New LeBron James Documentary Examines Exploitation Of College Athletes

Written by Ann Brown

student athelete
(Photo: HBO)

Many dream of excelling in both the physical and the academics while in school, but “Student Athlete,” a new HBO documentary from LeBron James, examines the truths of what it’s really like to be a student athlete.

Unpaid college athletes generate billions of dollars for their institutions every year, according to HBO’s website. James’ documentary unveils the exploitation of high-revenue college sports through the stories of four young men at different stages of their athletic careers. We also hear the stories of a coach-turned-advocate and a whistle-blowing shoe rep who expose the money trail. The documentary spotlights former college and NFL coach John Shoop; New Jersey high school basketball phenom Nick Richards, now at the University of Kentucky; Mike Shaw, who played at the University of Illinois and Bradley University; Shamar Graves, a former wide receiver at Rutgers University; and Silas Nacita, a walk-on who played at Baylor University.

The film, which debuted Oct. 2 and will re-air throughout October, follows the lives of the four athletes in football and basketball.

These students learn that once they get into college, the emphasis is not on “student” but rather on “athlete” and there is no balance between the two.

In 1994, Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, attributed such abuses to the “‘neo-plantation mentality that exists on the campuses of our country and in the conference offices and in the NCAA,’” the Undefeated reported. “Obtaining a degree was secondary to their obligations to their athletic programs, even if it left them with few options at the end of their eligibility.”

The film discusses an issue that is often glossed over. “Everything about the film speaks to an environment that breeds corruption, interviewing an anonymous shoe-company executive about how the NCAA’s arcane guidelines — and the restrictions imposed on players — invite corner-cutting and cheating,” CNN reported.

Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Trish Dalton, “Student Athlete,” is the latest production from James’ SpringHill Entertainment production company. The film explores how the NCAA and Division I football and basketball “have become a boon to everyone except the players who fuel its success and ratings,” Undefeated reported.

Being a student-athlete is not the life it’s made out to be. It rarely ends in a professional sports career. According to the film, of the 91,775 men who played NCAA basketball or football in the 2016-17 academic year, only 303 were drafted by the NFL or NBA.

James has been busy with his entertainment business, SpringHill Entertainment. Earlier this year he produced “Warriors of Liberty City” for Starz about the Liberty City Warriors Optimist Club, a youth organization that sponsors sports teams, dance, cheerleading and academics in Miami. HBO recently picked up James’ Barbershop talk show, “The Shop.”

Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — business news you need to know about economic empowerment for the digital age, delivered to your inbox.


About Ann Brown
Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in CocoaFab, Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire.com, New York Trend, Upscale, Moguldom, AFKInsider, The Network Journal, Playboy, Africa Strictly Business, For Harriet, Pathfinders, Black Meetings & Tourism, Frequent Flier, Girl, Honey, Source Sports, The Source, Black Radio Exclusive, and Launch. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cabo Verde,” a Facebook community.