Monthly Archives: June 2011
Over the past few years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (the “NCAA” or the “Association”) has flexed its muscles via the enforcement arm of Division I Collegiate Football. The Association has investigated and/or sanctioned a number of elite programs and former or current student athletes, including my alma mater the University of Southern California (USC) and former USC running back Reggie Bush. Many individuals and organizations perceive the NCAA as the guardian of student athletes and an organization that takes extreme measures to clean up the environment surrounding intercollegiate athletics by, among other things, preventing the infiltration of the NCAA and its collegiate institutions by agents, boosters and other outsiders that aim to exploit student athletes. However, a cursory review of the NCAA’s Compliance Rules and their actions related thereto exposes the Association as an antagonist. While declaring that it prioritizes providing to student athletes a quality education and ensuring that student athletes experience college in a manner no different than other students, the NCAA derives annually hundreds of millions of dollars by monetizing the same student athletes it purportedly protects from commercial exploitation.
The NCAA is the organization that oversees and regulates all of the intercollegiate athletic programs. The NCAA is funded by revenue generated from, among other things, (i) regular-season and post-season play; (ii) television and marketing rights; (iii) sponsorship deals; and (iv) merchandise sales. According to the NCAA’s official website, each collegiate institution benefits greatly from the success of the NCAA, as it purportedly distributes more than ninety percent of its annual profits to its member conferences and collegiate institutions in the form of direct distributions and services. However, though it maintains a not-for-profit status, the NCAA maintains many of the characteristics of a for-profit organization. In particular, a measure of its success is the Association’s ability to maximize profits and to funnel these profits to the NCAA’s leadership. Indeed, the NCAA has its own marketing and licensing arm, and in 2009, it doled out over $6 million to compensate its core executive team. Surely, these simple facts will cause you to question whether the Association’s goal is to fulfill the student athletes’ needs or to maximize profits for the benefit of its executives.
The NCAA has structured its Compliance Rules to sustain the revenue that it has grown accustomed to realizing. After delving into the NCAA’s 2010-11 Division I Manual (the “NCAA Manual”)—consisting of the Constitution, Operating Bylaws, and Administrative Bylaws governing Division I institutions and student athletes—I liken the NCAA Manual to the final act of stage play that comprises two scenes, wherein the audience fails to realize until the final fifteen minutes of Scene II that the apparent protagonist is actually the antagonist. While the NCAA’s Compliance Rules regulate nearly twenty different intercollegiate sports, this article will focus on the relationship between the NCAA Manual and the “big two” revenue-generating machines: college football and college basketball.
For many student athletes, an athletic scholarship primarily represents a stepping-stone to success. These young adults understand that under the tutelage of a knowledgeable and skilled coaching staff, they stand a good chance of reaching their respective professional leagues. Even so, in Scene I of the NCAA Manual, the Association paints itself as being the guardian of student athletes, where these young adults have chosen to participate in intercollegiate athletics on a “recreational” basis. In such a role, the NCAA purportedly ensures that student athletes, first and foremost, excel in academics and assimilate with the general student body and, secondly, maintain their amateurism.
Constitution, Article I of the NCAA Manual declares:
“[t]he purposes of this Association are to initiate, stimulate and improve intercollegiate athletics programs for student-athletes and to promote and develop educational leadership, physical fitness, athletics excellence and athletics participation as a recreational pursuit… A basic purpose of this Association is to maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the student body and, by so doing, retain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports.”
Similarly, Constitution, Article II of the NCAA Manual states:
“[i]ntercollegiate athletics programs shall be conducted in a manner designed to protect and enhance the physical and educational well-being of student athletes… Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.”
In Scene II of the NCAA Manual, the NCAA continues to paint itself as being the protagonist who invests in student athletes. Constitution, Article II further declares:
“Intercollegiate athletics programs shall be administered in keeping with prudent management and fiscal practices to assure the financial stability necessary for providing student-athletes with adequate opportunities for athletics competition as an integral part of a quality educational experience.”
Shortly thereafter, the NCAA wholly adopts the role of antagonist. Indeed, in Constitution, Article II of the NCAA Manual, the Association transitions from playing the role of a friend to that of a foe by placing restrictions on student athletes where it impacts them the most—their pockets.
Section 2.13 states, “[a] student athlete may receive athletically related financial aid administered by the institution without violating the principle of amateurism, provided the amount does not exceed the cost of education… Any other financial assistance, except that received from one upon whom the student-athlete is naturally or legally dependent, shall be prohibited unless specifically authorized by the Association.”
Bylaw, Articles 12, 15, and 16 of the NCAA Manual further describe the restrictions that the NCAA places on financial aid received by student-athletes. Article 12 emphasizes that a student athlete loses his/her amateur status by receiving improper compensation, aid, awards, benefits or other forms of remuneration. In particular, “[improper compensation] is the receipt of funds, awards or benefits,” constituting “more than actual and necessary expenses for participation on the team.” A student athlete may receive benefits and remain an amateur only where (i) the benefits constitute meals, lodging, apparel, supplies, transportation and similar benefits directly tied to competition; or (ii) “it is demonstrated that the same benefit[s] [are] generally available to the institution’s students…or to a particular segment of the student body (e.g., international students, minority students) determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.” Amateur status is lost where the student-athlete receives “any direct or indirect salary, gratuity or comparable compensation,” any abnormal “educational expenses,” or “preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete.”
Similarly, the student-athlete may not receive “[c]ash or the equivalent thereof…, as an award for participation in competition at any time, even if such an award is permitted under the rules governing an amateur, non-collegiate event in which the individual is participating.”
Moreover, should the student-athlete garner a job or establish his/her own business, he/she may not use his/her “name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation…to promote the business.” With respect to a job, (s)he may be compensated solely “for work actually performed…at a rate commensurate with the going rate in that locality for similar services.” Student athletes may not accept compensation for advertising, recommending, or promoting a commercial product or service.
