Category Archives: Football

Try “Duranting”

Tim Tebow kneels in celebration of the Broncos' win over the Dolphins

Directly following the Denver Broncos’ comeback win over the dreadful 0-7 Miami Dolphins on Sunday October 23rd, Broncos starting quarterback Tim Tebow, in signature fashion, kneeled in reflection while his other teammates wildly celebrated the improbable win.  Tebow—a second year NFL quarterback who has acquired a reputation for publicly displaying his Christian faith since starring as a Heisman “quarterback” for the Florida Gators—has also gained a reputation for having the lowest quarterback rating (QBR) in the NFL while maintaining a starting role at quarterback this year.

Is anyone shocked, though? Tebow is not, and never was, the stereotypical quarterback.  As a senior at Florida, he threw 21 touchdowns, yet rushed for almost the same number (14).  Florida fans grew to anticipate and love his quarterback sneaks into the end zone, where he rode piggyback on the shoulders of his fullback or offensive line, or personally bulldozed several linebackers as if they were crash test dummies.  Notwithstanding Tebow’s endless drive to excel and win, his former tactics clearly have not worked in the NFL.  NFL players are bigger and quicker, and as a quarterback, you can’t sit in the pocket for nine seconds without getting rid of the ball.  He has had flashes of brilliance this season mostly due to his pure athleticism, but they have been largely outweighed by his miserable decision making as the field general.

Surprisingly, conversation and criticism regarding Tebow’s poor play during his two starts as the Broncos quarterback this season have taken a backseat to banter regarding his signature kneel.  Indeed, following his ugly comeback win against the Dolphins on October 23rd, an immediate Internet craze baptized his kneel as “Tebowing.”  And since then, Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch and tight end Tony Scheffler celebrated significant plays against the Broncos last Sunday by Tebowing.  Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard tweeted pictures of him Tebowing in a fast food restaurant.  Moreover, the media has butted heads as to whether such imitation amounts to either disrespect and mocking of Tebow’s faith or mere playful entertainment.

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard tweets a picture of him "Tebowing" in a restaurant

Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch strikes a "Tebowing" pose immediately following his sack of the quarterback

Personally, I haven’t quite decided who is right or wrong with respect to the issue.  Nonetheless, I can confidently state that if you are a professional athlete, the act of Tebowing opens you up to more negative criticism than praise, even when your intentions are playful and innocent.  How does it possibly promote your brand as a professional?  It doesn’t.  If anything, professional athletes who imitate the kneel risk coming off as absolute jerks who are insensitive towards other individuals’ faith and the ways in which they express it.  They further risk alienating themselves from the aforementioned fan base.

Accordingly, I’d like to highlight another figure in professional sports who is worthy of more than mere imitation: Oklahoma City star forward Kevin Durant.  This past Monday, October 31st, Durant—one of many NBA players who currently sits on the sidelines while Billy Hunter and the Player’s Association negotiates with the league and its owners regarding a new collective bargaining agreement—decided to engage his twitter followers by expressing his boredom and need to be active.  Soon thereafter, the following tweets were exchanged between Durant and Oklahoma State student George Overbey regarding a possible opportunity for Durant to join George’s Fraternity in a flag football game that night:

@KDTrey5: This lockout is really boring..anybody playing flag football in Okc..I need to run around or something!

@groverbey: Got a game tonight in Stillwater!! I need a deep threat!! RT @KDTrey5: This lockout is really boring..anybody playing flag football in Okc..

@KDTrey5: @groverbey can I play

@groverbey: Can you catch?? Weve won the ‘ship for 3 years! Tonight @ 10 RT @KDTrey5: @groverbey can I play

@KDTrey5: @groverbey forreal?

@groverbey: Only if you bring your A game. Yes for real! Come up early and hangout, go over some plays RT @KDTrey5: @groverbey forreal?

