The most memorable story line of the 2013 NCAA tournament has to be Kevin Ware. The Louisville sophomore will forever be a part of March Madness history because of the gruesome injury he endured during the tournament’s quarterfinals.
Fans will always remember how Louisville rallied around Ware and went on to win the national championship after an emotional rollercoaster ride, but what also won’t be forgotten is how organizations reacted to Kevin Ware’s situation.
Following Ware’s injury, Adidas released T-shirts with “Ri5e to the Occasion” printed on the front and on the back in an obvious reference to Kevin Ware.
The shirts were immediately met with public outrage, and Adidas soon pulled the shirts from production. Critics cried that Adidas was using Ware’s injury as an opportunity to make money, and, because of NCAA rules, Ware wouldn’t see a cent of the revenue.
The situation became a central topic in the long-standing argument over whether student athletes should receive pay for their play. Opponents of the NCAA’s rule prohibiting athletes from earning money were quick to point out this example of how the NCAA and a major sports apparel company can take advantage of a student athlete to generate revenue.
The shirts that Adidas created were a horrible and distasteful idea. Not only do they violate NCAA rules regarding apparel, but they also seek to take advantage of a student athlete’s unfortunate situation and the publicity that came with it.
If not for the circumstances surrounding his injury, most of the nation would likely still not know who Kevin Ware is. While a solid contributor, Ware was anything but a star on the Louisville roster. He averaged a meager 4.5 points a game during the 2012-13 season and was relatively unheard of outside of the Louisville fan base.
But because of the gruesome nature of his injury and the fact that it took place in a televised game in front of a national audience, Kevin Ware became a household name in a matter of hours. Twitter exploded with “pray for Ware” tweets, and millions became instant sympathizers of Ware and Louisville basketball.
But if this injury had taken place during a practice or game that wasn’t nationally televised, would it have garnered the same response? Of course not, and this is why Adidas’ attempt to make a profit off of a sad situation is particularly distasteful.
There is no way that a shirt would have been made and sold publicly for Ware’s injury had it not been so greatly publicized. Ware’s injury was gruesome, but it isn’t any worse in terms of recovery time than other notable injuries this season.
Nerlens Noel suffered a severe knee injury in February that effectively ended his season, but no one made T-shirts to commemorate the Kentucky star’s situation. The T-shirts Adidas made weren’t to honor Ware, they were made to capitalize on the public’s emotions and an athlete’s misfortune.
Regardless of the ethical question of whether they should have been made to begin with, the other problem many fans have with the T-shirts is that Ware won’t be able to collect a dime of the profits.
If anyone should be profiting from an injury, it should be the athletes themselves. NBA prospects risk suffering a career-ending injury while playing college basketball, and, if one were to occur, they could potentially lose millions of dollars.
What harm is there of letting athletes collect a portion of the revenue they generate? Players shouldn’t receive a salary by any means, but if they earned some percentage of every jersey sold with their number on it and that money was put into a savings account that they could access upon leaving the university, it would create a safety net for those students to fall back on in the event that their careers are cut short.
A current issue in basketball is that college players are leaving too early for the NBA, but with the risk of losing out on millions of dollars, players with pro potential are understandably spending less time risking injury at the collegiate level. If those players were able to earn money while playing in college, they would have more incentive to stay in school.
There is a fine line between honoring a player and taking advantage of his situation, and Adidas crossed that line by producing Kevin Ware T-shirts. Until student athletes are able to earn a portion of the revenue they generate, no one should be profiting from their injuries.
Donald Pepoon is a sophomore in business administration. Please send comments to [email protected]