Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Missing the Point on Johnny Football

ESPN’s college football headliners Smug and Smugger, aka Herbie Herbstreit and Chris Fowler, parked their bus and set up studio in Athens, GA the first Monday in August. They were joined for the night's LIVE airing by understudy and local chap David Pollock. Athens is sleepy until rush week, so this visit was likely the highlight of the Bulldog nation's late summer. The conversation naturally centered on the news of the day, Johnny Manziel’s crime against the sport of college football. Heisman winner Manziel is alleged to have received payment for autograph signing sessions thus profiting from his reputation as a college football star. As usual the World Wide Leader crew inflated the already well established mainstream media's party line. Smug was indignant as he pointed out that it had been a mere eight months since young Johnny had ascended to the top Mount Virtue. Not only had Manziel been announced and greeted by Smugger as the winner of the football media’s favorite amateur football player trophy, he was humbled in the presence of the heroes who suffered through two and three more years of exploitation than had he, merely a freshman. Wondered Smug,  just removed from the aura of Tebow et al., the gravity of which having been transmitted through the sagacity of Smugger, how did Johnny go amiss? The righteous brothers then recounted the slew of off-season debauchery…guilty plea on a fake ID charge from the year before, kicked out of a frat party, hanging with a rapper, a disparaging tweet on life in College Station, TX, oversleeping on the Mannings, and now this, possibly breaking an NCAA rule! The sullen trio was as outraged as they were disappointed at the disregard for the rules shown by someone given the privilege of playing NCAA football—even worse to them was that he comes from wealth and does not even “need” the money!( At least no more than a well-paid sports talking head "needs" the money from endorsing bath soap...comfortable in his own skin, indeed!) A.J. Green was dead wrong to sell his property, and deserving of his punishment, but at least he was poor, it was pointed out.  

No mention of course that NCAA limits on economic freedom would be illegal in any other context—a blatant and severe restriction on basic liberty.  It’s one thing that athletic services cannot be directly sold to a college program but are permitted only as one side of an in-kind exchange, traded even-up for one of the university’s educational service offerings (but not always the one of the player's choice).  But even if that’s regarded as a fair and mutual exchange (not that an 18 year old football player has many other options), it doesn't begin to stop there. The athlete also sacrifices to his “employer” the property right to his name, image, and reputation, much of it ad infinitum.  It is a peculiar system; so much so that thus far even the wisest of judges cannot help themselves to apply the standard rules of antitrust law. So instead of substantive discussion of this system, most of the sports media “legal talk” will turn on evidence and burden proof in a kangaroo court.

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