That’s a lot to digest, I know, but essentially, student athletes are entitled to minimal remuneration from the NCAA and their collegiate institutions, outside of the costs associated with education and their essential needs for participating and competing in intercollegiate athletics. Further, student athletes may not use their status as athletes to garner income.
To be clear, I do understand the NCAA’s justification for prohibiting a student athlete from receiving aid, benefits or gifts from agents, boosters, commercial establishments or other organizations outside of his/her collegiate institution, where such aid, benefits and gifts would objectively interfere with the student athlete’s ability to perform as an amateur. Where the aforementioned individuals and organizations are permitted to infiltrate intercollegiate athletics, you open up the door for these individuals and organizations to dirty the water such that student athletes are conflicted and incapable of fairly performing on the field or court. However, where does either the NCAA or the student athlete benefit by the NCAA prohibiting him/her from receiving compensation “because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete”?
Bylaw, Article 12 of the NCAA Manual states that “[t]he NCAA [or a third party acting on behalf of the NCAA (e.g., host institution, conference, local organizing committee)] may use the name or picture of an enrolled student-athlete to generally promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.” Member institutions may exploit the student-athlete in the following additional ways: (i) to support its charitable or educational activities; (ii) “to promote generally its fundraising activities at the location of a commercial establishment”; (iii) to “distribute…player/trading cards that bear a student-athlete’s name or picture”; and (iv) to advertise an institution’s wallet-size playing schedule that includes the name or picture of a student athlete.
Well, there’s your answer to my question above. The NCAA and its collegiate institutions benefit immensely by prohibiting student athletes from monetizing their own name and likeness.
In short, the NCAA could conceivably reinvest a portion of its hefty profits in student athletes as reasonable compensation for the time that each athlete devotes to practicing and competing away from the classroom and his/her family and friends. Arguably, this compensation would be no different than the weekly payments that I received from the University of Southern California as compensation for my on-campus job that the university completely understood would supplement my full-tuition Trustee Scholarship. Further, the NCAA could similarly grant student athletes an opportunity to work outside of their collegiate institutions to support themselves and their families. Commercial establishments regularly compensate non-athletes based on their value to an organization. Rather than support these student athletes with resources that are generally available to the student body, the NCAA has structured its rules in such a way that it benefits from what it guards against—commercial exploitation.
 The NCAA has also recently investigated and/or sanctioned the Ohio State University (OSU); former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor; Auburn University; former Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton; the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; Florida State University; and the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa.
 The NCAA has or recently had sponsorship agreements with AT&T, Coca-Cola, CapitalOne, Nissan (Infiniti), Hershey’s (Reese’s), LG, Lowe’s, Kraft (Planters), Unilever, and UPS.
 In 2010-11, the NCAA generated $680 million in revenue as a result of its “Television and Marketing Rights Fees,” $67.8 million in revenue through its “Championship Revenue,” and $9.2 million in revenue via “Sales, Fees and Services.”
 As an exception to the general rule, a student athlete may receive aid from a source other than his/her institution or an individual upon whom the student athlete is a dependent, where such aid is primarily received for reasons other than his/her athletic ability.
Welcome to this week’s edition of Weekly Correction, where we highlight an athlete who would have benefited by consulting our website prior to painfully stumbling before either the media, a professional team or college program, a professional league, an officiating crew, and/or similar individuals and entities.
This week’s nominee for a weekly correction is former New York Giants football player and Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree. As you’ll recall, Tyree is most famous for this spectacular catch that most Giants fans claim is an act of divine intervention.
David has taken his association with divinity one step further this week as he has publicly come out against the same-sex marriage bill currently under consideration in the New York State Legislature.
“I always knew that God had a hand enabling me to make that catch, with one hand on the side of my head. That was something I couldn’t do with my own abilities. Perhaps God orchestrated that play to give me a platform for what I’m doing here today: To urge political leaders all over our nation to reject same-sex marriage and to stand up for traditional marriage, which is truly the backbone of our civilization.”
His specific comments on the gay-marriage bill were as follows:
“What I know will happen if this does come forth is this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it is a strong word, but anarchy. The moment we have, if you trace back even to other cultures, other countries, that will be the moment where our society in itself loses its grip with what’s right.”
“It’s about what’s right. It’s about how can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now all of the sudden, because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or an agenda and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country, not founded by man, it is something that is holy and sacred. I think there is nothing more honorable, worth fighting for, especially if we really care about our future generations.”
“This is what I do know, you can’t teach something that you don’t have. So two men will never be able to show a woman how to be a woman. And that’s just simple. That’s just for a lack of better terms, common sense.”
“Marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society. So if you redefine it, it changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just.”
And finally, in a New York Daily News follow up article, when asked if he’d give up the Super Bowl to stop gay marriage, Tyree said: “Honestly, I probably would.”
Tyree firsts suggests that same-sex marriage will lead to anarchy. While he is certainly entitled to his opinion, same-sex marriage is legal in five states and the District of Columbia, not to mention several foreign countries. And to my knowledge, all of those states and countries still have perfectly functioning governments.
Tyree then asserts that “marriage has been marriage for thousands of years”. While that may be true from a religious perspective, from a government perspective, the oldest that marriage can be is 235 years. Since we’re talking about a legal process and not a religious one, Tyree’s invocation of marriage in the religious sense further undermines his argument. It shows he doesn’t really know all the issues at hand in this arena.
As Tyree continues, his argument continues to weaken. His belief that two men can’t show a woman how to be a woman isn’t an about marriage. That’s an argument about procreation, or same-sex adoption. While offspring are often a part of marriage, in many cases, for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, they are not. If you’re keeping track at home, Tyree is 0-3.
