Don’t drop the mic: Oregon State must hire beloved Parker

Many in the Oregon State community have dubbed sportscaster Mike Parker, “The voice of the Beavers.” Yet the school has never brought Parker on as a full college employee, declining to extend needed health benefits during Parker’s battle with kidney failure. Courtesy of Oregon State University via Flickr

“For the third time in the modern era, it is my joy and honor to say,‘The Beavers are the National Champions!’”

If you are not a sports fan from the Pacific Northwest, you may not know in which captivating, ever-enthused pitch and intonation to read the above exclamation. But you should.

Mike Parker’s voice has echoed in my ears for the entirety of my life. It has brought joy and excitement to many an Oregonian. And for that, in my part of the world, Parker’s voice has been coined The Official Voice of the Oregon State Beavers. But Mike Parker The Voice has not shielded Mike Parker The Man from exploitation. And that needs to change.

I.

Last week, the Oregon State University (OSU) Athletic Department sent this question into the Twittersphere: “Passionate about the Beavs and have ideas on how to make Oregon State Athletics better? Applications are now open for the Fan Experience Committee.” The response that ensued was centered not around the fun-loving chides of a bubbly college fanbase, nor questions regarding what exactly a “Fan Experience Committee” is supposed to do other than replace the thrill of fandom with the soul-crushing boredom of committee meetings. Instead, the response to Oregon State’s platitude was centered around the statements of one particularly informed and impassioned fan: Mike Parker’s daughter, Lydia.

In reference to Oregon State’s intentionally milquetoast tweet, Lydia Parker remarked: “I’ve got [an idea]! Hire Mike Parker and stop acting like he hasn’t poured his entire life and soul into Oregon State for the past 20+ years! Get him on OSU employee benefits and start treating him right! And don’t tell me to delete this tweet this time because it ‘makes you looked bad!’”

In a ten-tweet thread, Lydia went on to highlight that “the Athletic Department has said multiple times that they’re ‘working on’ seeing what they can do for [my dad]. A couple [of] years ago they said it would simply cost too much to hire him: $25,000/year to be exact. But the new [Athletic Director]…makes almost $900,000.”

Crucially, Lydia emphasized the human cost of OSU’s underappreciation of her father: “Last year, [my dad] got really sick and his kidneys started to shut down. But our current healthcare through the radio company…[Learfield IMG]…is so bad [that] he wouldn’t go to the doctor. The only way I got him to go to the [Emergency Room] was by saying I would drop of out school to pay for it” (Twitter, @LydiaParker123, 04.12.2019).

Thus, the man who has been there for Oregon State to call the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, three National Championships and everything in between had nobody from Oregon State there for him in his time of most urgent need. And he almost died because of it.

II.

Mike Parker’s story is, heartbreakingly, not an uncommon one. As has been well documented elsewhere, the number-one cause of bankruptcy in the United States is medical bills. And Parker’s trial is a far more public example of the ways in which an increasingly contingent labor force is asked to live paycheck-to-paycheck—with the knowledge that one catastrophic episode could result in the loss of livelihood, even if it doesn’t involve the loss of life.

The localized notoriety of Parker’s voice obscures the fact that places like Oregon State (and Vassar) rely on outsourcing work to cut costs and commitments to their almost-employees. It is the same reason that dining hall workers, janitors and other “staff” do not get the same cushy benefits as other members of higher learning.

More broadly, it is the same reason clothing companies do not hold themselves accountable for the treatment of the people who make their apparel. And it is the same reason the phone or computer on which you’re likely reading this article was not made within 5,000 miles of you. Because screwing somebody over whose wellbeing you do not see yourself as responsible for is usually calculated as morally irrelevant, even if not morally defensible. And for Mike Parker’s two subcontractors—Learfield IMG and OSU—his health and wellbeing are far removed from their responsibility. In this way, Learfield IMG and OSU treat Mike Parker as the equivalent of an Uber driver. And every time Parker inaugurates another iconic moment, the corporation and the university above him cash a massive check.

Parker’s exploitation is especially telling because even in the accepted paradigm—the one where marketing and competition are more constitutive of college campuses than classrooms and underutilized laundry rooms—his disrespect is startling. Because for a PAC-12 school so dependent on athletics to maintain its image, Mike Parker has been incredibly valuable.