Durant and George subsequently exchanged several private twitter messages and text messages, which led to Durant picking up George and several of his friends from their residence in his lavish—but very modest—van and driving them to the flag football game in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

On the football field, Durant further cemented his reputation as being both an elite athlete and a stand up guy.  Though the Oklahoma City Thunder could have likely voided his five-year $86 million contract extension due to kick-in this year had Durant sustained a serious injury on the field that night[1], he played the entire flag football game, recorded four touchdown passes on offense and three interceptions on defense.  He left the game in the same modest fashion by which he arrived, signing hundreds of autographs and interacting with just about every fan that reached out to him.

Most importantly, Durant left his fans with the sentiment that he doesn’t consider himself special or incapable of interacting with any of them on any given day.  Clearly, he’s just another one of the guys.  George Overbey summed it up best:

@groverbey: Had one of the best nights of my life tonight.. Game ball goes to @KDTrey5 . 4 tds and 3 picks! Thanks for coming up bro!

As a young professional, often your success directly correlates to the small decisions you make along your career path.  Thus far, Durant has figured “it” out, and has made all of the right decisions to propel his professional image off of the charts.  To all of you professional athletes who are attempting to brand yourself in a similar fashion, try “Duranting.”


[1] Most NBA Team-Player contracts establish that teams have the discretion to void players’ contracts where they engage in any activity that would subject them to more than a normal risk of injury.  For instance, in 2003, the Chicago Bulls waived the contract of second-year player Jay Williams following his involvement in a motorcycle accident that seriously injured him.  The team maintained that his contract was no longer legally enforceable and that it did not have to payout his remaining salary because he violated the contract by riding a motorcycle and injuring himself.  Williams, nonetheless, received a $3 million buyout from the Bulls as a parting gift.

Advertisements

Common Themes of the Best Athlete Endorsed Brand Campaigns

Celebrity and athlete endorsements are without question some of the most useful marketing tools that a brand can use.  The way fans idolize their favorite athletes allows brands to capture those positive feelings by using those athletes to endorse their products.  With many products that use athlete endorsers, the suggestion that the average person can jump higher or run faster by using a particular product makes the endorsement all the more powerful.

While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of brands that have partnered with athletes over the years, there are several products and campaigns that have stuck with us through the years.  These particular brands managed to use their athlete endorsers to not only help sell products at that moment in time, but to
also create a lasting image that garnered positive feelings for that brand long after that commercial or campaign had been shelved.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of those campaigns, and what common themes they utilized to make their ad campaigns iconic, much like their spokesmen.

MEAN JOE GREEN DRINKS COKE

This commercial debuted during the 1980 Super Bowl, and ever since then, it has ended up near the top of every list of the best Super Bowl commercials ever.  Besides using an iconic pitchman like Mean Joe Green, the real key here is the juxtaposition of the tough football player and the young generous boy.  The message here is pretty strong – the implication is that drinking a Coke can improve anyone’s mood – as Mean Joe becomes a nice guy after drinking the Coke.  While the jingle itself isn’t that catchy, the end catchphrase of “Have a Coke and a Smile” works because it’s easy to remember, and fits into everyday conversations.  But what really sells this commercial is the young boy’s reaction when Mean Joe goes from hard-ass football player to a giving soul.  His face lights up, and we get the secondary catchphrase, “Thanks Mean Joe!”  That’s the lasting image from this commercial – and over 30 years later it still gets replayed every February when everyone is talking about Super Bowl commercials.  For that, this campaign ranks among the best ever.


TIGER WOODS GOLF – NIKE

At the end of the millennium, no question existed as to who was the best golfer in the world–Tiger Woods. He was in the process of obliterating the course record at the Masters and was already anointed as the one who would pass Jack Nicklaus, even though he had only won a few majors at that point.  Nike had launched its entire golf product line by partnering with Woods, and instantly gained credibility in the market. And while that probably would have happened regardless of their ad campaign, one commercial served as the catalyst for Nike Golf, and Tiger Woods.