At this point his arguments are merely weak, but for good measure Tyree steps off the ledge into the land of hypocrisy. He states that “Marriage is one of those things that is the backbone of society”, a popular belief by many. Sadly, it’s not something Tyree must have believed in that much, as he had one child out-of-wedlock, and another was conceived before he married his current wife. This “backbone of society” clearly didn’t apply to him until it was convenient for him to use it in his argument.
And to top off the hypocrisy, Tyree decided to stick his nose into a matter that actually doesn’t concern him at all. You see Tyree is a lifelong New Jersey resident. Apparently the fact that the Giants claim to hail from New York (despite also playing in New Jersey), gave Tyree license to speak to Giants fans and New Yorker’s about a same-sex marriage bill. That would be like me trying to tell Connecticut what speeding laws they should make because I drive through it on my way to Massachusetts.
And finally, Tyree couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had to twist the knife deeper for Giants fans who support same-sex marriage (and there are plenty) by offering that he’d trade in his Super Bowl catch and win in order to block same-sex marriage.
So where did Tyree go wrong?
First, he spoke without having all of the facts, or choosing to ignore them. If you’re going to step out on the ledge, at least make sure you’re stepping on a sturdy ledge. With the comments Tyree made, its clear he spoke from the heart, not from the brain. It’s an admirable approach, but not a smart one.
Second, he went off topic. If there is an issue you care about, then stay focused on that issue. Otherwise it gives your detractors a chance to move the conversation away from your point.
Third, he contradicted his own lifestyle. This is probably the biggest no-no of all. Much like the politician who advocates a sin free lifestyle who gets caught with a hooker, you can’t preach about something that you yourself don’t practice. Tyree has no credibility to talk about the sanctity of marriage given his own situation.
Fourth, he got involved in a fight that was none of his business. I know that many people will claim that same-sex marriage is a national issue, and that Tyree isn’t the first person from outside New York to sound off on it. But the bottom line is that he’s not a New York resident, and if he really believes New York will go to anarchy if it allows same-sex marriage, then he’s free to living or visiting New York. He can even go to Giants games without having to step inside the state.
And Fifth, and perhaps the most important issue of all, Tyree touched the third rail of celebrity – politics AND religion. There are plenty of people who do agree with David Tyree, but there are equally as many, if not more in a state like New York, who disagree with him. It was bad enough that he openly alienated a portion of the fan base by speaking out so strongly about a topic that is incredibly popular in New York right now, but he purposely connected it to his crowning achievement by saying he would trade in his catch to stop same-sex marriage. In one comment he took his biggest asset and turned it into his biggest liability.
Due to his Super Bowl heroics, David Tyree was a hero among Giants fans. He could have spent the next 15 years making personal appearances, signing autographs, even giving speeches on seizing the moment. It could have been incredibly lucrative for him. And although he’s a former pro athlete, I’m guessing that given his limited NFL career, he wouldn’t have minded the extra income. Now that revenue stream is in serious jeopardy. While some fans will still pay for those appearances, autographs and speeches, there are many who will not. In short, he’s hurt his long-term marketability. Maybe he didn’t care about that, but if he did, even a little bit, this was the wrong approach to take.
Ultimately, there were ways Tyree could have handled this better as an opponent of same-sex marriage. Avoiding hypocrisy, stocking up on facts and statistics, and focusing on the realistic ramifications are all things that could have at least allowed Tyree to come across as a concerned citizen voicing an opinion. His approach involved none of those tactics. But in truth, the best thing he could have done was keep his mouth shut. He’s getting more publicity than he has since the week after he made that historic catch in the Super Bowl, but for all the wrong reasons.
For Tyree, there is no going back on this, because he’s made it clear this is what he believes. And there is no way to suggest this was just a bad moment or a quote taken out of context. He’s going to have to live with this one. Hopefully he’s okay with that.
Earlier this week, I made a promise to many of you that by weeks end, I would publish an article regarding the NCAA Compliance Rules. Well, as I’ve done quite often, I spoke too soon. To my surprise, the Compliance Rules consist of a 444-page compilation of verbose confusion, compelling me to postpone my criticism of the NCAA for at least another week. Nonetheless, There’s no need to get your underwear in a bunch. THIRDandFOUR consistently aims to please and refuses to deprive you of your regular installment of NCAA controversy, so please checkout our new feature Weekly Correction.
THIRDandFOUR would like to introduce the Sports World to our new baby Weekly Correction. Consistent with our theme concerning critical decisions, image cultivation and the professional athlete, THIRDandFOUR now provides a weekly note that highlights an athlete who would have benefited by consulting our website prior to painfully stumbling before either the media, a professional team or college program, a professional league, an officiating crew, and/or similar individuals and entities.
For our inaugural Weekly Correction, I highlight Terrelle Pryor, the newly announced former football star for the Ohio State University. For those of you who are not familiar with Terrelle (sometimes confused with Terrell—as in Owens—even by his newly hired agent Drew Rosenhaus), he led the Buckeye Nation as their quarterback for the last three years. During this time period, he amassed quite the statistical “trifecta,” while improving upon his overall game and becoming a more balanced quarterback each year.
As evidence of Pryor’s gifts as a football player, he is OSU’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks, and his career total of 57 touchdown passes ties a school record. Further, last year, he ranked among the top ten of NCAA quarterbacks with respect to passing efficiency. Tellingly, those who ranked ahead of him include Cam Newton of Auburn (the no. 1 pick of the 2011 NFL draft), Kellen Moore of Boise State (who is considered by many to be the no. 1 college football player entering the 2011 season), Andrew Luck of Stanford (who is easily the second ranked college football player entering the 2011 season), Andy Dalton of TCU (the no. 35 pick of the 2011 NFL draft), and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas (the no. 74 pick of the 2011 NFL draft). Those that ranked below him certainly didn’t ride the pine in 2010. These quarterbacks include Jake Locker of Washington (drafted no. 8 to the Titans), Blaine Gabbert of Missouri (drafted no. 10 to the Jags), and Christian Ponder of Florida State (drafted no. 12 to the Vikings).
