UConn player says some nights he goes to bed ‘starving’

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University of Connecticut's Shabazz NapierHe’s one of the best basketball players in the country, and he’s preparing for Monday night’s NCAA championship game, yet the University of Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier recently told reporters he sometimes goes to bed “starving” because he can’t afford food.

The remark got the attention of state lawmakers in Connecticut, who are now exploring legislative ways to allow athletes at UConn, a state institution, to unionize — much like athletes are attempting at Northwestern University.

State Rep. Matthew Lesser and other state lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow athletes at the University of Connecticut to unionize, Lesser said. Unlike at Northwestern, a private institution governed by the National Labor Relations Board, Connecticut law governs whether employees at a public institution can unionize.

“He says he’s going to bed hungry at a time when millions of dollars are being made off of him. It’s obscene,” Lesser said. “This isn’t a Connecticut problem. This is an NCAA problem, and I want to make sure we’re putting pressure on them to treat athletes well.”

In a recent interview with reporters, Napier called the Northwestern union ruling “kind of great” and said that while he appreciates his basketball scholarship, it doesn’t cover all of his expenses.

“I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” he said.

Asked if he felt like an employee — a key distinction cited in the NLRB’s Northwestern ruling — the Huskies point guard responded, “I just feel like a student-athlete, and sometimes, like I said, there’s hungry nights and I’m not able to eat and I still got to play up to my capabilities. … When you see your jersey getting sold — it may not have your last name on it — but when you see your jersey getting sold and things like that, you feel like you want something in return.”

CNN’s calls to UConn’s athletic department were not immediately returned Monday afternoon. The Huskies are set to face the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA men’s basketball finals in Arlington, Texas, at 9:10 p.m. ET.

The comments come after a flurry of chatter about Northwestern football players challenging the long-established NCAA amateur model.

Last month, the NLRB ruled that Northwestern football players should be considered employees because of the hours they put in, the control the university has over them and the revenue they generate.

But reaction was mixed, even among those who support NCAA reform.

On Saturday, for the first time, two leaders on the Northwestern team told reporters after a spring practice that they won’t vote to unionize, and head coach Pat Fitzgerald said he told his players he didn’t believe a union was in their best interest.

Hours later, NCAA President Mark Emmert called the idea “grossly inappropriate.”

“It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics,” he said.

The players at Northwestern, led by former quarterback Kain Colter and Ramogi Huma, founder of National College Players Association and the College Athletes Players Association, say they want better medical coverage, concussion testing, four-year scholarships that cover the entire cost of attendance and the possibility of being paid.

Northwestern is appealing the ruling to the national NLRB office and maintains that student-athletes are not university employees but “students, first and foremost.”

Huma has said the Northwestern ruling would have national implications, but he would not talk about whether other schools’ teams were planning to hold union votes.

At private schools like Duke and Stanford, the process would be similar to the path taken by Northwestern’s players. There have been indications that officials at those schools are closely monitoring what happens at Northwestern.

However, at public schools, the process would vary from state to state.


  • js

    I absolutely believe they should be paid for playing, above any scholarship they are receiving, money is being made off of them and their hard work. I know they don’t have to risk a career ending injury, during college, but they in fact do every time they participate in a sport. I know of a young athlete who had a promising career until he broke his leg completely in to on the football field during a game. H e had his choice of colleges wanting him and with the injury he was finished, why should they put it on the line and make money for a school with no return. They do their classwork to cover themselves academically, when they have a career ending injury, their scholarships are taken and they are left in the cold and many have to drop out of college with no prospects for a career without a degree if they cannot afford to continue paying for school themselves.

  • carol willmore

    My daughter didn’t play sports but she did go to a four year college and when she had a job in the office in the library where she made some extra snack money…..there are ways to get food while in college….find a microwave and roman noodles are .20 per pack…..my daughter lived on these for most of her four years in college…..I have gone hungry, I have been homeless, I survived without someone hearing my story about how hungry I was and there are thousands out there in the same boat who are not making a big deal over it just so people feel sorry for them…..do college athletes need to get paid? Hell NO! They are getting an education that hopefully some day will make them enough money they don’t have to rely on athletics to make it in life…..Get a J O B!!

