July 15, 2019

The Man Who Beat the NCAA

by The Nod

Background show artwork for The Nod
Eric talks with Ed O’Bannon, a former professional basketball player whose landmark lawsuit forced a national conversation on whether the NCAA should pay college athletes. It’s a conversation with massive implications for the thousands of unpaid Black athletes whose work makes millions of dollars for their colleges. Strangely, it all started with a video game.





ERIC EDDINGS: When I was a kid, I spent most afternoons at my best friend Jon’s house. It was a logical choice. He had a massive TV, he always had the latest video game consoles and the latest video games.

So after school, we’d race back to his house, we’d hop on the couch, and fire up the whatever sports game he had on deck, usually NBA Live or EA Sports’ NCAA Basketball

[Video game clip plays]

ANNOUNCER 1: Get out of the way, baby. That was absolutely sensational! 

ANNOUNCER 2: Both teams looking to get things going here…

[Video game clip drops out]

ERIC: And if I'm being honest, due to some very bad hand-eye coordination, I actually lost most days to Jon, but you know, it’s the journey not the destination…that's how I feel about it. 

It was our thing...and like, the only thing that broke up our routine was leaving for college. So like years later, maybe 2010, I was shocked when I got this call from Jon.

He's like, "Yo, can you believe it? They cancelled the NCAA basketball games!" 

And, I was like, "What?"

He was like, "Yeah, some guy sued the NCAA and EA Sports about like royalties or money from the game. And they said, to hell with it. They just cancelled the games." 

First it was NCAA basketball but not long after that NCAA football. Like, literally the clock had run out on the college sports video game. And like, look, the magnitude of the loss cannot be understated. 

Like EA says the football version alone sold over 2 million copies a year, and made them 80 million dollars.  Like, there are a lot of people literally invested in these games.

I kept wondering about that lawsuit though, like who in the world would dare sue the NCAA? They rule college sports with what seems like an iron fist. So, who was this person who clearly possessed every last bit of moxie on the planet—this person who decided to face off with one of the most powerful organizations in sports. 

ED O' BANNON: My name is uh, Ed O'Bannon. Played ball at UCLA from '91 to '95, was on the team that won the national championship there in '95. I also played with the Nets and the Mavericks for two years total. Played overseas and then also I was a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit O'Bannon versus the NCAA.

ERIC: That's a good thing to like leave for the end (laughs).

ED: (Laughs)

ERIC: Saying you know, "And you know, I also- I also was a lead plaintiff in suing the NCAA." (Laughs)

ED: (Laughs)

ERIC: You fought the bully.

ED: There you go, yes indeed. (Laughs)

ERIC: The NCAA's argument basically goes like this: players are students first, athletes second…They say it's ok to give players a scholarship and maybe a little living stipend. But if players actually earn money for playing the game or from endorsements—that would destroy the integrity and value of college sports. Seriously—that's what they say.

But now, more players past and present are following Ed O'Bannon's lead and calling bullshit. The NCAA makes more than 1 billion—that's B-Billion—dollars a year, from TV rights, merch, ticket sales and endorsements. And they make those billions off the labor of players. And this- this is the part a lot of folks don't talk about—a massive chunk of these players are Black.

Ed’s lawsuit was an attempt to change the NCAA rules. But before he was a plaintiff...his relationship with the NCAA began when he was a basketball player at UCLA.

ED: UCLA was uh, it was kinda in my blood. First of all, my dad went to UCLA.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: I grew up knowing the 8-Clap.

[Video plays] 

CHEERLEADER: Oh, one two three four five six seven eight. U-C-L-A. UCLA fight fight fight! Woo!

[Video ends]

ED: You know, you walk the halls at UCLA and- and you feel that certain aura and tradition that Coach Wooden built. it was a dream come true. I remember putting that jersey on for the first time, I remember it vividly. 

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: Got the big  mirror in the- in the locker room and-

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: And everyone's putting it on and--and we were standing there and looking at it and turning around and seeing our names on our backs. And the letters on the front and there was a great sense of, "Wow, I'm here. My home is Pauley Pavilion."

ERIC: Yeah. (Laughs)

ED: Uh, where Lew Alcindor played and Bill Walton played and Marques Johnson played. I get chills right now just thinking about it.