Unlike the other campaigns on this list, there was no catchy jingle, no catchphrase, nor any additional celebrities.  Instead, it consisted of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his golf club without it hitting the ground, using the club to toss the ball into the air, and then taking a half golf swing and crushing the ball into the distance.  The message was what we already knew; that there were things Tiger Woods could do on a golf course that nobody else was capable of.  The key was that you had to see it to believe it, so people made a point to see it.

The other advantage this campaign had over others was that it happened in the internet era.  While YouTube wasn’t in place, this ad and campaign still spread like wildfire.  And it’s still a popular view today, with almost 1.8 million hits on YouTube.  It’s so popular that the bloopers from that commercial shoot have over 1.1 million views.  It’s easily the most popular golf ad ever and certainly ranks in the Top 5 of most powerful sports endorsement campaigns ever too.

ITS GOTTA BE THE SHOES – NIKE AIR JORDAN

While some of the other campaigns Michael Jordan has been involved with may have been more memorable, he’s still best known as the original, and really the only, spokesman for Nike’s Air Jordan Brand.  Starting in the mid-80’s, Jordan was synonymous with basketball, dunking, and Nike. While there were many great commercials involving Jordan, the signature campaign included Jordan and a loud, scrawny character named Mars Blackmon, played by rising director and actor Spike Lee.

While Jordan dribbled, shot and dunked, Mars asked Jordan what made him the best basketball player in the world.  Jordan never gave a definitive answer, while Mars continually asked what became a rhetorical non-question: “It’s gotta be the shoes?!” And even if nobody really believed that Nike’s shoes made Jordan as good as he was, kids playing basketball across America eagerly pointed to their shoes after a made shot or dunk and repeated the phrase.

In the end, the name Mars Blackmon may have been more popular than the phrase itself, as the new Nike ads with Spike became highly anticipated events themselves.   But the combination of Jordan, the phrase and Mars Blackmon is something that every male teen and pre-teen of that era remembers.


BE LIKE MIKE – GATORADE

By 1992, there was no bigger star in sports than Michael Jordan.  He was far and away the best player in all of basketball.  He had already won his 1st NBA Championship, was well on his way to his 2nd and he was about to lead the Dream Team to a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympics.  Anything he endorsed on or off the basketball court was going to turn to gold too.  But Gatorade managed to take the icon to another level with its Be Like Mike ad campaign.  The visuals of the commercial itself aren’t anything spectacular – just Jordan doing what Jordan does.  But the message couldn’t have been any clearer – if you drink Gatorade, you will BE LIKE MIKE.

The catchphrase itself was enough to create a national word of mouth campaign, but what made this campaign one of the best ever was the jingle written by Bernie Pitzel and composed by Ira Antelis and Steve Shafer.  As a 13 year old, I memorized the lyrics, which I still know today. I even bought a CD with the song on it. If iTunes had been around back then, it easily would have moved a million units.  The jingle was that popular then, and for those individuals who came of age in the early 90’s, it’s still synonymous with Gatorade.

Sometimes I dream

That he is me

You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be

I dream I move, I dream I groove

Like Mike

If I could Be Like Mike

Again I try

Just need to fly

For just one day if I could

Be that way

I dream I move

I dream I groove

Like Mike

If I could Be Like Mike

*For the full story on how the Be Like Mike campaign came into existence, check out Darren Rovell’s First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon.

BO KNOWS – NIKE

Much like the Be Like Mike campaign, Nike’s Bo Knows campaign originated in the early 90’s. It centered around the greatest athlete of his time, Bo Jackson – the superhuman running back and baseball player for the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Royals.  While there were several different commercials associated with the Bo Knows campaign, the most memorable one was probably the Bo Diddley version, which in fact featured Blues legend Bo Diddley.

The concept was creative yet relatively simple – Bo Jackson is a great football player and baseball player, but what else does he “know”? Utilizing athletes and legends from every other major sport, including the likes of Wayne Gretzky and John McEnroe, Nike used celebrities and the catchphrase “Bo Knows” to create a memorable ad campaign.  Certainly the presence of other athletes gave
the campaign credibility, but the often repeated phrase of “Bo Knows” is what
sets this ad apart.  The icing on the cake was Bo Diddley telling Bo Jackson, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley!”—a phrase that made its way into the American lexicon for several years.  It even served as the title of Bo’s autobiography
“Bo Knows Bo”.