    • karynczar@gmail.com

      They can’t have a job! Some work 40-60 hours a week just for practice, games and travel time AND go to school full time. Your daughter was compensated for her time working in the library. Athletes should be given the same.

  • Pat

    This is why every big campus should have a cafeteria for students that is part of the tuition they pay. It’s convenient for students and makes sure that they do not go hungry. I do not think that athletes should be paid but since they have no way to hold a job while playing a sport it does pose a problem

  • Leah E

    I would think that if he is provided with a scholarship to play for UCONN, the school would ensure that he has a meal plan so he can eat. How are athletes expected to perform without adequate nutrition….both on the court and in the classroom? No way on unionization, but definitely a yes on the meal plan account!

  • dewey

    anywhere these guys are winning NCAA titles, they aren’t going hungry….they know you got to feed a powerhouse

  • Briana

    If he lives on campus at UCONN a meal plan is REQUIRED. He has a full scholarship with a meal plan, there is documented proof of that. UCONN has 3 main cafeterias that stay open until 10pm and several other dining options that stay open late as well, all of which would be included in his meal plan. I’m not doubting that he may go to bed hungry as I do not know his schedule, I’m just questioning why? Is it really the fault of the institution or is there another reason? I have an extremely hard time believing that this young man’s mother managed to somehow afford to make it to Texas for the championship game but can not afford to send him extra food or give him a bit of spending money in order for him to eat as his schedule allows so that he doesn’t go to bed hungry. The logical thinker in me isn’t buying it.

  • Catherine

    My husband played D-1 basketball (full scholarship) and I know players get food plans and/or stipends for food as part of their scholarship. Maybe better management on the part of the basketball coaches, etc on how the players spend that? This makes no sense. I see you did try to reach UCONN about their policy on meal plans for full scholarship players? Would have been nice to get their response (a quote for the head coach or athletic director).

  • Cynthia

    Isnt there a stipulation for NCAA college athletes, where they can’t have a job while on scholarship or participating in the athletic program??!
    Does anyone understand that any college making millions off the backs of any athlete is pathetic, but big business. This type of behavior keeps the 1% rich and the rest doing all the work. The American Dream! Any time a person, bussiness or in this case school finds a way to capitalize off it’s student and/or athletes, they will.
    Money, greed, power buys votes, sweeps important matters under the rug and most recently kept a dupont heir from being sent to prison for raping gis own toddler son and daughter.
    Fix our government and state regulations and policies and those enforcing them will be a start to correcting a fraction of the issue.

  • Melvin Trome

    No money for food? Hmmm….but money to cover his body in tattoos? Something doesn’t jive here.

  • DeLana

    I think the NCAA should seriously begin looking at issuing these student athletes a stipend, in addition to their scholarships. This way you won’t see as much trouble that happens that we read about all the time in the new media and individuals can better learn the value of a dollar and balancing.

  • Maureen

    It is all about choice…we all make them and we all have to deal with the consequences. If you don’t have enough food to eat while in college get a job or a student loan. If you don’t have enough time to work to earn money to buy food that is a sad consequence of your choice. By coming out and using that line “starving” ..he is opening himself up to be judged re the choices he made.

  • Jodi

    Let me start with… I believe in student athletes getting financially compensated especially in situations when the school is profiting from them in some way. I played D1 women’s bball at a mid major university and I find it hard to believe that this kid goes to bed hungry but what a way to make a case..lol. When you are on a full ride, you get the full meal plan (3 all you can eat meals 7 days a week, eating what and all you want at very nice restaurants when you are on the road, pregame meals at a nice restaurant before home games, and hefty meal stipends during holiday breaks, etc) and I would have to imagine that UCONN would have all kind of meal options cause my school sure did back in the mid 90’s. I was from a poor family and didn’t get hardly any financial support but I definitely ate better than most other students.

    • Dub T

      i pretty sure you didnt pay as much as we do today as you did back then fees for schools have increased by 3 to 4 thousand a semester in 2 or 3 years so imagine since 90’s that about a 20-25 year difference and the meal plans are about 2000-3000

  • Dub T

    so its ok to feed an athlete but its not ok to feed the students that pay over 40 thousands of dollars each come on now food should be included when we pay tuition not a separate price or fee.