ERIC: So it's not surprising that you were awarded a scholarship to play at UCLA which like in '91 was one of the best basketball programs in the country. If you read off the checklist like, you led your high school to a state championship, you were McDonald's All American, you were even voted National High School Player of the Year by Basketball Times. Those are some good accomplishments.

ED: (Laughs)

ERIC: Then you get to UCLA. What was your financial situation like in college? Like I know there's a full scholarship but like what you know, how much did that cover?

ED: It covered the- the books, it covered living. That was pretty much it. My third year I moved off campus, I lived in an apartment and you know, you got a uh, I guess a stipend to pay for expenses, mainly rent-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: And food. My stipend went directly into my rent and I relied a lot on my parents. I didn't come from a poor home.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: But as a 19-year-old, 20-year-old man, it's hard to call home and ask dad for money.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: You know? So sometimes you'd- you know, you'd skip a meal. I remember one time I had change in my ashtray-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: In my car. I had enough to buy a dozen doughnuts and so for me I would go and pay for some doughnuts and it would last me through the night and then in the morning. I just saw it as this is part of the rules, this is part of being a college athlete, you know?

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: You don't get paid, you- you find other means to- to get by.

ERIC: Were the other players kind of going through that same similar emotions? Like did you feel like it was just you?

ED: I knew it wasn't just me. We'd had conversations. On Sunday evening we would have study hall to kinda you know, get ready for the week academically. We talked about girls, we talked about how hard these classes were.

ERIC: (Laughs) Yeah.

ED: (Laughs) Sometimes we talked about the lack of money we had.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: How many times did uh, had we sat at the study hall or at the- at the dinner table and pack up food you know, and take home because you just didn't have anything in your refrigerator. Yet two days ago we played in front of 25,000 people.

ERIC: Wow, yeah.

ED: That happened countless times. And look, there were opportunities to eat. W- we had a training table-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: After practice. You know, the cafeteria would stay open and we would eat for free.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED:  But sometimes you know, you would stay after practice and work on your jump shot and-

ERIC: Yeah-

ED: You'd miss the- the cafeteria or miss training table. You know it wasn't--look its not a perfect world and it wasn't a perfect system. Sometimes you were able to eat and sometimes you weren’t.

ERIC: Having to figure out how to balance whether or not you go- go up to the cafeteria or you know, keep working on your shot. It makes me think of how the NCAA always kinda leans on this you know, this term like student athlete. You know? You're- you're balancing both of these things and it makes me wonder, like how much of your time in particular, how much of that was spent on basketball versus like academics?

ED: Oh for me it was uh, 90/10 (laughs).

ERIC: Yeah, wow. (Laughs)

ED: Yeah, I spent most of my time playing basketball or working on my craft. Whether it would be in the weight room or on a track running, getting in shape. Whatever it took for me to get to the next level, whatever it took for me to get to the NBA. I just figured I was just going, you know, kinda use college as a stepping stone. That was one of the reasons why you did it, actually playing for free. Yeah I'll play for free. I mean if- if I can see my face on a billboard, that's good enough for me.

ERIC: There's all these things like you kinda know you- you can't do or else you kinda run afoul of the- of the NCAA. Do you- do you remember any of those rules about the things that you could not do?

ED: Well yeah. You can't um, profit off the sales of your jersey. Yet, when you walk into an arena of 15,000, 20,000 seat arena, you'll see you know, 20 jerseys of yours that are being worn.

ERIC: And that- I imagine those weren't cheap, they've (laughs)...

ED: Yeah.

ERIC: The same price as today.

ED: Yeah, look they sell 'em for so much money. The student store gets money and whoever else that produced it-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: Gets paid. And the athletes themselves don't get any of the- of the profits. That to me was the biggest- the biggest thing. My jersey is for sale but I get nothing from it.

[Video plays]

Newcaster: The Bruins did have what it took to win the game, and his name was Ed O'Bannon...This is the time for the player of the year to step up…terrific job by Ed O'Bannon!...On his way to being named the final fours' most outstanding player, O’Bannon capped off his all-america career with 30 points and 17 rebounds…

[Video ends]

ERIC: You led UCLA to a national championship, you guys won the series, you were MVP of that series. Like what was that career trajectory like after that? Like, I would have been pumped (laughs)?

