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Shabazz Napier is everything that the N.C.A.A. says it wants student athletes to be. And, on Monday night, the twenty-two-year-old senior scored twenty-two points while leading the University of Connecticut to a 60-54 victory over John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats for the national championship.
Napier grew up in tight circumstances in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and went to prep school on scholarship in order to qualify to play in college. He stayed at Connecticut after Jim Calhoun, the coach that recruited him, stepped down.
He stayed through the school’s temporary ban from postseason play, in 2013, for failing to meet the N.C.A.A.’s academic standards. He was tempted to leave early to try his luck in the N.B.A. draft, but ultimately decided to stay in school.
He was his conference’s player of the year, an All-America First Team selection.
And his fine play in the tournament gave him the kind of visibility that is sure to raise his draft stock among professional teams in June. His story would be the one that the keepers of the college-basketball status quo would tell to young men across the country.
Except, there is a problem. Speaking to reporters earlier in the tournament, Napier said that while he had played for Connecticut—making money for the school, his coaches, Nike, and so many other stakeholders in the system—he had not always had enough spending money to buy food.
It might have gotten lost amidst the excitement of the national championship, were the contrast between the image of a hungry student athlete and that of the immense profits made from his sport not so striking. Asked about the recent ruling that would allow members of the Northwestern football team to vote on forming a union, Napier called it “kind of great.”
A reporter asked if he considered himself an employee. No, he responded, he was a student athlete, but one who felt stretched thin. He didn’t think college kids needed to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (he, of course, has been worth more than that to UConn over the past four years), just enough to eat.
Napier seemed to mean that literally; he talked about hungry nights. “We’re definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities, but, at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover everything,” he said. Athletic scholarships, which are capped in value, do not necessarily cover all of the costs of attending college, meaning that players have to pull resources together in other ways.
Those ways, of course, may not involve using their considerable celebrity to make money via related employment or endorsements. Napier talked about that, as well: “It may not have your last name on it, but when you see a jersey getting selled … you want something in return.” This is what a voice of reason sounds like.
She went viral in shoulder pads and a helmet, running over, around and through the boys, and now Sam Gordon is looking forward to a bigger challenge… and fifth grade.
Photo credit: Ashley Morfin
He saw it in me before anyone else—the ability to be a shutdown corner—when I was still in high school. But even though I didn’t wind up playing for Pete Carroll at USC, I’m sure glad I am now. If you’re looking for reasons the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl, start with him. And it’s not just his game plans, either.
"Growing up straight in a dominantly homophobic and homosexual sport was hard for me and for them," he adds. "I remember my family defending my sexuality before I even understood what sexuality meant."
"I remember being constantly asked, ‘Oh, you’re a figure skater now? So you’re gay?’"
At 12, Larcom went to live and train as a pairs skater in Tampa, Fla. Despite being thousands of miles from home, he encountered the same stereotypes. Once, a girlfriend, a fellow skater, dumped him because her friends teased her about dating a male figure skater. Hockey players called him “fag,” “gay,” “homo” and “queer.”
"I’d be holding my skating partner’s hand [while practicing on the ice], and I’d want to go faster and stronger to prove I could beat them," Larcom says about the hockey players. "I thought, You’re playing with sticks, but I have this girl who I can lift and throw. You try to look like you’re Goliath." MORE | Timeline
This week’s cover story looks at the surprisingly challenging environment gay figure skaters face as competitors in what many consider to be the Olympics’ ‘gayest’ sport. Abigail Jones has the story.
Related: Many of the athletes selected for the 2014 Sochi Olympic delegation by President Obama are openly members of the LGBT community.
Batter Up! Celebrating Opening Day With Our Baseball Covers
Happy Opening Day!
The Flying Women of London
Amazing images of the balance beam competition during today’s gymnastics at the 2012 Olympics.
1. Ralitsa Mileva of Bulgaria photo: by Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
2. Deng LinLin of Chinaphoto: by Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
3. Deng LinLin of China photo: Carl de Souza, AFP/ Getty Images
4. Yuko Shintake of Japan photo: by Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
5. Deng LinLin of China photo: Adrian Dennis / Getty Images
Is it weird that I like the feet one the best?
Lance Armstrong says U.S. anti-doping officials are ‘moving the goalposts’ in an attempt to discredit him by reportedly delaying suspensions against his accusers.
Our reporter visits the Quidditch Western Cup—and finds a handful of punny team names. The one pictured here has a motto: “Our team is Bruin up some Felix Felicis,” which, Jace helpfully explains, refers to both the UCLA Bruins and Felix Felicis—“a potion in the Harry Potter universe is essentially liquid luck.” More photos here!
As you prepare for the big game, take a look out our super scientific breakdown of Brady and Manning, off the field.