The question is not if we should pay college athletes — but how

Acknowledging there is an issue is easy; fixing it is a bit more complicated

Peter Forte


Zion got lucky, but so many others do not (Image via Streeter Lecka/Getty)

It was one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the year — Duke vs North Carolina. Two top-10, powerhouse, and longstanding rival programs that have given us some of the greatest and most memorable college and professional basketball players of all time: Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Christian Laettner, Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough, and of course, Michael Jordan.

The list goes on and on, and this year, Duke has added one of the more unique and physically imposing individuals to this list: a 6'7, 285-pound specimen with a name built for greatness, Zion Williamson. The hype surrounding any Blue Devils/Tar Heels tilt is always sky-high, but you add a generational talent like Zion to the mix, and you get borderline hysteria. Reported ticket prices were absurd, the national TV crews were in town, and even President Barack Obama showed up to take in the show.

All in all, it was set to be another classic night in Cameron.

And then 33 seconds into the game, Zion went down and the basketball world’s stomach dropped (while processing how the hell a shoe explodes like that).

Although the injury was serious enough to hold him out of the rest of the game (which ended up being an uneventful 16-point win for UNC), thankfully Zion escaped with just a minor knee sprain. But the image of another star college athlete wincing in pain from an apparent knee injury brought to the forefront a much larger issue which has oscillated in and out of the public eye for several years: should college athletes be paid? As for every Zion that escapes with a minor injury, there are dozens that see their professional dreams ruined by a major one.

In an alternate reality, Zion slips, tears his ACL, misses a year, and puts his long-term health and potential earning power in jeopardy. All because he would’ve fallen victim to an outdated, restrictive system that grossly profits off the unpaid labour of these young men and women.

Modern gladiators