Nick Madrigal, the fourth-overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft, told me via direct message that Parker was absolutely central in his decision to enroll at Oregon State: “[Before arriving at Oregon State] I always watched Oregon State National Championship videos and always remember hearing [Mike Parker’s] voice calling the games, and how special it was…I listened so many times and [it] just motivated me…[I hoped that some day] he would be saying my name…and talking about our National Championship.” Nick’s dream came true in 2018 when he captained the National Champion Beavers; Mike Parker’s beautifully craggy voice soared through Beaver Nation in a tenor so pure that I decided to start this article with it.

Joe Casey, a crucial piece on this year’s second-ranked Beaver baseball team (and, disclaimer, my best friend), echoed Madrigal’s sentiments: “When I picture all the National Championships and big games, I hear Mike Parker’s voice. It just means so much to have a guy that can capture a moment like that.”

Aleah Goodman, the PAC-12 Sixth Player of the Year in women’s basketball, conveyed to me the ways that her experience as an athlete has been enhanced by Parker’s passion and love of athletics: “Every student-athlete that has either talked to him or been interviewed by him knows he loves Oregon State…I have loved every interview I have done with him!”

Stephen Thompson Jr., the All-PAC-12 Second Team guard for the Beaver men’s basketball team, reiterated Goodman: “Mike Parker means a lot to me. He is a great guy that genuinely cares about the teams and individuals he covers…[He] has taught me a lot about sports broadcasting and other life values.”

Daniel Rodriguez, Oregon State football’s star punter, told me that he feels that “[Mike Parker] is part of the face of Oregon State Athletics. [More than that, he is] the voice.”

Tres Tinkle, the two-time first-team All-PAC-12 forward for the Beaver men’s basketball team, was perhaps most direct in his advocacy for Parker, telling me that “If you ask anybody about him they’ll have nothing but positive things to say…He travels with us on every road trip [and is just a] very easy going and genuine guy who is so passionate when it comes to Beaver sports. I think what he does for our community and responsibility as well as the character and integrity he has, employing him by the university is the least we could do.”

Parker, then, has clearly done more than just define Oregon State Athletics for its fans. He has defined it for many of its best and most marketable athletes as well. The marketability of the likes of Madrigal, Casey, Goodman, Thompson, Rodriguez and Tinkle necessarily brings about a separate conversation on the idea of amateurism in college sports. But that isn’t what this particular article is about.

Instead, it is about the fact that even those who are labeled professionals and have “properly” navigated the channels of institutional and social structures are liable to be exploited. The powers that be will almost always pursue the path to the most profit…and take care of themselves in the process. Perhaps that explains why President Ed Ray makes $809,988 every year. And Provost Edward Feser makes $412,812 every year. And the average dean makes $288,923 every year (Oregon State, “Unclassified Personnel List,” 02.09.2019). And the school does not provide Mike Parker with health care.

III.

When I was growing up, my dad—an instructor at Oregon State University—told me that our family’s political beliefs, although complicated, revolved around a simple rhetorical question: Do you hold the door open for a person behind you?

The oversimplified question is built on an idea of empathy and kindness—an ethics of care, if you will. Empathy and kindness cannot only manifest in optics and interpersonal interactions. They must also manifest in the ways in which we build, reinforce or challenge hierarchical structures.

Mike Parker has been celebrated over and over again by Oregon State University. He has hosted and commentated almost every marquee event the Athletic Department has been involved in for the past 20 years. He has been named the Oregon Sportscaster of the Year six times.

But he has not been treated with empathy and kindness. Because as any fifth-grade philosopher can tell us, actions speak louder than words. And for all the praise Mike Parker has garnered, the corporation and the university that he serves have done nothing actionable in his favor. They have used him, and his voice, and exempted themselves from any semblance of responsibility. He’s on his own. And that sort of vicious individualism doesn’t prevent kidney failure.

As hard as Learfield IMG and Oregon State University may try, they should not be able to have Mike Parker The Voice without taking care of Mike Parker The Man.