ED: (Laughs) Yes, I was. After we had won the national championship and I had played as well as I did, I was told that I would be a lottery pick. I remember Nike called and offered me a- a- a contract so I signed with Nike.

ERIC: That quick?

ED: Yeah, I mean pretty- pretty fast. It happened before I- my first game in the NBA, for sure.

ERIC: Wow.

ED: There's a certain type of popularity in Los Angeles and so you know, when we won it was (laughs), it was pretty cool.

ERIC: Yeah (laughs).

ED: It was pretty cool, yeah (laughs).

ERIC: Understatement of the year (laughs).

ED: (Laughs)

ERIC: So you get drafted into the NBA...you start off your professional career playing for the New Jersey Nets and I'm curious like for you, what was the most surprising difference like going from playing college ball to playing in the NBA?

ED: How much a business it is. I- I could never get used to it.  The ironic thing is I worked all my life to get to this point-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: Understood that it was a business, understood that it was pros, understood that I would be getting paid to play. And once it happened, I choked. Everybody I play with, they have families now. This isn't for fun anymore. There are business decisions being made and oh, by the way you play basketball.

ERIC: When did you kinda realize that like your time there was coming to an end?

ED: After my second year.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: Once I finished with the Dallas Mavericks, I got traded. I got traded to Orlando, simply because the numbers matched, I knew no one wanted me.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: I'll never forget a time in a preseason game with the Magic, we had so many guys on the- on the- on the team, we didn't even have enough seats on the bench.    So I was sitting on the floor, Chuck Daly was our coach, God rest his soul.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: There's like a minute and a half left in the game.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: And he called my name to go in. And I ignored him. And then he called me again and I ignored him again and the guys were like, "Hey Ed, man, he's calling you." And I looked up and he was like, "Well do you don't want to go in the game?" And I was like, "No, I'm cool." And I just sat there. I was National Player of the Year-

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: Three years prior to this and here I am, sitting on the floor at the end of the bench being called to go into the game at the end of a preseason game. I- I just said this league isn't for me, they don't want me and I'm- I- I'll find basketball somewhere else.

ERIC: Wow.

ED: I had to go overseas just so I could play basketball. I didn't go for money, I went over there strictly to get some good reps in. Just to feel like I- I could actually play this game and so I played uh, half a season in Greece, the other half in Argentina. One in Italy, one in Spain. Then I came home and played in the ABA for a year-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: And then I played in Poland for three years.

ERIC: And so when did you- when did you stop playing basketball formally, like when did you retire?

ED:  I retired in '04, when I was 31.


ERIC: Ed retired, but he wasn't done with basketball...Years later something would happen that would bring basketball and the NCAA back into his life…

ED: Mike was like, "You know what's crazy about this is we paid X amount of dollars for this video game, and you didn't get one penny."

ERIC: That’s coming up after the break. 



ERIC: The year is 2008. Ed hasn’t played basketball professionally in four years, and he’s now seeing success in his new career, selling cars. Life is good. And then one day, after a game of golf, he stops by his friend Mike’s house...

ED: His kid and I were out in the front yard throwing a football-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: Mike says, "Hey, my kid last night was playing a video game with you in it. You want to check it out?"

ED: I was like, "Yeah man, heck yeah. You can-" You know?

ERIC: (laughs)

ED: So we go in the house and the kid pulls up the video game and he plugs it in and picks the team, UCLA '95 team and there I am.

[Video game plays]

VIDEO GAME ANNOUNCER: A game between the Connecticut Huskies and the UCLA Bruins. This is where both teams wanted to be, Dick…

[Video game fades out]

ED: The physical, just looking at it, I was- I was bald headed, brown skin, broad shoulders, left-handed, number 31, one of my favorite moves, or at least favorite shots was a jump hook. A jump hook was there. In my senior year I shot it pretty well from the three point line, that was good. The stats said 6'9", 215 pounds, left-handed, all of that stuff. Um, everything about me, athletically, it was there.

ERIC: Did you try to uh- did you try to play yourself at all?

ED: You know what, I didn't want to embarrass myself.