Just prior to the 2011 college football bowl season, however, news reports surfaced that Pryor, along with several of his teammates, had accepted improper benefits, including cash and tattoos, in exchange for OSU paraphernalia that they had obtained for free from the University. However, instead of preventing these players from playing in the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl, the NCAA suspended each player for the first five games of the 2011-12 season. Subsequently, the Buckeyes went on to beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, 31-26, and over the next four months, Pryor consistently expressed his intentions of coming back to OSU for his senior season, notwithstanding the suspension awaiting him.
However, by May 30, 2011, reports concerning the severity of OSU’s infractions had grown worse than anyone could ever imagine. Buckeye Coach Jim Tressel had acknowledged that he knew as early as April 2010 that his players had violated NCAA compliance rules, yet he didn’t disclose this information to the school and the NCAA—a clear breach of his coaching obligation and the NCAA compliance rules. These facts along with mounting pressure from the University’s Administration ultimately compelled Tressel to resign on this date. Soon thereafter, on June 7, 2011, Terrelle Pryor announced that he also was withdrawing from OSU.
As speculation concerning Pryor’s future increased following his June 7 announcement, Pryor hired Drew Rosenhaus—an NFL agent who is infamous for his brazen aggressiveness—and together, they conceivably planned the absolute farce that occurred on June 14, 2007. Reminiscent of the scene from Sunset Boulevard when Norma Desmond pronounces, “all right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” Pryor’s and Rosenhaus’ press conference on June 14 did absolutely nothing to bolster or buoy Pryor’s image—or as most NFL teams refer to it, strengthen his character.
In a red polo, oddly resembling the color previously worn by Terrelle on football Saturdays, Pryor sat before the media and exclaimed:
“I say sorry to all the Buckeye nation and all the Buckeye fans across the country… I never meant to hurt anybody directly or indirectly with my conduct off the field and I am truly sorry.”
As for his feelings towards his former coach and mentor Jim Tressel, Pryor opined:
“In terms of coach Jim Tressel, a special shoutout. I’m sorry for what all went down and I apologize with all my heart. I love you just like a father. You taught me a lot and I apologize for putting you in a situation and taking you out of a job and place that you loved.”
And after 97 seconds of Terrelle pouring his “heart” out on the table, he was done. Rosenhaus stepped in and wrapped up the press conference with a six-minute marketing presentation to the NFL. As if he was selling a ketchup packet to a lady wearing white gloves, he boasted:
“[Terrelle] is very sad about what has happened to his college career and Ohio State… I can tell you that he is extremely, he is responsible for the mistakes that he has made. He has owned up to that. There are no excuses here, guys. No excuses at all. But the past is now the past for him and we have to move ahead. There is no point in him looking back.”
Rosenhaus further projected that Pryor will be a first-round pick in the supplemental NFL draft this summer, emphasizing that “Terrelle Pryor will be a great—not a good quarterback—a great quarterback in the National Football League… He is going to be a star. This experience that he has gone through will galvanize him and make him a better person, a stronger person.”
Finally, in true Rosenhaus fashion, he ended the press conference without fielding a single question from the media: “I think I’ve said it all… So I’d like to thank everybody for coming. Guys, we’re going to shut it down right now and I appreciate your time. Thank you.”
I genuinely respected Pryor’s initial decision to remain at Ohio State for his senior season. Every potential NFL quarterback (aka the “field general”) could use a few extra snaps before entering the pros. In college, there’s no comparison to the fast-paced nature of the NFL game. Further, despite his accolades and stats as a quarterback, Pryor was a future NFL wide receiver in the eyes of many sports commentators. Moreover, notwithstanding his physical capabilities, Terrelle had also just displayed to the nation through his repeated violations of the NCAA compliance rules that he had not fully matured into a responsible adult and professional.
That being said, I can also understand Pryor’s rationale for finally deciding to leave OSU after (i) putting up great stats in the former season; (ii) losing his head coach and mentor; and (iii) learning that he would participate in, at most, 7-8 games during the 2011-12 season following his five game suspension. Thus, I am in full support of Pryor “taking his talents to the NFL” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
My absolute disgust with Terrelle Pryor arises from his and Drew Rosenhaus’ version of a nationally televised “apology.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe Pryor and Rosenhaus never intended for their June 14 press conference to constitute an apology to the Ohio State University and its fans. I’m actually going to go out on a limb and assume that at least Rosenhaus primarily intended for it to be a tool to market Pryor to potential NFL employers.
Nonetheless, everything about that press conference irked the hell out of me from a total objective point of view. As if I was their mother, I naturally wanted to grab Rosenhaus and Pryor by their left ears and scold them while pronouncing their full names. I’ve finally come to the realization that I felt this intense emotion because the Ohio State University and their fans DO deserve a sincere apology from their quarterback as a result of his transgressions. As the team’s former leader, he should apologize for pouring the program’s future scholarships and post-season play directly down the drain. Moreover, I’m willing to bet my entire savings—yes, my entire savings—that the NFL teams that were fixated on the television when Pryor conducted his press conference were also hoping and expecting that Pryor would provide a sincere apology to the University and its fans. From their perspective, an apology represents, among other things, that Pryor has matured from his prior mistakes and now has the strong character most NFL teams look for in a franchise quarterback.
