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P. Diddy, education, and opportunity

Randall F. Clemens

A few weeks ago, Sean "Diddy" Combs’ son earned a $54,000 athletic scholarship to UCLA. The news sparked a debate about college access and the redistribution of wealth. Even, Bill O’Reilly commented

What responsibility does a person whose net worth is nearly one half of a billion dollars have to education as a public good? Does the son of a media mogul really need a merit-based scholarship from a fiscally strapped state school?

Student debt is a hot topic right now, and there are multiple angles to approach the controversy. Some have argued Combs’ son should decline his scholarship, even though he earned it. Financial aid is largely a zero sum enterprise, and Combs' scholarship deprives another student of an opportunity.

I have also heard individuals suggest that all college athletes who go pro should repay their scholarships after graduation. This, to me, seems like the murkiest argument. One former graduate of USC said he tried to get his teammates to repay their athletic scholarships; they scoffed, but he did not explain why. I think it is fair to assume that they felt they earned every penny of their scholarships. How many millions of dollars do universities make from student-athletes? How much will UCLA benefit from having a Diddy attend the school? How much do wealthy alumni donate? Moreover, given our expanding knowledge about football and brain damage, is trading scholarships for the increased likelihood of short and long-term injuries—e.g. trauma, depression, and dementia—ethical? 

When I read about P. Diddy’s son, I immediately thought of a recent interview between Hannah Storm and Kobe Bryant. The notoriously cantankerous phenom talked about maturing as a player and person. He started a charity that has focused on improving the lives of those in need. He discussed the stark contrast that occurred during and after games at the Staples Center. One moment he was surrounded by affluent individuals spending up to $1,500 on tickets to a basketball game and the next he was driving past homeless individuals on Skid Row who were scrounging for a few dollars to buy food. 

If everyone just pitched in a little, he said, we could change lives.

Education is a public good from which we all benefit. What responsibility does a media mogul have to supporting public education? What responsibility do you or I have?