Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.
Sometimes in order to appease your haters, the best option is to bow out.
Who is he? Mark Emmert (aka a man peacing out)
The current president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which regulates student athletics across about 1,100 schools in North America, is stepping down from his position amid a turbulent time for the organization.
Despite having his contract renewed by the NCAA board of governors through 2025, Emmert is stepping down this month, citing a new era of restructuring, operation, and a "good time to make a change at the leadership level, too."
Described by The New York Times as "persistently embattled", Emmert is no stranger to criticism. He's faced it from ... just about everyone: conference commissioners, coaches, athletic directors, and sports reporters for his leadership through a formative time for the organization.
His tenure has been turbulent, to say the least. He's overseen the revolution in student athlete compensation, newly raised questions of health and safety, gender equity and much more.
For what Sports Illustrated described as "an impossible job", Emmert argues his presidential position never granted him the power to "create rules or pass judgment for any one school."
What's the big deal? Well, all those issues will define the future of college athletics and beyond, and they aren't going away anytime soon. But they will be picked up by his replacement: former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
Emmert's staunch resistance to compensating student athletes for their work took him all the way to the Supreme Court, and is one of his many positions that made him widely unpopular. It continues today, with litigation that attempts to define whether or not student athletes are considered university employees.
"Name, Image and Likeness" was the crux of a legal concept that prevented student athletes from being compensated for their own image or brand, with many pointing to the billions in revenue that these students, including many people of color, brought in for schools, coaches, and the NCAA itself.
There's also the question of gender equity. Just two years ago, the NCAA was basically shamed into addressing the gap between men's and women's basketball.
To top it off, the NCAA is also involved in litigation regarding the physical health and wellbeing of former student athletes in regards to severe injuries like concussions, where victims allege the organization should have done more to warn and care for students that sustained injuries during their athletic careers.
Want more sports journalism? Listen to the Consider This episode with Retired WNBA Star Maya Moore.
What are people saying? Emmert is standing by his legacy, telling NPR:
"Well, I certainly have been the loudest and clearest voice on health and safety, and have done more around health and safety than most anyone has done in college sports. So I'm incredibly proud of what we did, in that arena when it comes to athletic compensation. What we've seen over my 12 years is a constant improvement in the conditions and support of athletes, and I'm equally proud of that."
"I spent a great deal of my time on campuses where I would meet with student athletes routinely ... and I was a champion for bringing athletes onto the various committees and governance boards and giving them not just a voice, but votes in each of those forums."
Pat Forde, senior writer at Sports Illustrated, wonders at what next:
"Who the hell would want this job? Who wants to try to ride the college athletics tiger at a time like this? Emmert wasn't good at his job, but is anyone capable of wrapping his or her arms around this untamed period of player compensation, player movement, conference realignment and even more unchecked spending that could massively threaten Olympic sports?"
So, what now? Charlie Baker is expected to begin his position in March, and says he aims to modernize college sports while maintaining its essential value.
The NCAA generated $1.14 billion in revenue in 2022, according to recently released financial audits, which project some recovery from the hits that COVID made.
The NCAA is also seeking Congressional help to try and straighten out their rapidly evolving financial structure. The result is still up in the air on that one.
Get a refresher on what led up to this point, as Planet Money delves into the monetization of college sports.
Dive into how Damar Hamlin's collapse fueled anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
Listen to this Fresh Air interview with elite runner Lauren Fleshman, who wants to change how the way the sports world is built for men.
[Copyright 2023 NPR]