In the future, should you find yourself in Terrelle Pryor’s shoes, here’s a bit of advice concerning press conferences in which you intend to or at least should apologize for your transgressions. First, wear a suit, guys! It’s really not that hard to throw on a suit and a tie as if you’re interviewing for a job. In essence, Terrelle Pryor interviewed with each of the 32 NFL teams on June 14. Second, prepare, prepare, prepare. Here, both Pryor and Rosenhaus sounded like bumbling idiots. If you don’t believe me, just re-read the above transcript and count the number of confusing statements made by both parties. I lose count each time! Coming from a litigator, it actually doesn’t appear unprofessional when you use note cards. Third, apologize to those who are deserving of the apology. On June 14, Terrelle Pryor primarily apologized to—sorry, gave a “special shoutout” to—his conspirator. Remember, Tressel is ultimately just as guilty as Pryor in the eyes of the NCAA. Fourth, hold the apologetic press conferences separate from the press conferences marketing your skills. Similar to what occurred here, you risk overshadowing the intended apology with a marketing presentation. Finally, don’t permit your newly hired, highly conflicted, and overly aggressive agent to run the show. This was Terrelle Pryor’s debut to the World as a professional. Contrary to what transpired, he should have spoken for 80 percent of the press conference, not his agent.
 In 2008, as a freshman, Pryor split time with senior Todd Boeckman before taking over the fulltime starting role as quarterback by midseason.
 I imagine that all kinds of questions are running through your head regarding the timing of the punishment received by the OSU players. However, stay tuned next week for my lambasting of the NCAA for its inconsistent enforcement of the compliance rules, particularly in instances that are financially beneficial to the Association.
It’s no secret that social media, and in particular Twitter, are a great way for athletes and celebrities to connect with fans, promote their work, and be a voice for brands looking for exposure. Under the right circumstances, Twitter can a powerful tool that athletes can use to build their media brand and create an audience. But what’s becoming increasingly apparent is that Twitter is also a dangerous weapon that keeps agents, managers, team presidents and publicists up at night.
One needs to look no further than Rashard Mendenhall, Gilbert Arenas, and of course most recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner, to see how under the wrong circumstances, Twitter can go from asset to disaster. In Rashard Mendhall’s case, some poorly timed and worded tweets on a hot button issue cost him an endorsement deal with Champion. Gilbert Arenas’ decision to live tweet about a bad date he was on will probably end up with a check being written to the NBA league office. And Anthony Weiner, though not an athlete, is the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t probably understand the permanence of what you put into cyberspace. As more and more celebrities, personalities and athletes look to Twitter to build their brand and reach fans, it’s inevitable that we will see more scandals. It’s important that they know how to properly use the medium to their advantage, and what to avoid so they can stay out of Twitter jail.
Here are just a few DOs and DON’Ts that every athlete should consider the next time they choose to express themselves in 140 characters or less.
1. Do engage with your followers. Don’t get dragged into wars of words.
Engaging with fans is the #1 reason why every athlete should be on Twitter. The ability to easily connect with fans is a great way to create an off the field, ice or court persona and to let your fans know what really interests you outside of your sport. Tweeting back and forth with fans is a great way to let them know what you’re up to, and learn more about how they feel about you and your team. However, it is very important to remember that not all people will have nice things to say. The ability to be anonymous means many “fans” will use Twitter as a chance to say some awful things about you. The only thing you can do is IGNORE IT! Getting into a battle of words over Twitter is a path you never want to take. You’ll never win, and you only risk hurting your own image. In short, respond to the positive and ignore the negative.
2. Do share your outside interests. Don’t talk about politics, religion or other sensitive topics
As Rashard Mendenhall recently demonstrated, one or two mis-tweets on hot-button subjects can have very real ramifications. A few poorly worded tweets about Osama Bin Laden’s death ended up costing Rashard an endorsement deal. Therefore, its important to stay away from potentially controversial topics like politics and religion. There is no upside in making your feelings known on these subjects, and the only possible result is that you alienate fans or sponsors. Even if your intentions are pure, it’s tough to properly express yourself in 140 characters, and things often get misunderstood. Instead, use Twitter as an opportunity to let your fans know about what interests you outside of your sport or field.
3. Do engage with your fellow athletes and friends. Don’t use Twitter for your personal conversations
One of the great things about Twitter is watching athletes and celebrities engage with each other. The tweets back and forth are often humorous and entertaining, and often give us a glimpse into your personal life. But it’s important to make sure the conversation doesn’t become too personal. Cracking jokes about what happened in the locker room is great. Revealing personal information about whereabouts or plans is not a good idea. And just like in real life, sometimes a joke or trash talk can go too far – be careful not to cross that line on Twitter too.
4. Do get involved in contests and giveaways. Don’t fail to deliver on the promises you make
I love to see an athlete engage fans by participating in a giveaway on Twitter. It’s a great way to show fans that you care and it helps build a following. But if you’re going to give something a way (a jersey, picture, tickets, etc.) make sure you can deliver on your promise! All the goodwill you created by creating a contest or giveaway can be washed away in an instant if you fail to live up to your promises. And if you’re giving away an experience that involves coordinating with a location or other people (restaurants, your team, movie theaters, etc.), make sure to clear everything with them first!
5. Do use Twitter as a way to develop relationships with people in other industries you want to know. Don’t continue to build the relationship publicly on Twitter
Just like fans use Twitter to connect with their favorite athletes, Twitter can be a way for you to connect with people in other industries that you want to know. If you’re looking to branch out into music, television, marketing, finances, real estate etc., Twitter is a great way to meet people in these fields. But remember, Twitter is a public forum, so whatever you say can be read by millions of people. And once you’ve established contact, take the conversation offline. It’s nobody else’s business what you’re doing to build business opportunities outside of your own industry.
6. Do use pictures and videos as a way to build your following. Don’t Tweet anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing your parents or children
Hearing what an athlete has to say on Twitter is great, experiencing it through video or pictures is even better. Uploading videos and pictures are a great way to expand your Twitter following, and your fans will love to see what you’re up to at that moment. But always remember that once you’ve tweeted something, you can’t get it back. A picture of you at a strip club, or a video of you drunk will live on the internet forever, so think twice before you send something into the Twitterverse. And if you need a reminder, just Google Anthony Weiner and see what happens when a Twitpic goes wrong.