ERIC: (laughs)

ED: No, (laughs) I didn't touch the sticks.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: I let uh, little man play it and just you know, sat up and watched it as if we were watching a real game. I was thrilled, I thought it was great, you know, like who wouldn't want to be in a video game?

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: But then Mike was like, "You know what's crazy about this is we paid X amount of dollars for this video game, and you didn't get one penny."

ERIC: Wow.

ED: And he laughed, and I laughed, and we all kind of laughed, but I just- I sat back and I just thought wow, he bought this video game a few weeks prior to this, they're obviously still using my likeness for their profit.


ERIC: Yeah.

ED: And not only are they doing this, but they didn't even ask me. You know, I didn't even get a phone call saying, "Hey Ed, we're going to use your likeness on this video game, whether you like or not." Hey, give me a heads up, you didn't even have to ask me, just give me a heads up.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: You know.

ERIC: You didn't even know.

ED: I didn't even know, I had no clue. I was just like, "Wow."

ERIC: So they're still using you, everything that they have about who you were at this school, 15 plus years ago, they're still using that to like represent you, and they didn't even ask you.

ED: Right.

ERIC: What is going on in your head after this moment?

ED: I- I- I- I thought how dare they. The balls that you got to have to take someone's- look, if I- if I was an actor-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: ...You wouldn't be using my likeness without calling me, without- without us coming to some type of written agreement.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: In any other walk of life, we would be signing contracts before you would use my likeness.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: But because I am a college athlete, you feel like you have the right to my image. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: How dare you feel like you can use my image. And- and- and- and- (laughs) and this is over- over a decade later.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: This is over a decade later, and you're still- you're still using it. Like I- like I- like I don't matter. There's something inhumane about that.

ERIC: So you- you see yourself in this game, eventually you find yourself as the- the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit that was being organized by legendary sports marketer Sonny Vaccaro. That basically says that the NCAA, the creators of these games, they should compensate players for using their likeness. They- they should have compensated you.

ED: Sonny Vaccaro who is a mentor of mine-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: ...Called me with the idea of suing the NCAA, and this phone call was like three weeks after I actually saw my image on the video game.

ERIC: Wow.

ED: So it was really- it was recent.

ERIC: It was fresh.

ED: Yeah, absolutely. And he thought that I would be the perfect plaintiff for it, because of what I went through, but also because of my demeanor.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: He knew that there would be a lot of abuse, a lot of pushback and he knew that I'd be able to take it. And my wife and I discussed it, and then I called him back and- and agreed to do it. And he told me that there's going to be people thinking that you're doing this for money, there won't be any money.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: We aren't doing this for money. I said perfect, I- I'm not in this for- for money. I want to start conversation.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: It was about bringing awareness to what I thought was a social injustice. Most of these athletes that we're talking about that we're trying to get paid, are Black athletes. And the reason why they aren't getting paid and the reason why the NCAA is moving so slow in even recognizing that they should get paid is because they are Black athletes.

ERIC: And their argument is just like look, if people wanted to watch paid athletes, they watch the NBA. It seems like their thought is that the appeal is that these kids are amateur and if you start paying them, they're going to lose focus on their education. Was that basically like kind of what the- the gist was?

ED: You'd hear a lot of things. They're on scholarship, why would we pay them if they're on scholar- they're already getting their school everything paid for, why should we pay them? I always thought that that was fundamentally wrong. I always thought that that was an absolute joke.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: I don't care if I am on scholarship. If you are using my likeness, I should be paid for it, plain and simple. They always seem to gloss over that.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: Yes, I'm thankful for my scholarship, I worked my ass off to get the scholarship. You didn't give me a damn thing.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: You know what I'm saying? I worked for it, and now that I'm here, you are using my likeness, and you are getting paid for it. That is wrong.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: That is against the law- (laughs) that is against the law.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: People get sued for that. I remember a gro- a grocery store using Michael Jordan's likeness and-

ERIC: I remember that too. (laughs)

ED: You know what I'm saying?

ERIC: They paid for that. (laughs)

ED: That is against the- Absolutely. That is against the law. And they are doing it, and they get away with it because they say that uh, these kids are amateurs and they are on scholarship. That is- that is fundamentally wrong.

