The Myth of the ‘Student Athlete’The Myth of the ‘Student Athlete’

In June, the Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on college sports: Student athletes will now be able to receive educational benefits such as free laptops and paid internships. The decision may have seemed relatively small, but in this episode of the Experiment podcast, the Atlantic staff writer Adam Harris explains how it could change the way we think about college athletes.

College sports rake in billions of dollars a year for schools. But athletes themselves have historically been barred from making money by the NCAA in order to preserve their amateur status. “Amateurism” has long been a central idea of college athletics: Student athletes play for the love of the game and an education, never for compensation. The myth (and marketing) of the “student athlete” have grown over the past century, but starting in 2010, a scandal gradually shifted how the country saw college sports.

This week on The Experiment: The Atlantic staff writer and former college-basketball player Adam Harris explains how the myth of the amateur athlete was created, and why it may finally be on its way out.

This episode’s guests include Adam Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic; Andy Thomason, an assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education and the author of Discredited; Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player and the executive director of the National College Players Association; Mary Willingham, a former student-athlete academic adviser and whistleblower at the University of North Carolina.

Further reading:The Shame of College Sports,” by Taylor Branch

A transcript of this episode is available. 

Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@theatlantic.com.

This episode was produced by Kevin Townsend and Julia Longoria. Editing by Katherine Wells. Reporting by Adam Harris. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman. 

Music by Laurie Bird (“Jussa Trip”), Parish Council (“Durdle Door” and “Walled Garden 1”), Keyboard (“Freedom of Movement,” “Mu,” and “World View”), R McCarthy (“Cold” and “Big Game”), and Column (“Sensuela”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by David Robidoux (“Rivals (B)”), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (“Milan String Quartet No. 4 in E-flat Major”), and Claude Debussy (“String Quartet in G Minor”). Additional audio from MSNBC (clip 1 and clip 2); Fox News; CNN; Kennedy; CNN (clip 1, clip 2, and clip 3); NBC, via AirTexas; NCAA (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, and clip 4); ESPN (via vslice02 and JD71andOnly); March Madness; WRAL; ACC Digital Network; Fox8; NPR; and Oyez.