7. Do Tweet about products and services you enjoy using. Don’t trash those products or services you don’t like
Even if you’re not at the point where you are getting paid to endorse for companies on Twitter, it doesn’t mean you can’t tweet about or at products you like. It’s a great way to get on their radar for future endorsement opportunities. If they have a smart pr/marketing team running their Twitter account, they’ll take notice of who you are and hopefully try to work out a deal for some publicity. At the very least, you may get some free products! However, be very careful when trashing products you don’t like. Many of these companies sponsor teams, radio stations, and television networks. One critical tweet can sour a relationship, and you never know when you may need that brand in your corner.
8. Do link to articles, tweets and pictures you like. Don’t fill your timeline with junk
The reason people follow you on Twitter is because they want to know what you’re interested in. If you see an article you enjoyed, a video you liked, or a tweet you found funny, you should share it with your followers. However, nobody wants to follow someone who fills their timeline with tweets, articles, and pictures all the time. It’s better to choose which things are most interesting to you and include those in your tweets. You’ll also find that more people pay attention to what you have to say and share when you’re selective with your links and thoughts.
9. Do follow others. Don’t follow too many
The Twitter experience for an athlete or a celebrity is different from that of most users since most public personalities only use Twitter to build their own audience. But Twitter is a great way to educate yourself on a variety of topics, and stay up to date on breaking news. The only way you can do that is to follow those whose opinions and ideas are important to you. Like any Twitter user, if you choose to follow too many people, or the wrong people, your timeline will be tough to manage and you won’t be able to focus on the information that is important to you. Instead, find make it a point to see who other people you respect are following, and do the same. Chances are you’ll learn something.
10. Do use Twitter as a creative outlet to express yourself. DO remember it is permanent
The most important thing to remember when using Twitter is that it is permanent. So permanent that the Library of Congress actually catalogs every tweet. So whether you’re interacting with fans, uploading a video or picture, or talking about your favorite restaurant, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, remember that once you hit send, you can’t take it back. Even though a quick deletion may result in the removal of the tweet from your news feed, if its controversial, you can bet that one of your followers will have already made a screen grab of the tweet and forwarded it to a well read blog. It happens every time. So make sure you’re not offending anyone, not attaching the wrong video or picture, and are properly replying, retweeting, or using a direct message (if appropriate). If you don’t make sure, you can be certain that the internet will let you know very quickly.
It’s been almost 11 months since Lebron James made his ill-fated “decision” on national television where he broke the hearts of Cleveland, disgusted most die-hard NBA fans, and forever put an asterisk on his legacy. While many, including Lebron apparently, thought those sentiments would just blow over eventually, clearly they have not. With his team just two wins away from the NBA title one might expect that much of the anger and hatred towards the King would have subsided. But if Twitter posts, Q ratings, and sports talk radio are the barometers, there’s just as much hatred for Lebron as there was last July, perhaps even more. That’s unusual for an athlete who is the best in his sport who is playing an integral role in his teams’ path to the championship. So what is he doing wrong? And can he fix it?
Without question, the taste of The Decision still does not sit well with most fans outside of South Florida. Although the self aggrandizing hour long charade on ESPN and the spurning of Cleveland garnered much of the headlines, it wouldn’t have all been so objectionable had we really believed that there was a “Decision” to be made. Brett Favre has had more press conferences than the President and contrary to popular belief, Lebron wasn’t the first guy to leave a team for a chance to win a title – Shaq did the same thing when he left Orlando for LA. What still stings is the fact that we as fans were duped into thinking that Lebron actually considered the Bulls, the Knicks or staying in Cleveland. As more reports came out that it was clear Lebron, Wade and Bosh put this in motion almost two years prior, we as fans felt ridiculous for spending so much time and energy on the Lebron sweepstakes. It’s one thing to pull a fast one on other owners, but heaven help the athlete or celebrity who purposely misleads the public.
Worse, while Lebron has admitted that The Decision was a mistake, he still hasn’t made a full mea culpa. While it might be a case of too little too late, a public apology for leading fans on and acknowledging what we all know – that he and Wade and Bosh were teaming up no matter what – would go a long way to repairing his image.
ON COURT ANTICS
But it’s not just the decision that irks many about Lebron. His on the court gloating and preening do not resonate with a generation of fans that I grew up with. As a Michigan native, my idols growing up were Barry Sanders, Steve Yzerman and Joe Dumars – guys who always looked like they had been there before, and never would have considered showing up an opponent publicly. Now I’m not naïve enough to think that sports still operate the way they did in the 80’s and 90’s – celebrations, trash talk, etc. are all part of the game. But there is something that doesn’t sit right with the best player in the world (and let’s be clear, that’s what Lebron is), celebrating like he’s the 12th guy on a college basketball team who scored his first point on an alley-oop. When you’re as good as Lebron is, EVERYTHING you do on the court should be expected. I’m not saying he shouldn’t celebrate the big moments, but let’s make sure they are the big moments. A last second 3 pointer to close-out a 7 game series counts; a breakaway dunk to extend a lead to 12 does not. Part of Jordan’s greatness is that he always expected to make the shot, be the guy, and win the game. And while he certainly celebrated when he won, he knew when it mattered and when it didn’t. Lebron still doesn’t get what’s worth celebrating. And if you need any evidence, the way in which he acted after the Heat took out the Celtics in the second round is a perfect example.
While we’re on the topic of Lebron’s on-court demeanor, I’d like to remind Lebron that he is capable of fouling another player, getting a shot blocked without being fouled, and traveling. From the way he responds when a ref doesn’t give him the call he likes, you’d think they’d slept with his mother (too soon?). Lebron’s incredulous response to almost every whistle that doesn’t go his way is another reason nobody north of Fort Lauderdale is rooting for him. I’m not saying Lebron shouldn’t get the star treatment when it comes to calls – that’s par for the course when it comes to the NBA. And he has every right to work the refs from time to time. But every time a call goes against Lebron, you can be sure that the next shot on-camera will be Lebron with his hands on his head, a confused look on his face, and a half smile/half scowl hidden by his mouth-guard. Even the best players make mistakes, but from watching Lebron you’d never think he is fallible. All eyes are going to be on Lebron no matter what, he doesn’t need to do things to draw extra attention to himself, especially when he’s acting like a pouting teenager.