Subsequent versions of this campaign featured a similar theme of Bo Jackson, the super athlete, competing in every sport, and even a cameo from Sonny Bono poking fun at the Bo Knows campaign.

In the end, Bo’s injuries and shortened career took him out of the spotlight sooner than expected. But if you mention his name to anyone of the age range 25-40, they will ineveitably make some mention of Bo Knows.

So as a brand looks to partner with an athlete for a national campaign, what kind of lessons can they learn from the Cokes, Gatorades and Nikes of the world?

The first lesson is to secure A+ talent.  With the possible exception of Mean Joe Green, the other athletes used were the absolute best at what they did at the time.  If you’re trying to convince people to use your product, you have to be able to convince them that the best athletes in the world use your products.  And if you have the budget to bring in other celebs or athletes, do it.  They don’t have to be the principal endorser, but they’ll help provide that extra oomph.

The second lesson is to find a catchphrase that resonates outside of the commercial.  Be Like Mike and Bo Knows caught on not because of the 30 second spot, but because of the two and three word phrases that kids and adults repeated over and over again.  Use the athlete’s name, keep it short, and make it repeatable.

The third lesson is to think bigger than the 30 second spot.  3 of the 5 campaigns on this list weren’t one-off advertisements, but rather a series of ads based around the same theme.  Mars Blackmon was a running theme for Nike Air that spanned several years.  Bo Knows included several ads that all focused on the Bo Knows themes, but were different variations in their own right. Be Like Mike not only served as a jingle for the Gatorade commercial, but it became its own revenue stream when the company began selling the single.

Finally, be original.  For instance, (i) the reason the Be Like Mike ad succeeded was because nobody saw it coming from Gatorade; (ii) an acclaimed director/actor playing a central role in a basketball shoe commercial had never been done before Nike did it; (iii) Tiger Woods bouncing a golf ball on his golf club was an unconventional way to show his skill; (iv) Mean Joe Green was one of the first athletes used in a Super Bowl commercial like that; and (v) Bo Knows was one of the first commercials to use several other athletes and celebrities to sell a product primarily marketed by another athlete.

Friday Morning Workout

Friday Morning Workout

Welcome to your Friday Morning Workout, THIRDandFOUR’s new weekly post for those of you who missed the week’s news concerning sports law, sports business, sports media, or sports public relations.  Dig in and make sure you break a sweat!

Selig fully supports David Einhorn’s purchase of one-third of the Mets from principal owners Fred Wilpon and family, notwithstanding the $1-billion plus lawsuit that has been brought against the Wilpons by Trustee Irving Pickard on behalf of victims of Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme.  The Court recently granted the Wilpons’ motion to move the case from the bankruptcy court to a federal district court, where Judge Rakoff likely will limit the plaintiffs’ recovery based on a theory that the Wilpons’ failure to investigate Madoff’s investments did not constitute “willful blindness” or culpable intent.  Read more.

Erin Andrews opens up about her stalker.  Read more.

The assistant to Canadian sports doctor Anthony Galea claims that though the doctor treated Tiger Woods after his 2009 knee surgery, he did not inject Woods with any illegal substances.  Read more.

Shaquille O’Neal decides to join TNT’s NBA Coverage. Read more.

Former Cowboy’s wide receiver and sports commentator Michael Irvin appears shirtless on the cover of the gay men’s magazine Out, where he explains that his passion for marriage equality is a direct result of his relationship with his gay brother who died from cancer in 2006.  Read more.

ESPN Now Making Candy Bars too?  Read more.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association project that they will ratify a new CBA by July 21, 2011 in order to save the entire NFL pre-season.   The most complex issues yet to be resolved through negotiations are veteran free agency and the rookie wage system. Read more.

