Power vs. Legitimacy: How the NFL and NCAA Have Lost Their Trust

In Malcom Gladwell's recent book David and Goliath, he discusses the idea of power and legitimacy. He provides examples of police departments and governments with power, but how the people don't take them seriously. Yes, they can be put in jail, but to these people, it's not a big deal. It's not a legitimate government so being locked up becomes a badge of honor.

However, when these institutions started treating people right, going to jail stopped being a badge of honor. It meant that the person actually did something wrong, and they were looked down upon for it.

After reading, I immediately drew similarities to the NFL and the current state of the NCAA. Power comes from trust. This trust comes from the assumption that if A occurs, then B will follow it. Unfortunately, this trust seems to be eroding, and the power of the NCAA and NFL are beginning to erode with it.

Power versus legitimacy. The NFL and NCAA have power. Nobody is questioning that. But legitimacy is a question that still needs to be answered. 10, 20, 30 years ago, yes, these two institutions had legitimacy. Things most likely weren't perfect, but there wasn't a public outcry for reform. When CTE in football players is real and diagnosed, but the NFL says that repeated hits to the head by playing football isn't the problem, is there any response other than to laugh at them? When the president of Notre Dame says he would remove the football team from the school if the athletes got paid a small stipend every semester, do we laugh once again?

The way I see it, we don't need to laugh. But what we do need to understand is that these presidents and commissioners are in their own worlds. They make millions of dollars per year. Their toughest task is probably figuring out what two-sentence statement to make when they hear about another Junior Seau. Thousands of athletes are broke and have no job prospects after college because they have to train for 3-4 hours per day and can't get an internship? Oh that's too bad. Former NFL athletes have to live with CTE for the rest of their lives, dealing with depression and constant headaches? Oh wow, I'm so sorry.

In David and Goliath, what brought legitimacy back to the police force was when the officers showed the community that they cared. When they brought Thanksgiving turkeys to the families of the offenders, it showed the cops weren't there to just lock up wrong-doers. It shouted with a large statement, "We want to see you better yourself. Work with us." When the government stopped treating its people wrongly and started listening to them, the people started to treat them with more respect and things changed for the better.

The road the NFL and NCAA are now on doesn't end well for them. Mass amounts of parents are taking their children out of football at an early age. President Obama wouldn't let his son play football. Some NFL players are retiring after two or three years, knowing the longer they play, the higher chance they have of getting severely injured.

The NCAA tries to hide behind their hundred-year-old rulebook of calling players "student-athletes." If we were still using society's rulebook from a hundred years ago, women wouldn't have any right to vote and schools would still be segregated. Back in 1906, the NCAA wasn't a billion-dollar nonprofit. It was just a small program to help athletes play sports in college.

We are entering a new age. We have unlimited information at our fingertips and events have the potential to go viral in an hour.

Single events have the power to change history. Rosa Parks didn't give up her seat, and it inspired thousands. A dead baby floats to shore in Turkey and the world starts to take notice. A young girl with unlimited potential jumps off the 9th floor of a parking garage, and swift reforms are taken.

Why do things have to be taken to the extreme before things change? My fear is that something even more horrible will have to happen get the NFL and NCAA to take notice and take the steps to become legitimate again. Will a high-profile athlete take his own life mid-season? Something even worse? I just hope the NCAA and NFL start to wake up so we don't have to find out what that thing turns out to be.