WE NEED A MOMENT
When an athlete makes the leap from great to immortal, it usually involves a signature moment that is seared into our minds for eternity. Those moments usually lead to championships, and together, they create a memory. And even if that player is unlikeable as a person, if the moment is awe-inspiring, we will let our grudge go to acknowledge what has been accomplished. When it comes to basketball, Jordan had his hand changing layup over the Lakers and his shoulder shrug against the Blazers, Magic had his baby hook, and Bird had his steal. Lebron had his 48 point game to take out the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, but without the title, it didn’t make the leap to iconic status. Maybe it’s a last second jumper, or an incredible 4th quarter outburst, but Lebron needs to find his moment en route to a championship. Do that and even his most ardent critics will have to be silenced, and may even be forced to sing his praises.
LET YOUR GUARD DOWN
If Lebron is fortunate enough to have his “moment” this week or next, let’s hope he follows it by letting us peak behind the curtain and see the real Lebron, instead of the protected image he’s had since he was the anointed one at age 16. Remember, Lebron was the first high school star that garnered real television ratings while he was still in high school, and unlike most young phenoms, he’s actually lived up to the hype. But the downside to that is that Lebron has been in the spotlight since he was a junior in high school. He’s learned to carefully craft an image of who he is, or more likely, who he thinks he should be. He is notorious for his inner circle of friends from Akron who both manage his life and his career. They protect him, promote him, and surround him. And sadly, that’s led to a corporate image of an athlete we don’t really know. Almost everything about Lebron seems contrived or staged, and nothing seems genuine. In the age of media access we live in, it’s almost shocking that nobody really knows the real Lebron. I can’t entirely blame him, as I’m sure he learned at a young age that his talents were special, and that he needed to be concerned about people looking to take advantage of him. But that wall he puts up to protect himself also isolates him from the fans and the media. He’s never standoffish, but he rarely seems friendly or willing to share what he really thinks. Lebron doesn’t have to be an open book, but even if people don’t agree with what you think, they’ll like you more if you have the guts to say it, and defend it. Instead of telling people what he thinks they want to hear, Lebron needs to take down his wall and tell the world what he really thinks.
If the title doesn’t happen for him this year, it will happen for him soon. He’s too good for it not to. But winning a title by itself won’t give him the image he wants, and it won’t make people like him. That’s going to take some work on the court, and off. If Lebron is willing to make some fundamental changes to his approach, he can have it all. Otherwise, he may end up being the best player in the league with the least amount of fans.
Bernard Hopkins is ignorant, plain and simple. He also is more than willing to express his ignorance whenever the media provides him an opportunity to do so. Based on my observation, Hopkins does not behave ignorantly solely to promote his boxing career. His win-loss record sufficiently speaks for and promotes itself. Rather, Hopkins’ ignorance is the direct result of what most people would not hypothesize: a sheltered upbringing. Bernard Hopkins (aka “the black rocky”) experienced the first nine years of his life as one of eight children in a household residing in Northern Philadelphia’s Raymond Rosen Project Complex. By age 22, Hopkins had been stabbed three times, committed several muggings, and served five years in prison following his commission of nine felonies. During his time in the penitentiary, Hopkins witnessed an inordinate amount of violence and thus acknowledges that his tumultuous childhood and young adulthood made him who he is today––a ruthless fighter, who has consistently performed at an extreme level of intensity, even at the ripe age of forty-six.
Considering that Hopkins experienced such an atypical childhood and early adulthood surrounded by violence, poverty, and fellow prisoners, I admire him for becoming who he is today—a successful lightweight and middle weight fighter with 52 wins (34 by knockout). Most recently on May 21, 2011 (at age 46), Hopkins defeated 28 year old Jean Pascal to capture the WBC, IBO and The Ring Light Heavyweight belts, dethroning George Foreman as the oldest man to win a major title. Hopkins is a husband. He is a father. Simply put, Hopkins has come a long way in his forty-six years on earth.
Nonetheless, on May 11, 2011, possibly as a way of promoting his upcoming fight with Pascal, Hopkins—a loyal Eagles fan—verbally lambasted former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb through a scathing rant to the Philadelphia Inquirer. While acknowledging that McNabb had a privileged childhood, particularly in comparison to his own, Hopkins accused McNabb of not being “black enough or tough enough, at least compared with, say, himself, Michael Vick and Terrell Owens.” Hopkins clarified to the Inquirer that “Vick and Owens remained true to their roots, McNabb did not.” Hopkins further compared McNabb’s role with the Eagles as that of a house-slave who was spared from having to work in the field: “McNabb is the guy in the house, while everybody else is on the field. He’s the one who got the extra coat. The extra servings… He thought he was one of them.” With respect to McNabb’s prior comments on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” where he stated it is tough being a black quarterback, Hopkins opined, “He goes on HBO and talks about [being] black. He was right, but was the wrong messenger… [he doesn’t] represent that.” Finally, Hopkins criticized McNabb’s interaction with the Eagles’ front office, stating, “T.O. got [into] the boardroom and saw the way they talked to McNabb. Come from where he [comes from] – that’s strange to some white people, when a black man speaks… [W]hen T.O. walks in the boardroom with the Eagles suits, he’s like, what the heck? I aint used to this language. I’m used to speaking up.” See Marcus Hayes, Hopkins Still Thinking about McNabb, Philly.com, May 11, 2011.