See how sports figures use Twitter. Read more.

The NFL salary cap will undoubtedly be lower than before once a CBA is adopted.  With a hypothetical $120 million cap, the following six teams already exceed it: (1) the Dallas Cowboys; (2) the Oakland Raiders; (3) the New York Giants; (4) the Pittsburg Steelers; (5) the Minnesota Vikings; and (6) the Indianapolis Colts. Read more.

CNBC’s SportsBiz expert Darren Rovell provides 100 rules for using Twitter. Read more.

Pursuant to the 1999 NBA collective bargaining agreement, the NBA withholds 8% of player salaries and places it into escrow each season to ensure that these salaries do not exceed 57% of league revenues.  Unlike every other season, the NBA will soon return this year’s money to the players due to increased revenue throughout the 2010-11 season—a welcome surprise for certain players and fuel to the players’ argument that the League does not need to overhaul the current financial system.  Read more.

Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s Vice President of Enforcement, has made it clear that the NCAA is not done investigating Auburn with respect to its dealings with Cam Newton.  Read more.

ESPN initiates suit against Ohio State University, accusing the school of violating the state’s public records law by denying requests for information concerning the NCAA’s investigation of Tressel and Pryor.  Read more.

Despite Prince Fielder’s displayed adoration for his sons during the MLB All-Star festivities this week (a true image booster), he has no intentions of rebuilding the torn relationship between him and his father, former all-star first baseman Cecil Fielder.  Read more.

Sports Illustrated’s List of 100 people in Sports To Follow on Twitter.  Read more.

Adam Pacman Jones may have, for once, been profiled and improperly targeted leading up to his July 10th arrest.  Read more.

The NCAA nabs its next victim: Georgia Tech over a mere $312. Read more.

Weekly Correction – Chad Ocho Cinco

Ocho Cinco: The Man, The Legend

It’s that time of the week again when THIRDandFOUR 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.  Welcome to Weekly Correction—the Ocho Cinco addition.

Because we consider Ocho Cinco such a unique individual, today’s edition of Weekly Correction is somewhat of an aberration.  Instead of providing Ocho advice as to how he should have approached the media in one of his recent television interviews, we will push him to answer the most critical question regarding his career: what do you really want to do?!?

Ocho takes on Dancing With The Stars

The Cincinnati Bengals’ veteran wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco certainly has enjoyed an above-average NFL career since exploding into the league in 2001.  From 2002 through 2007, he averaged per season 1,339 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns, leading the Bengals to the AFC North division title in 2005.  Since then, however, he has been the “King of Distractions,” while his performance on the football field has noticeably declined.  Though he logged 1,047 receiving yards in 2009—a year in which the Bengals won the AFC North title—he has averaged a mere 806 receiving yards and 5.7 touchdowns over the last three seasons.

Ocho's tryout with Sporting Kansas City

While Ocho has been anything but stellar as a wide receiver for the Bengals during this time period, he has successfully “caught” every non-football challenge thrown his way. Over the past four years, he has starred in the VH1 dating show The Ultimate Catch; raced and beat (with a head start) a professional horse at River Downs Racetrack in Cincinnati, Ohio; starred in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars; tried out for a spot on Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City; rode a bull for 1.5 seconds at a Professional Bull Riders event in Georgia; and driven a racecar at 190 mph on a NASCAR track in Atlanta with Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton.  Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention, in August 2008, Chad Johnson—number eighty-five for the Cincinnati Bengals—legally changed his name to Chad Javon Ocho Cinco in Broward County, Florida.  Get it: eighty-five translates to ocho cinco in Spanish.  Wait, what?  No, it doesn’t.