  • Wayland

    By the way, those who say a college student should be fine with getting by on noodles and other similar “food”, need to get a grip.

    It is possible to starve the body of micronutrients (vitamins/minerals), while feeding it “food”. This is what has lead to a large population of Western culture suffering from malnutrition while also being overweight.

    Additionally, a diet of noodles or other simple carbs leads to a cycle of blood sugar ups-and-downs that leads to more hunger in an attempt to stabilize it.

    Ever wonder why you’re somehow able to eat more food when you should be full? Simple carbohydrates can contribute to this.

    These players should have a team nutritionist who can determine what they need to perform optimally.

    • Me

      So if we pay the athletes, do we pay the student trainers, towel boys, ball boys, Gatorade makers, uniform washers, etc that are in a supporting role?

      I’ve seen student trainers keep longer practice hours than the players, as they are the first ones there, and last ones to leave, icing and wrapping as needed. They may not exert the same energy, but they’re part of the backbone, too.

      Why isn’t a scholarship considered to be payment enough?

  • Bellablue3

    There is a very easy way to remedy this situation but it needs the compliance of the schools, NCAA, and private or public organizations to provide funding. Here is what I mean. When I was in college, not only was I on an academic scholarship which covered tuition, fees, books, and basic meals, I also received a stipend for doing 10 hours of research a week. I was still a student but I had an added responsibility. My stipend was paid by a public grant to the university to support me and I was paid monthly by the university. I was not paid a lot but the stipend made it so much easier for me to live. I had meal plans but I was always away from campus during dinner because I had mentoring, tutoring, and other extra curricular responsibilities. My responsibilities including the research component was the same before and after I applied for the research program, but prior to my acceptance in the program, I was going to bed hungry as the basketball player in this article. Student athletes do additional work and each one should have the opportunity to receive a small stipend like I had. In order to fund it there needs to be a collaborative effort between the sources making money off the athletes, e.g. the schools, the NCAA or other sports organizations, ESPN and other sports networks, etc. Finally, no one knows how the young man’s mother is travelling around the country to see his games. There are all sorts of ways to get around that does not mean she can afford it or is actually paying out of pocket for the trips. I know college students with no money who went on Spring Break in another state and had a blast. Furthermore, that shouldn’t even matter. At the end of the day, the bill for school is the student’s responsibility and that’s why people have “student loans.” I just hope that the situation gets better for these student athletes. They deserve at least a small stipend to offset living and medical expenses, since they are working to enhance the university’s image and reputation. I don’t think they should have to unionize to get it though.

  • Susan

    No excuse for any student to go hungry. Good grief their charged enough to attend school. Give them debt cards for food. Ridiculous!!

  • Annie

    Higher education is a priviledge. Playing sports is a choice. The student athletes who made a choice to participate in athletics can quit and work like everyone else. I had a full academic scholarship, but worked three jobs to keep a roof over my head and food on my plate. I recognized that the suffering would eventually pay off, much like his will.

  • Annie

    According to UConn’s website, a year of in state costs is about $30K. Multiply that by 4. He’s getting $120,000 to play. Isn’t that enough?

  • O

    This comment made me sic when I heard it the other night. I can’t completely disagree that they should be compensated in some way, shape or form. However, they are ALREADY compensated in a stipend each month, per NCAA guidelines. This is to pay for rent, food, etc. If they CHOOSE to live in a $1,000/mth apartment and buy video games, etc. and they don’t have food, that’s on them. Also, these kids also CHOOSE to live off-campus, they CHOOSE to spend money on ancillary items they probably don’t need and they CHOOSE to not participate in on campus meal plans.

    Now – I was a D3 athlete, and we had 2 practices a day including lifting weights at 6 in the morning, so some of the people on here stating that they are employees of the college, to an extent I agree, to another I completely diagree. I paid for my college, entirely too much, if we go the route of paying athletes, they should get a stipend increase, they should get a plane ticket home to see their parents for a holiday and they should all have to pay taxes and everything else a professional employee does on an hourly, daily and monthly basis.

    • chek

      u took the words out of my mouth we go to bed hungry most nights we put in the hrs as well and I still had a job I slept 3 hrs a night if that its all in how bad u want it, bnot gimme gimme gimme

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