ERIC: Something that I've always wondered in coverage of this issue is why people rarely talk about race. 45% of all men's basketball players. 39% of all football players. 31% of all women's basketball players. They're all Black.  And like only six percent of college students in like the top 100 schools are Black, like to be frank, these rich white schools are making billions of dollars off of the bodies of largely young Black men and women.

ED: That's the writing on the wall, that's the elephant in the room. They don't have the resources to change the rules. you know they're coming from backgrounds where they need at least a free education.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: There's a number of um athletes, white athletes, uh don't necessarily need a free education. They're on scholarship, but they don't need the free education.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: But most Black athletes do need the free education, so they're going to do what they're told.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: To keep that free education, and that if they open their mouths and say something, that free education's going to be taken away, or there will be some type of penalty. It- it- it's a reason to keep your thumb on them and uh make sure they do what you want them to do.

ERIC: The suit, it was a really big deal, you know?

ED: (laughs)

ERIC: Basketball legends like Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, they joined in support. 


ED: It was a rollercoaster.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: There was a lot of support, but there was also a lot of pushback. People just saying nasty things.  That we're doing this for money, that I'm greedy, that I'm- I'm an old, retired basketball player that's mad that my career didn't pan out and so I'm- I'm in this to collect millions of dollars.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: It was pretty tough. My wife would see it sometimes, my parents saw it, my brother, my kids, I felt bad for them. For me, that's where it was hard. knowing that they saw a lot of the abuse that I would take.

ERIC: Yeah. You sued the NCAA, like look, I am not a professional athlete, that was never a track that was going to work out for me. But-

ED: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ERIC: ... I even knew that that was kind of something that you don't do, especially if you're connected to sports in any sort of way, like-

ED: Oh yeah, I- I uh- I was going to play in a- a all-star game during all-star weekend, celebrity game I guess is what it was-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: ...And then the television station, they cut me out. Uh, I had an agent who I didn't know, he just popped up on my phone, he said that a television station wants you to come try out, to analyze games, and to possibly do some color commentating.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: They did some- a little bit more research on me, saw that I was suing NCAA, and he called me and said, "You know what, sorry homie. You know you're suing NCAA, we- we can't touch you."

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: "Thanks but no thanks."

ED: I went back to school, finished up my degree with uh, the thoughts of possibly getting a- um a coaching position in college.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: I remember meeting with uh, an assistant coach, a couple of them actually, they were like look man, um they used the excuse of I need more experience-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: ... But then they also kind of hinted look, you're hot right now, we can't- you know, you're suing NCAA. My AD, he won't- he won't touch you.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: He won't hire you.

ERIC: I can't even imagine that you know, kind of being boxed out from- from your career. Like what does that- what does it feel like to have that much pressure on you? You don't want to be a martyr.

ED: Well yeah, you know it- it hurt initially, but I was doing so well in- in selling cars- (laughs)

ERIC: I mean that's great. (laughs)

ED: Yeah you know it didn't- it- it didn't you know, you lose a sleep, you know a night's sleep but ultimately I will go to work the next day.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: Life goes on. Look, I got a job.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: I am providing, and we live a pretty comfortable life, so for me it wasn't the end of the world.

ERIC: Was- was there ever a time in this where you had doubts about what you were doing?

ED: Oh yeah, absolutely. “Why am I here? What am I doing? Why did I put not only myself through this, but my kids, and my family? No one appreciates this anyway, even the- the- the kids that we're doing this for, they don't even know I exist.”

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED:  I used to think that periodically, not- not all the time, but every now and then you'd have a bad day. I remember when I was in the car business, I'm not anymore, but when I was, I was just having a bad day just feeling sorry for myself, and Bill Russell called and you know, was looking for a car.

ERIC: (laughs)

ED: Uh little itty bitty car.

ERIC: Wow.

ED: It was just- yeah it was just crazy.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: And so of course like you mentioned, he was part of the law suit and he asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling, and I just started just like tearing up and you know, I told him I was having- just having a bad day and why am I doing this? No one understands and blah blah blah, whatever. And he says, "Look man, dry your tears." 

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: He was like, "Look, NCAA's a bully, you know, they bully everybody."

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: "You are the person who's standing up to them and you're punching them in their mouth, so understand that."