So if Oregon State University really cares—as it signals in its mission statement—about “building a future that’s smarter, healthier, more prosperous and more just,” then they need to take a step in the ethical direction. They need to hire Mike Parker.

38 Comments

  1. I’m shocked he’s not on payroll. Not only an Oregon State Icon, one of the best college play by play announcers in the nation. Vastly superior in delivery to any other “voice of” out there. Mike’s voice and delivery are the front porch of OSU for a majority of the general public. He should be well compensated for the tremendous service and value he has provided to OSU. Hire Mike!

  2. Give the man “the VOICE of OSU” some benefits. He is the voice of OSU. Anyone that follows OSU sports look forward to hearing him call games. There is no one that can call a game like Parker does. I too think it is a disgrace that he has not been hired as an employee with benefits. He has not let OSU down, so OSU should step up to the plate and not let Parker down. GO BEAVS!!!!!

    • My heart just sanked to my feet reading this story. How sad the the university has treated him with no respect. I remember as a little girl listening to him and growing up now as a woman. The university showed take some responsibility and hire this amazing man and do right by him and his family. A fair and decent wage and health insurance. I am shocked!!!

  3. Unbelievable, I had no idea that he wasn’t employed the university. Reading this article gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Hire the man already!

  4. It blows my mind I thought all along that Parker was an OSU employee – all the stats and info he shares during the games is amazing – and must take a lot of ti9me to digest and have available at a moments notice. Without Parker calling the action BeaverNation would be lacking a great resource, one that brings more notoriety to all their sports programs.

  5. We moved from Corvallis to Alaska nearly six years ago, but believe me, we’re still Mike Parker fans. He IS the voice of the Beavers.

    OSU should be embarrassed. Hire this man! Mike is a treasure.

    Ray & Sandy Hoy, Beaver Believers forever

    • Ditto for me, Ray. I’ve lived all over the country, and Mike’s voice has been THE voice of the Beaver for me, as far away as Tampa, Fla., and even now, in Pocatello, Idaho!

  6. I agree 1000% Mike Parker IS OSU. Pay him and provide him insurance and Pers. He is such a humble man he will never stand up for himself. Now that we know We must Do Something.

  7. The voice of the Beavers needs to be hired officially by OSU since he has already worked for the Beavs for the last 20 years. OSU, do the right thing and hire Mike Parker!

  8. This is so true! OSU must take care of Mike Parker the man in order to have that wonderful voice call those games. Make it right Oregon State- surely a world class university can afford to properly compensate a man of this caliber and talent. As an alumnus, I’m embarrassed by the lack of action by my alma mater.

  9. What shame OSU!!! Using Mike Parker for 20+ years the way you have (his voice, he’s likeness, his mind, etc) and not giving him anything (health insurance, PERS, a salary) in return is absolutely mind boggling. I went to high school with Mike and you could not find a better person out there to do what he does.
    Do what’s right, and give him a good salary, full insurance benefits and PERS and make them retro-active! Even then you can’t make up for the biggest mistake you have ever made.
    Here’s to you Mike!!!

  10. I have made a personal decision not to donate another dime to OSU until they make it right by Mike. The school calls me every week or so to re-up my season football tickets I have had for 20+ years. My answer….hire Parker and I will. Until then, not a dime!!!

  11. I’ve been a Beaver fan since 1967 Freshman year in High School, I’m trying to fathom how cheaply Oregon State is treating Mike Parker. I personally thank you and Lydia for exposing Oregon State in this matter.

  12. I’ve met the man, he is an asset for OSU. Please make this right. I love OSU and feel it is a great institution that understands where it’s strengths lay. Mike Parker reflects what is good at OSU he should be part of your team.

  13. Sad but excellent article. OSU and Learfield IMG are shameless;…perhaps a GoFundMe page would serve to shame them into dececeny, compassion, and ethical and right action! There is absolutely no argument that either OSU or Learfield IMG can make that will stand up or justify their exploitative use of Mike Parker’s unique and gifted aptitude for sports announcing. I believe it can factually be said that OSU sports would not enjoy the vast following and notoriety they do minus this man’s incredible years of energized dedication and ardent reverence for ALL things OSU – they are synonymous. “Step up to the plate” or “Take it to the house” guys, lets hire, pay Mike Parker his value, and give him the benefits he so rightly deserves and unquestionably earns! When OSU events are televised we turn off the volume and turn on the radio because the Mike Parker experience is the only one we want! GO MIKE PARKER…GO BEAVERS!

