What battles loom for the next Wonman Joseph Williams ... and will we have to wait another 30 or 40 years for him to arise? Two issues fester right on sports' doorstep, ripe and ready to burst. The first is the emergence and acceptance of the first openly gay athlete in a mainstream team sport. The second is the systemic corruption of college athletics, from the tens of millions of dollars being made by TV networks, conferences and the NCAA on the sweat and toil of the college athlete to the absurdity that median spending on athletics by universities in major conferences is four to 11 times higher per athlete than that spent on education-related expenses per student and growing at double to triple the rate of academic expenditures, resulting in a net loss for all but seven athletic programs nationwide, even with all those TV revenues, according to the Knight Commission—a deficit that must be made up by increases in tuition or increased allotments drawn from state taxes or general university funds.
Who knows? This Wonman Joseph Williams, after all, has two years of eligibility left at UVA and plenty of time after that to consider his next stand. "There needs to be a radical revolution of the way we view sports, especially on the amateur level, in America," he says. "I'd love to be a part of it if it ever happens. But it's hard for an athlete to say he's going to protest for the sake of athletes at large, because most of us have just four years, and we want to win now and to get playing time now."
But the biggest looming battlefront, the one that cries for athletes at the ramparts yet transcends sports, the one that will require the most heroic investment from athletes because they're the ones reaping the status quo's richest rewards, is the very cause, says Edwards, for which Joseph just laid his stomach on the line. "The problem of the 21st century is going to be the deepening economic disparity, about the have-mores and the have-nones. What this young man in Virginia did spoke exactly to that."
The old, gray warriors from the 1960s and '70s, they're watching, they're waiting. "Sure," says Walton, "there are people just retreating to their mansions on the hill and pulling the ladder up behind them, but the great thing about any group dynamic is that it always comes down to one guy. And we all have the chance to be that guy. The one with the willingness to stand tall for those who can't. It still comes down to: Do you care, and does it really matter? I do, and it does. And I salute this young man for standing tall."
Carlos isn't holding his breath. "The people who do these things start building the courage of others to think about taking a stand too," he says. "What this kid did might bring a light to other athletes. But it won't start a stampede."
It's the morning after the end of Full Harmony's hunger strike. He and athletes all across America are pulling on their sweats and hurrying to weight rooms, to conditioning and agility drills, to classes. Don't peer at them, these determined young men and women on college and professional teams, and ask where their social conscience and voice have gone. Look at us. We're the soil from which they grow. If we don't change, they can't, and so the first revolution that would have to occur is the one that no one's talking about.
Our next Wonman Joseph Williams, the ground-changing one, would have to be so bold and so radical even to consider attempting that revolt. Then he'd have to pray that enough other athletes, among the 99% who aren't going pro, understand deep inside. They'd stop pumping iron, refuse to run sprints, quit reporting to gymnasiums and practice fields, stop being entertainment, demand to be reunited with the student body, insist that the runaway developmental-compression train slow down long enough for them to find out who they are besides athletes. Long enough for them to expand. They'd sit down not for money—a real concern as well—but for time and for space. To be human-being-student-athletes.
Yes, that's hard to imagine. The whole edifice is likelier to collapse first, from forces outside of sports: Excesses of all kinds have a way, eventually, of being leveled.
There's no whiff of that this morning in the world of sports. Joseph's blinking the sleep out of his eyes, wolfing down a bowl of cereal, heading to a rehab workout. Everything's back to normal, nothing unusual to report. We return you to your regularly scheduled programming. There's still a college game on Thursday night.