Dhani Jones

Anyway, I will momentarily digress: You are probably thinking, Ocho Cinco is not the first Bengal to tackle alternative sports during the NFL offseason.  You’re right; linebacker Dhani Jones stars in the Travel Channel’s show Dhani Tackles the Globe, which began airing in 2009 and features Dhani attempting to excel at sports that define cultures in different countries around the globe.  Dhani has taken on the ancient martial art of Pradal Serey in Cambodia; dragon boat racing in Singapore; cricket in Jamaica; polo in Croatia; and rugby in England, just to name a few of his adventures.  In an attempt to show that the love of sports is universal around the globe, Dhani immerses himself in the culture of the countries he visits.  He creates an educational experience for the Travel Chanel viewers, himself, and the individuals who live in the countries he visits.

Thus, Dhani is a true example of what THIRDandFOUR strives to foster: a professional athlete who is dedicated to his sport, yet aspires to create a professional image that will make the transition from football to his subsequent desired profession seamless.  From July through January/February, Dhani dives headfirst into the NFL season.  However, during the offseason, Dhani is, among other things, a television personality for the Travel Channel; a guest correspondent for ESPN2 and the NFL Network; and a writer for Page2 on ESPN.com.   Dhani runs a high-end bowtie company and occasionally serves beverages and food at his Bowtie Cafe in the historic Mount Adams neighborhood of Cincinnati.  Moreover, he writes books; on June 7, 2011, Dhani released his first book The Sportsman: Unexpected Lessons from an Around-the-World Sports Odyssey.

Now, I bring you back to your regularly scheduled programming on OCNN—the Ocho Cinco News Network.  On June 30, 2011 following Ocho Cinco’s recent NASCAR event, he participated in an ESPN interview on Sportscenter Express, where he opined about his upcoming challenge.  There, he informed us that he will make the trip to Okeechobee, Florida in the coming weeks to “catch a couple of gators.”  When asked, “are you really going to try to wrestle live alligators,” Ocho Cinco confidently responded, “have I ever steered you wrong any other time?  If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it…  Wait and see what’s after the alligators.  I mean, if I get hurt—lose an arm—I can always be the kicker for the Bengals.”

Ocho Cinco’s June 30th announcement validated two things: (i) he is a living, breathing marketing ploy; and (ii) his marketing exploits do nothing to further either his professional football career or his seamless transition from football into another profession.

Indeed, Ocho’s offseason adventures cause people to take notice.  However, most individuals—including those involved with the Bengals organization—take notice and cringe.  First, most recently, Ocho Cinco has done everything possible to void his NFL contract with the Bengals.  Should he lose an arm wrestling alligators in the coming weeks, I’m pretty confident the Bengals won’t reserve a spot for him on the roster as a kicker (See former Chicago Bulls star Jay Williams and his non-existent basketball career following his 2003 motorcycle accident).  Second, unlike Dhani Jones, Ocho has not been selective about the avenues through which he markets himself professionally.  For the lack of a better term, he’s been all over the place.  He has failed to show that he is qualified to excel in alternative professions.

In sum, keep it coming, Ocho!  Sleep in a bed of snakes.  Take on Wladimir Klitschko…I’m pretty sure you can connect more punches than David Haye.  Swim with the sharks.  Shucks, juggle balls, while riding a unicycle and breathing fire!  I think it’s safe to say, Barnum and Bailey Circus will reserve a spot for you on their roster.

The NCAA: Big brother or Modern Day Crook?

Over the past few years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (the “NCAA” or the “Association”) has flexed some serious muscle with respect to its enforcement arm in Division I College 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.[1]  The NCAA has therefore been perceived by many as the guardian of college football: an organization willing to take extreme measures to clean up the sport and prevent agents, boosters, and similar individuals from exploiting the student-athlete.  Unfortunately, a thorough review of the NCAA Compliance Rules and records exposes the Association as a fraud; while declaring that its number one priority is education and ensuring that student-athletes experience college in a manner no different than the general student body, the NCAA is an organization that makes annually hundreds of millions of dollars off of the same student-athletes it supposedly protects from similar professional and commercial “exploitation.”