  14. Please hire Mike.! He is the voice of OSU. Everyone knows his phenomenal voice & great broadcasting!!!
    Linda Vrieze

  15. I listen to mike often, to me he is as big a part of Oregon State as are any of the coaches. Honestly even bigger, he’s been around Beavers athletic programs longer than any of them. I truly cannot imagine listening to anyone else calling the games, his voice is Oregon State. I would venture to say his value to the university far exceeds what they claim it would cost to have him as an employee.

  16. OSU has ‘abused their privilege’ with Mike Parker to a shameful degree. They use his voice for everything because Mike’s voice and style are THE BEST in the busines!!! They’ve endlessly implied a promise to
    ‘do something about’ hiring him for the last 15 years!

    • Here’s one from among the multitude of “iconic moments that Mike creates and the university cashes a HUGE check on”….
      on a glorious Saturday morning during the incredible football season where the Beavers ended up destroying Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, MIKE PARKER first used and ‘coined the phrase’, ‘BEAVER NATION’.
      I was visiting at the Parker’s house
      (I’m his wife’s sister) and he’d just come back from a morning run, and was beaming…” I’ve taken a run around
      Beaver Nation and everyone’s very excited!”

      I don’t think OSU can afford not to #HireMike!!!

      • We agree, Brenda! OSU needs to do the right thing by our friend Mike Parker! Not hiring him after so many years of faithful commitment is just wrong on so many levels! Hoping this well written article will help bring light to a situation that many of Mike’s fans, friends and acquaintances don’t know about! Hoping OSU will do what they should have done years ago and #HireMike!
        Mike & Darla

  17. Count how many people could name the President of OSU, cite him as a reason to come to OSU, or count how many positive interactions he generates versus Mr. Parker. Mr. Mike Parkere contributes to the reputation of OSU, the stature of the athletic programs, and the support for OSU athletics. He is a living resource of information far beyond statistics to use in promoting the university, the athletics programs, and the students both athletes and fans. His off the clock contributions should be compensated. His outsize value to the OSU community deserves commensurate compensation. I remember OSU as a stand up place, definite sense of community for all students and staff. Please be that place again.

  18. As a Beaver sports fan, Mike Parker is the heart and soul of Beaver football, basketball and baseball. It’s outlandish that OSU doesn’t take good care of him. Mike’s an extremely valuable asset to OSU, he’s an institution in the college sports world and the Beaver’s best ambassador, bar none. STEP UP OSU! Take care of Mike Parker.

  19. I can’t tell you who the president of the university is today, but I can tell you who does the broadcasts. This behavior (not hiring Mike) is something I’d expect out of Eugene, but not Corvallis. I’m so ashamed right now.

  20. Has anyone started a “Go fund me page?” I’d pitch in! I am not sure how but that man was born to do what he does! Let’s keep him healthy.
    You have always been a class act Mr. Parker. Made me proud to be a Believer!

  21. This administration, under the rule of Ed Ray, is entirely focused on the bottom line. Every decision, save administration pay raises, is held to this metric and the result has been a depressing decline in nearly every facet of the University (class size, unionizing of faculty, passing grade requirements…). Mike is just one example that’s (rightly) getting some attention but it’s one of a long line.

  22. I’ve known Mike Parker since the late 80’s, before he became the Voice of the Beavers, when I was a guest several times on his afternoon radio program.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Oregon Duck supporter who grew up in Eugene.)

    Mike has always had a deep passion for sports and radio, not to mention he’s extremely good at both. When he interviewed me he was always prepared and didn’t shy away from asking tough questions if the topic warranted it.

    I find it unconscionable that he’s, in effect, an independent contractor with zero benefits.

    My hope is this story and the reactions it has generated will force OSU to reconsider their misguided policy and make Mike whole with full benefits.

  23. Much appreciation to Lydia Parker and Emmett O’Malley for their courage and skill in speaking truth to power.
    OSU, give Mike the full benefits package. Do the right thing!

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