unlikely sports nuts dating back to Thomas Edison and Cole Porter.

My reform impulse going in was to purify collegiate sport by somehow draining its commercial swamp. To my surprise, I came out convinced that the NCAA’s imposed amateur rules are both phony and unjust. They have blotted out true education beneath callous sentiment. My journey through modern college games was still fun, but discoveries there made me an abolitionist. Many people make excuses for the amateur system, including my former self, but no one justifies its foundation in principle.

My report in The Atlantic struck a nerve. In less than a month, it has morphed into an expanded original E-Book published by This experimental new form has thrust me into high-speed digital publishing, which is quite a change for an old author who once adjusted to the electric typewriter. In the past week, I have taken remedial Twitter lessons in order to follow caroming debates in new social media.

College sports and higher education are intertwined. Excellence is endangered in both. Heavily vested interests impede thought even on our university campuses. I invite everyone to tour the hidden wonders and then join an informed debate.

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Response to Seth Davis

Published on 23 September 2011 by in College Sports, NCAA


Sports Illustrated columnist Seth Davis has posted a blog on tagged “Rebutting Taylor Branch.” Let me respond briefly. First, here are links to the full text on both sides: my article last week in The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” and his criticism of it on Wednesday. Interested readers can compare them fully for context.

I wish Davis’s blog had offered a space as commonly allotted for direct comment, and I offer him a reciprocal opportunity on my site to clarify and narrow our disagreements. Transparent dialogue can reduce the waste of straw arguments and mischaracterization.

We agree on one stark reality well stated by him: “There is no movement—none—within the actual governing structure of the NCAA to professionalize college athletes.” We also agree that sports departments lose money now at nearly every college, and that relatively few could afford to pay any athletes if allowed to do so.

The nub of our dispute is over the general terms of service for college athletes. Davis says I overlook the fact that athletes are paid already with scholarship packages, while I say these in-kind benefits beg the fundamental question of whether the colleges and the athletes should be free to bargain for more or less.

To insist that athletic scholarships settle the compensation issue is like saying that any worker who gets medical coverage doesn’t need or deserve a salary. Worse, the NCAA demands adherence to this absurd standard by forbidding both sides to negotiate changes. Non-playing adults thus reserve to themselves all the wealth generated by college sports, whereas the NCAA punishes highly-valued athletes (famously the Georgia Bulldogs receiver A. J. Green last year) even for selling an old jersey.

Davis argues that scholarships are more than enough. (“If anything,” he writes, “most of these guys are overpaid.”) This is a convenient perspective for those who enjoy or benefit from the current structure, but that doesn’t make it fair. The NCAA’s unique amateur rules are imposed by private collusion of the colleges without sanction in law. College players, unlike Olympic athletes, are excluded from NCAA membership and from all rights of due process by the consortium that tries to govern them.

To me, the basics of genuine reform are simple. No college should be required to pay or not to pay students who play for them in any sport. Athletes should have the rights other citizens take for granted, and should be represented in every organization that depends upon their skill and devotion. We are the only country in the world that hosts professionalized sports at institutions of higher learning. There are profound questions about whether these two missions can or should coexist, but genuine education will not begin until we stop pretending that compensation itself makes college athletes “dirty.”

I invite Seth Davis to meet me in any verbal forum that can substitute for mid-court or the fifty-yard line. There we can trade questions and answers openly. He can cross-examine me on any argument or fact in my survey of college sports from the Civil War to Cam Newton. We may have fun, because the arena is inherently colorful and wondrous, but I will challenge him to declare his basic premise. Exactly how does he justify fastening amateurism on somebody else, and on college athletes alone? By what presumption must we all be satisfied that they are not earning too much? Here’s hoping that Davis and I can push forward in constructive debate.

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  • James Bennet, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic on MSNBC Morning Joe




  • Deadspin: “The aftershocks from “The Shame of College Sports,” Taylor Branch’s devastating cover story in The Atlantic, continue to ripple. Two other pieces are out today advancing the notion that college athletes deserve financial compensation.”
  • Deadspin: “Aside from reminding Americans for the next 15 minutes that history has actual value, Taylor Branch’s devastating article, “The Shame of College Sports,” finally fully legitimized the discussion of paying college athletes for their performance. It certainly didn’t approve the notion by fiat, but simply allowing it to enter the conversation as an equally reasonable proposition was triumph enough.”
  • “For more on the “student-athlete” rhetorical device, set aside some time for Taylor Branch’s landmark piece on the NCAA.”
  • Orlando Sentinel: “This behemoth will take a long, long time to read. But it is absolutely worth it as Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor Branch takes a look at the NCAA and the myth of amateurism.”
  • “With Taylor Branch serving the NCAA the largest body blow to date in October’s The Atlantic Monthly, it is clear there is no other option: the NCAA not only has to die, it is inevitable that is will die.”

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The Shame of College SportsThe Shame of College Sports was released yesterday on the Atlantic web site and has received quite a bit of media attention.

Frank Deford wrote a response to the article and spoke about it on NPR. His endorsement was the highlight for me in an avalanche of press reactions yesterday.  They promise to spark fresh national debate on the place of sports in higher education.

Following is a list of stories and reviews about the article.


MSNBC’s Daily Rundown

CNN’s Inside the Newsroom

NPR’s All Things Considered

NPR’s Frank Deford

Columbia Journalism Review
“Taylor Branch’s cover story in the new Atlantic is a devastating indictment of the NCAA, a must-read for anyone interested in college athletics and the business of sports. It’s a superb synthesis of the history of the NCAA, the hypocrisy of keeping athletes from getting paid while the commercialization of college sports (football and basketball, that is) runs amok, and why a reckoning may be in store.”
“If you read one piece of sports journalism this week, it should be The Atlantic magazine’s huge cover story by Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning civil rights historian . Branch isn’t doing much new by calling out the NCAA as a morally defective institution-a “classic cartel…[that] presides over a vast, teetering glory” and exudes “an unmistakable whiff of the plantation.” He’s just doing it much, much better than most. In fine-bladed fashion, Branch lays out a case for overhauling an organization that he describes as parasitic, corrupt, and, yes, antithetical to liberty. Branch wrote a trilogy of Martin Luther King, Jr. books. He’s one of the few people in the country who can liken the NCAA and its proxies to slavers and be taken seriously. And, Lord, how it must suck to be called a racist by a man who’s penned 2,912 pages on civil rights.” (Article 2):
“There is too much amazing material in Taylor Branch’s Atlantic piece about the NCAA for us to handle it all at once , so we’re just going to keep pulling shiny gems from the treasure trove whenever a new one catches our eye.”
“…Historian Taylor Branch’s latest work at the Atlantic-“The Shame Of College Sports”-is the latest addition to the canon, and it’s as comprehensive as any work so far. It could be its own book, but for now you’ll have to settle for 15,000 words online, and a definitive work of journalism to point to the next time someone asks why certain college athletes should be getting paid. Check it out, and keep it bookmarked. One day a few years from now, it might be fun to go back and remember when the NCAA was run by “whoremasters.”
“Through thorough argument and excellent historical context, Branch, sledgehammers every facet of what he believes to be college football’s shamelessly corrupt infrastructure and presents the case for college athletes to be paid.”

The Post Standard (Syracuse)
“Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Parting the Waters, America in the King Years has written a fascinating piece for The Atlantic that castigates the NCAA and its member institutions for profiting from the performances of their “student-athletes.” The long story, entitled “The Shame of College Sports” is worth the read.”

The Week (Deford’s commentary):

Boston Globe

LA Observed

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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