The NCAA is a body or organization consisting of semi-volunteers who govern collegiate athletic programs.  The Association is funded by revenue generated from, among other things, (i) regular and post-season play; (ii) television and marketing rights; (iii) sponsorships[2]; and (iv) sales related to its 1,281 institutions, conferences, and organizations (among three divisions). According to its website, the NCAA returns more than 90 percent of its revenue to its member conferences and institutions in the form of direct distributions or services.  Therefore, individual institutions benefit from the success of the Association.  Though it maintains a non-profit status, the NCAA upholds many of the qualities of a private, profit-generating company.  In particular, the Association is driven by its ability to generate revenue.  Indeed, in 2009, the NCAA doled out $6 million to compensate fourteen of its highest-ranking executives.  The Association has its own marketing and licensing arm.  Moreover, its total operating revenue for 2010-11 amounted to $757 million.[3]

The Association therefore has structured and designed its Compliance Rules to sustain the revenue it has grown accustomed to realizing.  After spending two weeks delving into the NCAA’s 2010-11 Division I Manual—consisting of the Constitution, Operating Bylaws, and Administrative Bylaws governing Division I institutions and student-athletes—I liken the Manual to a screen play consisting of three Acts, where the audience doesn’t realize until the last 15 minutes of the Third Act that the apparent hero (i.e., the NCAA) is actually the villain.  While the NCAA governs nearly twenty different collegiate sports, the focus of this article is the relationship between the NCAA Compliance Rules and the “big two” revenue making machines—college football and college basketball.

ACT I

In Act I of the NCAA’s 2010-11 Division I Manual (the “NCAA Manual”), the Association is the guardian of the student-athlete—an innocent young adult who has chosen to participate in college sports on a “recreational” basis as a hobby.  The Association’s primary goal is to ensure that the student-athlete assimilates with the general student body, excels in academics, and is protected from exploitation by the professional and commercial villains.

For example, Constitution, Article I of the NCAA Manual asserts that “[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 [i.e., hobby], and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.”

The NCAA depicts itself as being the guardian and facilitator of the student-athlete’s attainment of an education via the lifestyle of the stereotypical college student.  However, if this isn’t deception by the Association, I don’t know what is.  Let’s be real.  The vast majority of student-athletes who have scholarships to play either college football or college basketball are treating the institution as a stepping-stone to “the League,” and the NCAA knows this.  These young adults understand that if they put in enough time with the right coach, perform in front of the proper media channels, and stay away from considerable off-the-field trouble, they stand a good chance of getting drafted into their respective professional leagues.  For these student-athletes, education is a far second on the priority scale below athletics, and with respect to their motivation of assimilating with the general student body, the only student bodies they intend on seeing are those that visit after the clock strikes twelve.

ACT II

In Act II of the NCAA Manual, the Association, via its “hard-earned” revenue, provides the student-athlete valuable opportunities through athletic competition and an abundance of education.

Indeed, Constitution, Article II of the NCAA Manual elaborates on the NCAA’s role as the provider: “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.”

Here, the NCAA continues to portray itself as a hero.  Based on a quick read of Section 2.16, one would think that the NCAA disburses most of its revenue in order to create for student-athletes the aforementioned rosy college experience.  However, though the NCAA returns more than 90 percent of its revenue to its member conferences and institutions, the student-athlete rarely reaps much of the reward.  Remember, in 2009 alone, the Association doled out $6 million merely to compensate its own executives.  As I will further explain below, at most, the student-athlete receives aid from its institution for the cost of attendance and benefits constituting meals, lodging, travel, apparel, supplies, and transportation tied to competition.  This fact leaves me, and probably you, wondering where does all of the money go (i.e., $757 million in 2010-11)?  That’s a tough question to answer, but considering that the NCAA is a non-profit organization consisting of more than 430,000 student-athletes, each athlete conceivably earned, but did not receive, approximately $1,760 of revenue.

ACT III

In Act III of the NCAA Manual, the Association finally reveals that the character it portrayed throughout Acts I and II constituted nothing more than a ruse.  The NCAA fully adopts the role of the villain here.  Particularly, In Constitution, Article II of the NCAA Manual the Association limits and controls the student-athlete where it matters the most—financial aid.