ERIC: Wow, like a pep talk from Bill Russell, like he's a legend- (laughs)

ED: Yeah. (laughs)

ERIC: That sounds- that sounds amazing.

ED: I was wow... and I just--the fact that he had time to share-

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED:  ... And talk to me, made my day, made my month. After that I was just like you know what, there is a- a- a bigger cause for this whole thing, so you know, wipe your face, stop crying, you'll be fine. Life goes on.

ERIC: So, this lawsuit—and like the struggle—went on for years, and then eventually in 2014 you testified in front of a federal court.

ED: One of our biggest goals was to get to court, whether we win or lose. I was the first person on the, uh, the stand the first day that we were in court. I was super nervous. I wanted to sit across the aisle from them and let them know that they were doing wrong and they should treat these athletic students a lot better than they do.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: To actually sit across the aisle from the big bad bully, and let the law know that they are wrong. 

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: That's what we did, and it felt great.

ERIC: Yeah. 

ED:  One of my proudest moments of my life, actually.


ERIC: Ed had faced off with the big bad bully, but then something unexpected happen.

ED: Got a phone call from a friend of mine, and he was like, "Dude, they stopped making the video games. What's up with that?" He's like, "What did you do?"

ERIC: (laughs)

ED:  And I was like, "How- I mean I didn't do nothing. What's wrong with you?" 

ERIC: What actually happened to those video games?... that's after the break...



ERIC: Welcome back. After years of stalling by the NCAA, public attacks, and uncertainty about what happens next, Ed had finally confronted the NCAA in a court of law…And strangely, in 2014 he won…against the NCAA!

It took a few years but when the dust settled on the appeals, Ed and the other players got a little money from EA Sports.

The payouts weren’t big. On average the players saw $1600 a piece.

But the judges were clear. The NCAA’s rules against paying players could be in violation of anti-trust laws—and the court was leaving room for the issue to be explored in a future lawsuit. 

This meant a future lawsuit could open the door for players to be paid for all kinds of things: signed jerseys and memorabilia, endorsement deals, ticket sales and TB rights, Championship bonuses…the list goes on and on.  

Ed had won, but then there was also this very big unexpected side effect…

[Video plays] 

Newscaster: The National Collegiate Athletic Association today said it will no longer allow Electronic Arts to use its name or logo in EA video games…

[Video ends] 

So it seems like the NCAA pressured EA Sports to just cancel the video games all together...instead of just compensating players for future games. 

Ed first heard the news when he was at work at the car dealership.

ED: I was walking through the showroom, got a phone call from a friend of mine, and he was like, "Dude, they stopped making the video games. What's up with that?" He's like, "What did you do?"

ERIC: (laughs).

ED: And I was like, "How- Homie, I didn't do nothing. What's wrong with you?" You know?

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: "I'm over here working. What you talking about?"

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: You know? Electronic Arts, I'm told that, uh, they tried to- they wanted to pay the athletes for using their likeness because they pay all the other professionals-

ERIC: Right.

ED: You know?

ERIC: (laughs) Yeah, they're used to that.

ED: They're used to it. That's the way they work. And so when they decide to make the- the college games, they figured they would do the same. But the NC2A stopped it-

ERIC: Wow.

ED: I thought it was, uh, weak. (laughs).

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: As big as they are, they can make it and pay the players anyway. To hell with the NC2A.

ERIC: You mentioned that your friend said to you, "What did you do?" It's weird that in the aftermath of all this, the blame of these games being canceled seems to be placed squarely at your feet.

ED: Yes.

ERIC: That's kind of insane, like I was looking up videos of you, and like there's still people posting comments saying, "Bring back the video games."

ED: Right, as if I can do it. That's the funny thing about this. I didn't take them away, and I can't bring them back. But if you need somebody to point that ire at, that hostility at, then I'll be that person. I'll, like- like Redman said, "I'll be that." You know what I'm saying?

ERIC: (laughs) yeah.

ED: I don't- I don't lose sleep over it.

ERIC: Yeah.

ED: I got nine hours last night. It doesn’t affect me. My wife and I are goin' to dinner tonight, you know.

ERIC: (laughs)

ED: I'm cool. I got into this knowing that it was gonna happen. This isn't a surprise, I guess.