Now, If based on the aforementioned statements you continue to question whether Bernard Hopkins is ignorant, I can share with you the number to a great therapist and sensitivity coach who would welcome you with open arms. As a fellow African American, it is quite simple for me to wrap my hands around Hopkins’ rant, which was both ignorant and inaccurate. In fact, Hopkins created a crystal clear characterization of what he considers an African American male in America to represent (the “Hopkins’ Traits”):
1) Someone who is tough, primarily as a result of his experiences in the “streets”;
2) Someone who doesn’t relish his interaction with corporate white America;
3) Someone who is incapable of fully understanding or speaking the language of corporate white America; and
4) Someone who is confrontational.
But, you know what? I can’t blame Bernard Hopkins for his ignorance or for the statements that he made about Donovan McNabb. It is not his fault that he’s made these inaccurate assumptions about the average African American male. In the world that Hopkins grew up, an African American male represented, among other things, the four abovementioned traits. Moreover, during the small amount of time that Hopkins has been a wealthy boxer, he likely has not encountered the necessary experiences to contradict these erroneous assumptions. He has not been exposed to or met enough successful, professional African American males who make a living outside the realm of sports, entertainment, and crime. He also likely has not been mentored by individuals who know that African American males are as professionally, fiscally, and socially diverse as any other race. Hopkins’ perception clearly embodies what he has been exposed to. As a result, I SLAM my enormous hammer of criticism on Donovan McNabb—the one person who you likely didn’t foresee me criticizing in this article.
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In stark contrast to Bernard Hopkins, Donovan McNabb spent the first eight years of his life in a somewhat dicey part of the South Side of Chicago, before moving with his family at age eight to a smaller and more family oriented, blue-collar neighborhood in the southern Chicago suburb of Dolton. The McNabbs were the first black family to join their neighborhood block, which came as a shock to both the neighborhood and the McNabbs at the outset. Nonetheless, both groups eventually adapted well to the newfound diversity. Similarly, Donovan experienced a good family life. His father, an electrical engineer, impressed upon his children the value of hard work, doing the right thing, and staying goal oriented. Donovan’s mother, a nurse, was always there to listen and help her children work through life’s issues.
Donovan eventually attended and excelled in football and basketball at Chicago’s private, all male, Roman Catholic Mount Carmel High School. With an annual tuition of $8,250, Mount Carmel prides itself for both its athletic and academic excellence and has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon and National Exemplary school. Indeed, the school’s slogan boasts, “you came to Carmel as a boy. If you care to struggle and work at it, you will leave as a man.” As many of you know, prior to being drafted second by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, Donovan had an exceptional three-year football career as the quarterback for the Syracuse Orangemen. What many of you probably do not know is that Donovan chose Syracuse over a number of other excellent football programs for its communications department (which is nationally ranked among the top 20). He had future aspirations of being a sports broadcaster.
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I take issue with Donovan McNabb in several respects. First, Hopkins’ rant does not represent the first time that an individual has disparaged McNabb concerning his role as the quarterback of the Eagles and Donovan has not subsequently defended himself. In September 2003—the year that the Eagles went 14-3 and lost to the Panthers in the NFC Championship game—Rush Limbaugh criticized the media and the National Football League for providing an overrated evaluation of McNabb as a quarterback:
“I don’t think he’s been that good from the get go. I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well… He got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn’t deserve.”
Similar to Hopkins’ rant, Rush’s statements regarding McNabb were racially driven. And what did McNabb say in response to this statement? Essentially, nothing:
“I know I played badly the first two games… He said what he said… I’m sure he’s not the only one that feels that way but it’s somewhat shocking to actually hear that on national TV… An apology would do no good because he obviously thought about it before he said it.”
Hello? Donovan, by 2003, you had completed only four seasons as the star quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, yet, you had passed for a total of 9,835 yards, thrown for a total of 71 touchdowns, rushed for a total of 1,884 yards, and run for a total of 14 touchdowns. I think it’s fair to say Donovan had a reason and the justification to defend himself against Rush’s remarks. Nonetheless, he took the criticism and remained quiet. His career continued to flourish but it certainly left a blemish on his professional image. It sent the message to both his fans and his critics that I’m passive, I’m soft, and I may be incapable of being a leader.
Fast-forward to May 2011, where Donovan once again failed to respond to Hopkins’ disparaging remarks regarding his role as an African American quarterback in the NFL. Indeed, via his publicist, he refused to even issue a comment. Now, I get it, Donovan. You theorize that there’s no need to respond to such ignorant remarks because everyone knows that the substance of the statements are inaccurate and not worthy of your attention. Got it. However, McNabb actually is the perfect person in the perfect position to issue a response to these remarks. He is a famous, professional African American (some might say, even a role model) who understands that African American males can excel in this Country while not representing the Hopkins’ Traits. Essentially, McNabb was given the perfect platform to speak from and convey this point to me, you, and every African American child in the hood searching for inspiration. However, he did not speak!
In sum, Donovan is a GREAT person, but he has consistently tarnished his image, not by behaving inappropriately, but by being so darn passive. Moreover, from my vantage point as a 29-year-old African American male, he has failed as a leader and as a role model. He certainly entered Mount Carmel “as a boy,” but sometimes he compels me to wonder whether he actually left “as a man.” Should you wish to be a leader and a role model, my advice to you, Donovan—take it or leave it—is the following:
1) Always issue a statement in response to criticism from your peers, even if it consists of a short and concise acknowledgement that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but you beg to differ with respect to [fill in the blank].” A simple responsive statement illustrates, among other things, that you are aware of what has been said, are strong enough to respond to your critics, but understand when it’s not worth bickering over trivial issues. Note, a statement should be issued by you, not your agent.
2) Be proactive. Criticism should never be your sole basis for issuing public statements. At the very least, compel your publicist to make statements regarding causes you support (e.g., the fight against diabetes). Unfortunately, your professional image could use a little boost.
3) Take pride in your ability to positively influence those around you, particularly African American youth who have had limited exposure to strong African American male figures.