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.”[4]

Bylaw, Articles 12, 15, and 16 of the NCAA Manual further describe the restraints surrounding financial aid received by student-athletes.  Article 12 emphasizes that a student athlete loses his amateur status by receiving improper pay, aid, expenses, awards or benefits.  In particular, “[improper pay] is the receipt of funds, awards or benefits,” constituting “more than actual and necessary expenses for participation on the team.”  Thus, 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 own business, he may not use his “name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation…to promote the business.”  With respect to a job, he may be compensated solely “for work actually performed…at a rate commensurate with the going rate in that locality for similar services.”  The student-athlete may not accept compensation for advertising, recommending, or promoting a commercial product or service.

Wow!  That’s a lot to digest, I know.   But basically, the student-athlete is entitled to very little from the NCAA or his institution, outside the cost of his education and the essentials for participating and competing in his sport.  Additionally, the student-athlete cannot use his status as a college athlete to garner income.

Let me be clear, I do understand the NCAA’s justification for prohibiting the student-athlete’s receipt of aid, benefits, and gifts from agents, boosters, commercial entities, and professional organizations, because the financial opportunities provided to the student athlete should not be vastly different from those opportunities provided to the general student body.  Moreover, if the aforementioned individuals are legally permitted to infiltrate college sports, you risk dirtying the water with student-athletes who are conflicted and incapable of fairly performing on the field or court.  I also realize that it would be similarly risky to permit a student-athlete to promote or market a product or business based on his status as a collegiate athlete.

That being said, the NCAA conceivably could, and really should, provide student-athletes reasonable compensation for the time they spend practicing and competing away from the classroom, the library, and their friends and family.   For instance, as a full tuition Trustee Scholar at USC, I worked at the school library and was fairly compensated by the University for the work I completed.  Certainly, participation as a student-athlete on a college team for any of the Division I or Division II member institutions similarly constitutes work.

As further justification for the argument that the NCAA and member institutions should reasonably compensate student-athletes, merely observe the manner in which these parties exploit for revenue the name and image of their student-athletes, while prohibiting everyone else under the sun—including the student-athletes—from doing so.

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.

You ask: what does the student-athlete get in return for his participation in these activities?  Naturally, he receives “actual and necessary expenses…related to participation in such activity” (i.e., meals, transportation, lodging, etc.).

CONCLUSION

In sum, through a simple review of the NCAA Compliance Rules, one can glean that the Association is an absolute farce.  Acting as both a hypocrite and a fraud, the Association has structured the NCAA Manual in such a way that it benefits from exactly what it prohibits—the use of student-athletes as income generators during the rising popularity of college football and basketball.


[1] 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.

[2] The NCAA has or recently had sponsorship contracts with AT&T, Coca-Cola, CapitalOne, Nissan (Infiniti), Hershey’s (Reese’s), LG, Lowe’s, Kraft (Planters), Unilever, and UPS.

[3] 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.”

[4] As an exception to the general rule, a student-athlete may receive aid from a source other than his institution or an individual upon whom the student-athlete is a dependent, where the aid is primarily received for reasons other than athletic ability.

Weekly Correction – David Tyree

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.”

Woo boy!  Plenty of missteps here by Mr. Tyree.  Let’s break it down piece by piece.  

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.

Weekly Correction: Terrelle’s Apology—A Special Shout Out to Tressel

Terrelle sends a "special shoutout" to Jim Tressel

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.[1]

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.[2]  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.”

THE DECISION

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).

THE APOLOGY

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.

THE CORRECTION

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.

– NRH


[1] In 2008, as a freshman, Pryor split time with senior Todd Boeckman before taking over the fulltime starting role as quarterback by midseason.

[2] 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.

McNabb’s Inability To Defend The Jab

Bernard Hopkins, winner by knockout!

Donovan McNabb, down for the count!

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

– NRH