Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The NCAA is on trial today, and this civil rights historian is on the players' bench

Taylor Branch is a titan of nonfiction literature. He's the author of a seminal trilogy on Martin Luther King, Jr. He's the recipient of rafts of awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the MacArthur "Genius" grant. His decades-long friendship with Bill Clinton led to his book The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President based on secret taped interviews in the White House.

And as an unlikely addition to these accolades, he's on the witness list in a blockbuster lawsuit over college sports going to trial today, O'Bannon v. NCAA, which could pave the way for college players to get paid.

Why? He published an article "The Shame of College Sports" in The Atlantic in 2010 and a short book expanding on it, The Cartel, both of which tear the NCAA to shreds for denying players rights. The article goes so far as to compare the system of college sports to a plantation. If Branch is allowed to testify — a matter that remains disputed, with the NCAA complaining the prize-winning historian is a "Russian doll of hearsay" — he will be testifying on the side of the players.

Taylor Branch sat down with Ezra Klein to explain his view of the NCAA, and what the O'Bannon trial is all about.

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