An astounding number of people wrote the word “Whammy” on Twitter Thursday. If words were earthquakes, whammy would have registered at least a 5.2 on the Richter scale. If it was a stock, you’d have wished you bought it. If it was your blood pressure, you’re probably dead.
This whole episode is starting to feel a little farcical, is it not? Not that there’s anything wrong with Darnell. He’s a well-decorated attorney from El Paso, Texas with experience in NCAA cases. It makes sense to retain him.
It’s just that if you take a step back and pretend you’re an alien observing all this from outer space (or even a human from Taiwan), the whole thing looks preposterous.
Manziel has hired an attorney to defend himself against accusations he broke a rule that nobody in America thinks ought to exist. He provided a service and was compensated for that service at an agreed-upon rate, if the reports are to be believed. In specific, he sold his autograph (allegedly).
And somehow, somewhere, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, that accusation is serious enough to make someone call a lawyer.
All this to protect the notion of the “amateur athlete.” That’s a difficult term to define, but here’s a good rule of thumb: An amateur athlete is one whose signature is not worth any money. If people are willing to pay extra for a football that has your chicken scratch on it, then by golly you’re a professional. That’s according to the Corcoran School of Words and Meanings.
A governing body (such as the NCAA or whatever will replace it when it goes down) does not have the ability to determine who is an amateur and who is a professional any more than the school board gets to decide who the popular kids are. And there doesn’t need to be a grouping or any kind of segregation or labeling. It’s obvious who the pros are just by looking around, and Johnny Manziel is one of them whether he sold his autograph or not.
They’re the ones who can make a T-shirt fly off the rack just by having their number on it. The NCAA figured that out a long time ago. They also figured out that when people want a Johnny Manziel jersey, they tend to write “Johnny Manziel” into a search bar rather than “Texas A&M #2.” And it came out earlier this week that you could go to the NCAA’s own web store and search for jerseys by player name.
So that got out in the media and the NCAA quickly yanked its hand out of the cookie jar, clasped its hands together behind its back and started whistling a Beach Boys song. You can no longer search jerseys by player name on the NCAA website.
Does that seem like a big deal to anyone else? Why do I get the feeling the NCAA is just going to skate free on this one? This is where a paragraph about hypocrisy should go, but that’s so obvious I don’t want to insult your intelligence. People don’t get mad at the NCAA anymore, they just become amused by it.
For decades, most people just accepted that the NCAA was the governing body of college athletics, that amateurism as we commonly understand it was an essential concept and that without the NCAA it would be sports anarchy — they’d be playing The Ramones during timeouts and everything.
That old dusty rug got pulled out from under all the old leather-and-timber furniture about the time Taylor Branch’s terrific historical examination of the NCAA, The Shame of College Sports, came out in The Atlantic (2011).
Basically, the NCAA exists because a lot time ago it convinced everyone it needed to (even though it didn’t). Sure, like any other sports organization, college sports need a governing body to establish and enforce the rules, but you can put the “student-athlete” concept right up there with some of the great marketing campaigns of all time, right up there with cured pork belly as a breakfast food.
And you know who seems to understand all this pretty well? Johnny Manziel. Johnny Manziel, who dares anyone to stop him on or off the field, and who when he gets in trouble retains a lawyer in a 10-gallon hat for some good ol’ fashioned Texiss lawyerin’.
All the while the smoke billows out and the loudspeakers boom and “DO NOT AROUSE THE WRATH OF THE GREAT AND POWERFUL NCAA,” he’s looking behind the curtain.
How ’bout some links, eh?
• Will a NJ court ruling affect the Minnesota Vikings’ opportunity to get a stadium? Minnesota governor Mark Dayton is asking for more scrutiny on a publicly financed $1 billion stadium the people of Minnesota agreed to build Vikings owner Zygi Wilf because Wilf recently lost a lawsuit in New Jersey for “bad faith and evil motive” over a condominium development in New Jersey.
• Alonzo Mourning is looking forward to working with Greg Oden. Mourning, by the way, is the vice president of player programs and development for the Miami Heat, though it should be noted that when LeBron James wants to work on his post game, he visits Hakeem Olajuwon.