“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.
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.
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.
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.