ERIC: You know, at the time that they approached you on this, about the suit, you seemed ready, you were ready to make this move. You knew that this conversation had to happen. I guess like I'm a- I wonder if you wished that you had attempted to start that conversation while you were in school? You know, like you- you talked about the power you had after winning the championship. Like, do you, do you maybe wish you had started that conversation then?

ED: That's a, that's a great question. Uh, and that's one that I've often fought with myself on. If we were running through the tournament like we were my senior year, would I have the courage to then go to my teammates and say, "All right, fellas, now that we're here we fought all our lives to get here, now we're not gonna play because they won't pay us." I don't know that I could pull that off. It takes a special person to even talk about that . I wasn't thinking like that back then, but I'd like to think, uh, if I had it to do over again, that I would bring it up just to test the waters, just to stick my toe in it, in the water, just to see.

ERIC: How does it make you feel then that players are starting to have those conversations now? Like- people are picking up this charge.

ED:  love it. I love it because they're- they're fighting for their and they're talking about their rights. They're not just talking about it at the study table like we were.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: They're talking about it on social media. They're talking about it with Congress. They're talking about it with other people, with politicians. That's a beautiful thing. If you have an opportunity to speak up, uh, and speak out, um, why not do it?

ED:  I- I remember being in college. I- I was inspired. I will never forget walking to class and there was a group of people camped out, outside of this building.

ERIC: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ED: And protest. Everyday when I was going to class, I would see that, their tents out on the grass. Every now and then, there'd be news cameras or whatever around, that sort of thing. 

ERIC: Wow.

ED: They were on a hunger strike.. 

[Video plays]

Newscaster: In Los Angeles, today, those UCLA students demanding a Chicano studies department ended their hunger strike. The students had been on a water only diet for 14 days…

[Video out]

ED: And, I just remember saying to myself, "Whatever they're protest-they're willing to die for." I mean, you know. This isn't, you know, this isn't some small time thing. They are on a hunger strike. They are willing to die for it. And I just, I just was inspired. And I always said to myself, "I hope one day, I will feel as strongly about something as they do." 


ED: It's ironic. They want us athletes to be silent, but ultimately, you learn when you're on campus. we're walking on campus, and we see protests, and we see people fightin' for their rights. What are we supposed to do?

ERIC: Ed’s win wasn’t game over for the NCAA, but the movement to compensate college athletes is picking up steam. 

A new law making its way through the state legislature in California, would allow student athletes to enter into endorsement deals. 

The NCAA has said that if the law passes, all 23 Division 1 schools in california would be in violation of NCAA rules, and therefore could be banned from championship play. I don’t see any way that this doesn’t end up back in court.

Look, I’ve been a basketball fan forever. It’s the first sport I learned how to play. 

And I loved those games as much as anyone else. But a system that treats its players this feels unfair and archaic. Frankly, it’s like a textbook example of institutional racism. 

There’s this institution—in this case the NCAA—that has been able to profit off of the nearly free labor of Black players...for decades. The players—who are necessary for the institution to be able to make as much money as it does—don’t actually get to participate in the profits. And not only do they not get paid—they also don’t have much recourse for actually being able to challenge the system that exploits them.

Ed’s basketball career and the rest of his life was shaped so much by his choice to buy into the NCAA’s system. 

And talking to Ed just like humanized the stakes of not paying these players in a way that you just don’t think about when you’re playing a video game. 

The idea that these players don’t deserve more just feels hollow. The conversation that Ed O’Bannon was hoping for is now happening and people are optimistic about the outcome.

It’s a David and Goliath story, but hey, we all know how that one turned out.



If the Ed O'Bannon story was new to you...and you want another surprising story with big implications, we recommend checking out our episode called Josephine and the Amazing Technicolor Rainbow Tribe. It’s about Jospehine Baker’s attempt to build a racial utopia, with her own family. You can listen to that episode on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Nod is produced by me, Eric Eddings, with Brittany Luse, and Kate Parkinson-Morgan. Our senior producer is Sarah Abdurrahman. This episode was edited by Sara Sarasohn. It was fact-checked by Max Gibson. The show was mixed by Cedric Wilson. Our theme music is by Calid B. For additional music credits, check the show notes.