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'1,000% Win In My Book': Former College Athlete Reacts To SCOTUS Decision

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The NCAA has been under extreme pressure to change its ways. And today, the Supreme Court said they have no choice. The justices unanimously ruled that the college sports organization violates antitrust laws by limiting education benefits to college athletes. It's a big win for students who've been arguing for years that the organization profits off their work without giving the athletes appropriate compensation.

Martin Jenkins is one of the former players who sued the NCAA. He played football with Clemson University, and he joins us now.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARTIN JENKINS: Hey, thanks so much. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: You sued the NCAA in 2014, when you were still in college. And yours was one of several suits that were combined in this Supreme Court case. So first, what's your reaction to this ruling almost seven years later?

JENKINS: I mean, it's been a long, long, hard-fought battle, obviously, going back and forth. But obviously, you know, my initial reaction is just pure excitement. You know, now, officially and then moving forward, education-related compensation can no longer be restricted. So that's a 1,000% win in my book.

SHAPIRO: It's a 1,000% win but still a small part of the total package of things that college athletes were fighting for.

JENKINS: Without question.

SHAPIRO: So still a long road to go.

JENKINS: Yeah, very, very long road to go still. But at the same time, this is a major step in the right direction.

SHAPIRO: Take us back to when you signed on to play for Clemson. What were the NCAA rules around compensation as you understood them?

JENKINS: They've changed since. But back around 2010, it was a lot more limited than it is even now. And so as far as something as simple as feeding us meals - I mean, obviously, we're athletes working out two, sometimes three times a day. The NCAA could only feed us, at the time, one meal per day, right? That has since changed. And compensation-wise, there really, really wasn't a whole lot there - you know, maybe enough money to pay for gas to and from practice, maybe get a couple groceries here and there. But as far as, you know, either living off campus or on campus, there really wasn't a ton of support coming from the NCAA in that regard.

SHAPIRO: Even as you were helping the NCAA make many millions of dollars.

JENKINS: Yeah, hundreds of millions, absolutely.

SHAPIRO: Why did you decide to file a lawsuit?

JENKINS: I think there was a lot of different reasons - just knowing my experience and, you know, having the experience that I had playing for one of the top universities - which, that experience was 100% a blessing. I mean, I loved every second of it. But at the same time, I just felt, you know, once I got a small peek behind the curtain to the sheer numbers that were being brought in from the games and from our hard work - and it just seemed like, at the time, everybody outside of the players, which were doing the actual tangible work, was being compensated for it, from, obviously, coaches and strength coaches and things like that - which they deserve it 100% - but even the economics of the schools - right? - of small towns where these college - a lot of these big college schools are. You know, during game days, they're having hundreds of thousands of people flood the town. And now, the economy is going up. Now, the real estate prices are going up because of that.

And, you know, essentially, if you kind of work backwards, it's all because of the work of the athletes. So, you know, not saying that it needs to be a form of amateur sports or semi-pro or anything like that, but to have absolutely minimal or absolutely no compensation, I just thought that wasn't right. And I figured that there could be something to do about it and so why not move the needle forward and see if we can make some change.

SHAPIRO: Can you talk about the moments that were a struggle for you that might have been different if you had had the kind of compensation that you and other athletes have been seeking?

JENKINS: Just in my experience, you know, going out and playing and seeing your name on these - on commercials and on these massive games where you know a bunch of revenue is being generated and then going back to the dorm later after the game or the next day and not necessarily being able to afford a great meal to, you know, replenish your body or, you know, something basically as simple as that or just - like I said, you know, there were plenty of guys on the team who couldn't necessarily call back home to ask their parents or ask their family for money to pay the light bill if they were living off campus or some extra money for food or gas money or just basic necessities that you need in life.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell what would have been different for you if this decision that the Supreme Court handed down today had come down when you were still in college?

JENKINS: What we realized is, a lot of the college athletes, their prime earning years are during their time at these big Division 1 schools or big college programs. I think for the people who don't successfully transition from college to professional athletics, which is a very small percentage, a lot of their prime earning years are going to be in college, right? And so the way we see it and the way I see it is being able to have compensation past just college but not be in a professional athlete realm, whether it be, hey, now I can get my next degree paid for. Hey, now I can go to vocational school to learn a skill that I haven't had the time to learn or haven't had the, you know, energy to learn the last four or five years.

SHAPIRO: That's Martin Jenkins, a former football player at Clemson University, now an entrepreneur in Atlanta.

Thank you for talking with us.

JENKINS: Yeah, no problem at all. Thank y'all for having me. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIG STAR SONG, "BALLAD OF EL GOODO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.