The announcement that Justin Combs, son of Sean “Diddy” Combs, would take his talents – on the field and in the classroom – to UCLA has prompted widespread debate (err haterism).  Despite excelling on the football field and with his academics, some have questioned whether he deserves or should be given a scholarship, especially in our current economic climate.  More than the issue of the cost of collegiate athletics and rising tuition costs, the “controversy” surrounding his scholarship to UCLA comes from a belief that Combs is not entitled to an athletic scholarship because of his father’s wealth.

A blog post – “Should rich kids be ineligible for college scholarships?,” gives voice to those who have questioned the decision from UCLA and the Combs family:

Justin shouldn’t keep this money: Here’s the bottom line, says Dennis Romero at LA Weekly: “The son of a guy worth nearly half a billion dollars” doesn’t need a free ride to college, especially to “a school where student tuition and fees have nearly tripled in the last 10 years.” I mean, this is a kid who poses in front of “a $300,000-plus Maybach,” likely the car his dad got him on his 16th birthday. Now that’s “a free ride that could pay for half dozen full-ride scholarships to UCLA.”

The mere fact that this subject to debate on CNN or that CBS affiliate in Los Angeles sent a reporter to ask students their opinion is troubling and points to some larger issues at work.  Justin Combs earned a scholarship; UCLA decided that his football skills and his academic preparedness were worthy of an athletic scholarship.  That should be the end of the discussion yet for those who see his Diddy’s mogul status, his MTV Sweet 16 bash, his car, or his father’s stock portfolio as reasons to deny an earned, merit-based, scholarship, let me say a few things.

First off, the scholarship is “compensation” for his athletic labor; it is payment for not only his hard work but also a skill set that has proven to be valuable.  It is compensation for the job of being a student-athlete, one that not only includes practice, games, media sessions, film sessions, workouts, travel, physical and mental wear and tear, and public appearances, along with being a college athlete.  It is remuneration for the millions of dollars generated by collegiate football and basketball players, whose talents the NCAA, its partner institutions, and the sports media have converted into a billion dollar industry.  While an exploitative relationship, this is still the “wage.”  Unless the sons and daughters of America’s 1-percent are going to be asked to forgo wages at their various jobs, there is little one should say to Justin Combs.

Second, the idea that budgets or student fees are being impacted by athletic scholarships is without basis. Beyond the reality that state monies are not used for athletic scholarships, the efforts to link Combs to the budget is faux outrage.  Where is the outrage over excessive salaries for coaches? High-price administrators? High cost tuition has nothing to do with scholarship athletes, or “overpaid professors” but an overall divestment in higher education.  It reflects an unwillingness to invest public monies, to raise the necessary tax dollars, to maintain great universities.  Blaming student-athletes and condemning Justin Combs is nothing more than a rhetorical weapon of mass distraction, one that so often cites hip-hop as the source of societal ills.

Additionally,  if one is going to “mean’s test” scholarships, wouldn’t that ostensibly eliminate all merit-based scholarships? Does that mean all scholarships will be allocated based on need or just when involving the sons and daughters of hip-hop moguls?

For those who don’t think Combs deserves an athletic scholarship, are you willing to take the same position for a student who earns academic scholarship?  If athletic excellence doesn’t matter for a student of wealth, should artistic or academic excellence matter either?

The selective outrage over an athletic scholarship reflects a lack of understanding of the economics of collegiate sports as well as a tone that athletes, and particularly black athletes, are not deserving of admission into institutions of higher education.  It is revealing that many comments reference his 3.75 GPA as evidence that Combs doesn’t deserve admission into UCLA much less a scholarship.  In other words, for these “critics” his GPA, irrespective of his essay, his athletic ability, his extracurricular activities, his leaderships, his SAT score, and countless other factors considered by admissions counselors, illustrates that he doesn’t deserve admission into UCLA.  Even when African Americans play by the rules of the game, securing victory – a college scholarship – the referees try to change the rules, deny the win, and demonize the victorious.