NFL’s Russell Okung weighs in on amateurism bout

Among a panel that featured lawyers, journalists and professional athletes, Russell Okung debated the heavily controversial topic of paying college athletes at the Seton Hall Symposium on April 2.

The San Diego Charger’s left tackle and a member of the executive committee of the National Football League Players Association gave historical references as well as addressed current situations including, the passing of a University of Maryland player due to heat stroke, a similar incident at the University of Missouri and more recently, the infamous case of Zion Williamson’s Nike shoe exploding on-court.

“College athletes have no representative body like I have with the NFLPA, so who works for them,” said Okung. “University of Maryland had a situation where one of the players passed away and there was real outrage from the players as well as the board of regents – that led to an action, that coach was removed. When players grasp and understand their power better and when players like myself can find ways to support infrastructure for them to move in that direction, it’s very possible. Once we get together, are capable.”

The panel featured Ken Belson of the New York Times, Terri Carmichael, who is the Executive Director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association and Jeffrey Mishkin, who previously served on the counsel for the NCAA and was the Executive President and Chief Legal Officer for the National Basketball Association.

Belson thought that the athletes would get paid, but the battle seems to be complicated and will take some quite time to resolve.

Mishkin’s opinion seemed the most impartial and less emotional than the others who answered. He mentioned that he tries to separate his personal opinions from the client when it comes to issues as the aforementioned.

Mishkin compared paying a college athlete by recounting a common story of a parent putting their child through college with multiple jobs. Then, he mentioned how should the general student body feel if suddenly other students’ athletes receive funds. Mishkin ended with the fact that what the NCAA is doing is legal rather than focusing on the ethical perspective.

Okung’s rebuttal tilted more toward the ethical ramifications of the decision.

“Whether it’s his firm or whether it’s Proskauer, what we’ve seen consistently even in the NFL, NBA and NBA, it is restrictive moment – in college we call it scholarships,” said Okung. “Students can go out and find additional financial opportunities for themselves. They can find ways to leverage their platform, yet the players cannot. I don’t know what’s more restrictive than that, I think when we consider legality, we have to consider the motive which seems to be consistent across all sports.”

Carmichael, in alignment with the league she represents as well as being a parent to an athlete, thinks athletes will eventually get paid but it cannot be solved within the next three years.

With the crowd enthralled by the presence of Bob Ley and the highest-paid on-air personality at ESPN Len DeLuca, J.D. coerced the panel into answering one utmost important final question: will players be paid in the next three years? DeLuca also noted that he would be reducing their argument to his question to a yes or no answer.

Okung’s answer was very optimistic for cash in the immediate future.

“As long as I’m alive, my answer will be yes,” said Okung.