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Is Family Money the Difference Between Todd Gurley’s Case and Johnny Manziel’s Case?

Posted in Opinion, Sports by dionrabouin on July 27, 2015

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What’s the difference between Todd Gurley and Johnny Manziel?

Gurley, a football player from the University of Georgia—and a front-runner to win this year’s Heisman Trophy—was suspended indefinitely Thursday after allegations were reported to the school’s compliance office that the junior running back was paid to sign several sports-memorabilia items in the spring. A decision is expected in his case this week, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Gurley may miss the rest of the season.

Manziel, on the other hand, is a Heisman winner from Texas A&M University who was allegedly paid to sign several items in January 2013. He was only suspended for one-half of a largely meaningless game at the beginning of the 2013 season.

And the stark difference in Manziel’s punishment, compared to the potential punishment for Gurley, is a reminder of just how far the collegiate system leans toward those with means.

Like Gurley, Manziel was seen in pictures and on video signing memorabilia for autograph dealers. Also like Gurley, the autograph dealers in question came forward and said that they had paid Manziel for the autograph sessions. Manziel was said to have taken up to $10,000 for the signings, and three different sources told ESPN that footballs, mini football helmets and other items were signed for an autograph broker. There is also a video of him signing items in a living room that was seen and reported on by ESPN.

But unlike Gurley and the countless athletes before him who had their careers cut short prematurely for violating the draconian rules of the NCAA, Manziel comes from a family with money—lots of it.

To hear his father tell it, “It’s not Garth Brooks money, but it’s a lot of money.”

Manziel’s father owns a car dealership and his mother is a real estate agent, but the family’s real fortune comes from an oil business that Manziel’s great-grandfather founded. It’s worth millions and had “Johnny Football” decided, instead, to become Johnny Custodian or Johnny Public Defender, he would still be able to lead the lavish lifestyle of Benzes and private jets that he exhibited while in college at Texas A&M.

“Johnny is part of a family that has resources,” former Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin told reporters last summer. “People criticize him for showing up at NBA games and flying in private aircraft occasionally, but it’s all being done because his family can afford to do that.”

Manziel also had money to hire Jim Darnell, a lawyer based in El Paso, Texas, with experience challenging the NCAA, to defend him. A&M also brought in Birmingham, Ala. law firm Lightfoot, Franklin & White to help defend its star quarterback.

Faced with a challenge from not one, but two well-known and well-resourced law firms, the NCAA barely put up a fight. In fact, Manziel’s lawyer told a local television station that the NCAA hadn’t even started an investigation into his client. Rather, the organization offered him a deal too good to pass up and pretended the whole thing never happened.

In the end, Manziel wasn’t suspended for accepting money in exchange for signing memorabilia, but for violating the NCAA rule that states, “Student-athletes cannot permit their names or likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, including to advertise, recommend or promote sales of commercial products.”

Gurley, on the other hand, is more of what one might call a typical college athlete. He hails from Tarboro, N.C., a town with a population of less than 12,000 people and a per capita income of $17,120. When word of the impending NCAA investigation reached Gurley, he did not hire a lawyer, one was provided—and paid for—by the university, in accordance with NCAA rules.

Like most Americans with wealth, Manziel and his family understood the importance of having a lawyer who was paid to represent him—rather than one paid for by the university to defend its interests. And clearly, that approach paid off. Gurley, on the other hand, will also be represented by the same law firm that A&M hired to represent Manziel. But without the means to hire his own attorney, separately, it raises a question about whether Gurley’s lawyers may have more than just his interests in mind.

The great thing about college sports is that they are considered a meritocracy. The Manziel family fortune didn’t help Johnny become the first freshman to win the Heisman—college football’s highest honor—and it’s not what made him a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 NFL draft. In athletics, the best players play and the best team wins.

But when it comes to fighting college sports’ governing body, the story is not quite the same.

Dion Rabouin is a freelance writer currently based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.

Street Harassment Is a Problem—No Doubt—but Here’s Why That Video Didn’t Help the Debate

Posted in Opinion by dionrabouin on July 27, 2015

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If the instantly notorious street-harassment video was intended to make men more sympathetic to the horrors women deal with on a daily basis, it didn’t succeed.

Called simply, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” the video has now been viewed more than 15 million times on its original YouTube page, but it has done nothing to bring consensus to the issue of street harassment.

Although presenting evidence of the daily indignity of catcalls and unwarranted advances that women face was an admirable goal, the video just contains too much selective finger-pointing to be effective.

Critics quickly assailed the fact that the most common form of harassment the video’s subject, Shoshana B. Roberts, received were phrases like “How are you?” and just “Hi.” And the takeaway for many men—in conversations, on social media—was simply that if you speak to a woman on the street, then, according to this video, you are harassing her. That’s a narrative that many were quick to take issue with and others simply dismissed.

As a man, I found it easy to be put off by the video because it doesn’t seem particularly nuanced. Rather than allow for the existence of polite conversation between strangers, it simply points at any salutation—from “hello” to “damn!”—and labels it harassment.

Maybe I’m just looking at this from my perspective as a man, but clearly, I’m not the only guy seeing it this way.

“I can only imagine what it’s like to walk the streets and have people tell me that I’m beautiful, that I should smile, ask me how I’m doing, say god bless you and generally seem to like me,” wrote former XXL columnist Byron Crawford on his website. “Literally, I have no idea what that would be like.”

There’s also the racial makeup of the “10 Hours” cast of antagonizers. The conspicuous preponderance of black and Latino men who make appearances as harassers didn’t escape men of color—or women, for that matter.

