I’ve struggled a long time with what to do with this blog. I get approached about projects all the time. Come speak at this, can you promote this, can you do that? It never gets old because I’m honored that just pouring my guts (or having a bourbon and slamming on the keyboard) has made me someone others look to for help, advice or a friendly push.
In the past, I’ve only done things that were a good fit. I’ve spoken at USC and to Trojan student groups because I care deeply about my alma mater. I’ve done some limited partnerships if it was on brand. Mainly, I am here to keep this blog, my writing, about just that, my writing.
That said, I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I’ve always wanted to make a documentary. I want to do more with my filmwriting degree beyond be super handsome, hit internet home runs and rarely pay for bourbon. Well, I want to keep doing that, but I wanted to push myself.
That’s when an old friend and former USC Trojan defensive lineman Bobby DeMars hit me up about a project he was putting together. On the coldest day I can remember in Tucson over holiday break, we talked for a long time about wanting to tell a story about the NCAA that would change things. Years later, it’s time.
I am producing The Business of Amateurs with Bobby and we’re going to try to use our networks, insights and passion to make a change.
The more I followed USC from a blogging perspective, the more I rubbed up against how truly sick and twisted the NCAA is as an organization. It was never intended to be, but it is a microcosm for everything that is wrong with the country today. The point of the organization has been warped so that it makes money, creates a monopoly and does little to pay it forward.
The argument has long been made that college football players get an education in exchange for their bodies. We’ve heard arguments from men’s tennis players and women’s soccer players that it’s a sweet deal and football players should not complain.
Only it is not only the most dangerous sport, it is the most lucrative. It pays for these other programs nine times over. It makes celebrities that can lose it all if they try to gain anything from it before the mandated 3 years between high school and pro ball that must be served.
As a film student, had I sold a major motion picture and quit school, I’d be celebrated and expected to give money. Josh Schwartz sold “The OC” from my program and he left to pursue a dream with no one stopping him. For top college football players, the only option besides give your body to a university is to wait 3 years, but how would you even be known? The platform of national tv and the NFL rules that keep college football strong give those who want to major in football only one way into their career.
What about those who really are there just for an education, those “going pro in something other than sports?” Well, if they can’t be healed, their scholarships can be revoked. If a head injury (something our doc will explore) makes work harder, there’s no opt in for medical care.
Being a college football fan is about falling in love with not just the stars, but also the role players. I remember the Kareem Kellys, the Sunny Byrds and Sultan McCulloughs. I remember the Matt Grootegoeds. Matt was a warrior for the team, he took injury after injury. He got a few brief shots in the NFL. He’s now coaching.
These are warriors that didn’t become NFL stars, like most, that put their lives on the line for our entertainment and our sense of school pride. Whatever lifelong pains they have, they accept it and it was for love of the game and love of the school. I’d argue it’s not for the scholarship. It’s for a dream that is often not realized. Sometimes for good reasons and opportunities to go into business or coaching. Sometimes it’s because so much focus was put on football, not much was learned at the school. Sometimes, injuries make normal work impossible.
That should not be a consideration for someone willing to go to bat for their school. The moment the school decides you can help them by playing the most dangerous sport of earth to earn them money is the moment they should make an academic commitment to them for life. If we need you for sport, we need to always offer you the education we’re trying to compensate you with.
Football is more than a sport. It’s the lifeblood of a school. This isn’t about paying players. This is about making sure if they can’t take advantage of their degrees they are gaining in exchange for their health, there’s a way for them to take care of themselves.
We all can understand why a player cannot sell his jersey, that’s the team’s image. But why can’t a player sell his own image? This is something other undergrads do not need to worry about, but most of them do not have the chance to be in advertisements. Terrelle Pryor could have done a local television commercial in street clothes and it would have paid for all the transportation his parents needed to attend games. You’d never need to hear about an athlete taking a car under the table if they were allowed to get one for endorsing a dealership. If they can put you up in Times Square selling your sport and your school, don’t you have some right to sell your own likeness?
True story I am happy to tell now that Barkley is gone to the pros. I was going to make him a Heisman campaign shirt that showed the Heisman trophy with a trojan helmet on making the Victory V. Barkley had no problem with me using his name, he himself would not see a dollar (just like when USC sold his jersey). I made almost no profit on the shirts because we custom printed them when they were ordered. It was a service, not a business.
I got a cease and desist letter from USC telling me that the NCAA owned Barkley’s name and I could be putting his eligibility in question. First off, never tell me USC fails to monitor anything. That letter had Haden, Kiffin and the lot on it. I took down the image of the shirt (it was not even in production yet) and apologized to my friend Matt that I could not promote his Heisman campaign.
I never publicly spoke of it because I love my school, Matt is a friend and all I wanted to do was give students a shirt to support a great guy. I am not planning on doing shirts this year. I plan to just cover the games for the entertainment of fans. I don’t want to thread the needle. I want to put on trial the fact that I even have to.
There is no “spirit of the law” with the NCAA. There is no glue holding an investigation to their rulebook. It may take years to cast enough stones to topple their monopoly, but in the least we can start protecting our heroes medically and maybe even financially by giving them the right to sell their own image as long as they are eligible, at practice on time and in good standing.
Here’s my personal plea for you to get involved. I’ve seen angles about the money or about sanctions, we’ll touch on those subjects, but this is about worker’s rights and examining what the hell a “student-athlete” even is.
I’ve long been a champion against the tyranny of the NCAA. Please arm me in my fight and arm Bobby DeMars, one of those great Trojans who gave up his knees for a chance to be a Trojan for life. He doesn’t regret his time spent. He loves it more than anyone I know. The thing is, shouldn’t we be honest about how the NCAA repays that love?
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