Slate: How has being an athlete enhanced other aspects of your life?
Green: I understand the value of hard work and a lot of it. I grasp that life, like an athletic competition, has twists and turns that aren’t always fair, and that the best way to deal with those things is to put them behind you and play on. Teamwork is another thing. You have to count on others. You learn that you’re not always going to love everyone on your team. But people can still provide value to a team and still help you achieve a common goal. They don’t have to be your best friend.
Slate: Have you seen the research connecting football to brain injury?
Green: Yes. From what I’ve gathered, it’s all anecdotal. No one has come up with conclusive evidence. There are suggestions of long-term effects, and in fact they may be true, but so far I don’t see any proof. The most compelling evidence that’s been brought to light so far deals with NFL players. And anyone that suggests college football reaches the same levels of intensity as the National Football League, well, that person just hasn’t experienced both college and pro football.
Slate: Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. Out-of-control boosterism at the University of Miami. Academic fraud and unethical dealings between assistant coaches and NFL agents at the University of North Carolina. Why has college football been wracked by so many scandals recently? Is there some kind of common denominator?
Green: Whenever there’s a tremendous amount of money involved in something—whether it’s medical research or food programs for Third World countries or presidential politics—you’ll find people who behave badly. But those people are the exception, not the rule.
Slate: Is there too much money in the college football business to serve players’ best interests?
Green: I believe in the free market economy and capitalism. It’s what this country was built on. College football earns money because it has entertainment value: It’s like a movie that you perhaps personally find silly or absurd, but it rakes in $200 million at the box office. For whatever reason, football fills a void in people’s lives—they enjoy it and flock to it. That’s just our world. I don’t begrudge people the way they spend their money on entertainment and I certainly don’t begrudge the entertainers.
Slate: So should college football players be paid, like other entertainers?
Green: Yes. For one, it would reward them for their significant efforts. Also, it would diffuse some of the excesses and corruptions you spoke of. You’ll never completely eliminate them, because we’re human beings and we’re flawed. But I think it would serve to at least lessen those temptations.