“The racial politics of the video are [f–ked] up,” tweeted Purdue University professor and blogger Roxane Gay. “Like, she didn’t walk through any white neighborhoods?”

Acknowledging this, the video campaign’s creator, Rob Bliss, responded in a post that “we got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing, or off camera,” or was ruined by a siren or other noise, according to Slate. The final product, he writes, “is not a perfect representation of everything that happened.”

But while Bliss asserts that he and Roberts walked all over the city and presented the video with no intended message other than to show one woman’s trek through New York, the actress used for the video, her wardrobe and the neighborhoods most prominently featured were all conscious decisions.

So while you could argue that black and Latino men more often vocally harass women, or even that audio pings and pops made it impossible to include even a smattering of white faces, some of the video’s intentional choices seem to play on The Birth of a Nation trope that white women simply aren’t safe from sex-crazed black and brown men—a point that Ayesha Siddiqi, editor-in-chief of the New Inquiry, made in a series of tweets, writing, “a white woman filming & shaming black men for saying hi to her are you sure your gender equality doesnt look a lot like class+race anxiety.”

The choice of whom to use to illustrate the problem was particularly interesting, given what Hollaback points out on its website: “Although the degree to which Shoshana gets harassed is shocking, the reality is that the harassment that people of color and LGBTQ individuals face is oftentimes more severe and more likely to escalate into violence.”

If people of color and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are harassed more often and more severely, why not use one of them in the video? It comes off as if the issue isn’t with street harassment per se but with street harassment of certain people by certain people.

Admittedly, much of the negative response has come from the chorus of good old boys who scream that Roberts had it coming for daring to wear a tight T-shirt and jeans in public, but the reason the video sparks debate rather than inspires compassion is really a matter of what is in it and what is not.

Street harassment merits substantive conversation, no doubt. But it requires more than a video that reanimates a tired narrative presenting men as attackers and women as victims and offers no place for a discussion about the gradation of communication or the role that men can play in making it stop. A video that did this might not get 15 million hits, but it could actually help solve the problem instead of just making people pick a side.

Jay-Z Is This Generation’s Jackie Robinson

Posted in Opinion by dionrabouin on January 21, 2014

Celebrities Attend The New Jersey Nets v New York Knicks Game - February 20, 2012Sports writers have long lamented the lack of seminal sports figures in today’s game. Folks say athletes willing to take a stand like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali are conspicuously missing in this generation. Columnist Jason Whitlock wrote yesterday that “Integration, Incarceration, Assassination and 30 pieces of silver ensured there will never be another Jackie Robinson,” but maybe we’re all just looking in the wrong place.

It seems crazy, but the man who could change the face of sports may not be an athlete at all. In fact, it may not just be sports. What Jay-Z is doing could change the world as we know it.

The Jigga man, already known as not a businessman, but a business, man, is preparing to offload his shares of the Brooklyn Nets in order to become an NBA agent. He’s got a few hurdles to jump still, but according to Yahoo! Sports expert Adrian Wojnarowski “none are significant and Jay-Z’s certification as a player agent is a mere formality.”

But the bigger picture is what the long-term future holds for the man born Shawn Carter. While he was unable to penetrate the old (white) boys club of NBA ownership with any real impact, he’s realized what many fans and sportswriters realized a long time ago: the players control the leagues.

The NBA, NFL and MLB are all about players and have been since Magic and Bird changed the game in the ‘80s. If you control the players, their contracts, their appearance and their marketing, you control the league. It’s an immeasurably more powerful position to be in than even owning 100 percent of one team.

Jay-Z could be creating an entirely new entity where rappers, actors and athletes all come together to better control their image and branding and where the money pools together to fund resources that help ingratiate and mentor the next generation of superstars. The endeavor could also have the effect of making it easier for athletes and entertainers to speak their minds and stand up for causes they in which they believe.

In recent years, the owners, agents and management behind the big pro sports leagues have been able to exert pressure on their star players. Quite simply, one player against a machine can’t win. But what if they players had their own machine?

If the 10-20 top players from Major League Baseball joined the 10-20 top players from the National Football League along with the 10-20 top players from the National Basketball Association and a few superstars from the world of entertainment were with them, they would wield significantly more power and influence than just about any person or entity in sports or entertainment.

David Stern might be tempted to fine or suspend someone like Dwyane Wade for speaking critically about an issue, but he’ll be much less likely to do that if he knows that fine or suspension will ensure blowback from Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter and Adrian Peterson. Similarly, Nike might not be as quick to drop or censor an athlete like LeBron James if it knows that they will lose or hurt relationships with multiple players in multiple sports because of it.

There is strength in numbers and having a united front that stretches across multiple sports allows for a freedom and control that athletes haven’t had since the infusion of massive corporations and advertising dollars took over the league.

Those signed to Jay-Z’s collective could reassert dominance over everything from the advertising dollars that come in to their respective leagues’ image and direction.

Jackie Robinson wasn’t a legend because he gave speeches about the evils of segregation and exclusion. Robinson is a legend because he opened up the doors and showed everyone what African-American baseball players could do if given the opportunity. He took his stand by stepping onto the field and serving as an example, not just for what a baseball player could be, but for what a man could be if given the chance.

Jay-Z is doing the same thing. He’s opening up doors and creating opportunities for the next wave of players who have something to say to have a platform to say it on without fear and without hesitation. He’s not doing it by taking to the pulpit, but by using his business acumen to allow others the opportunity to shine.

It all makes sense if you follow the blueprint.

As president of Def Jam, he didn’t usher in a new era of dominance for the label, but he did dole out massive and seemingly profligate contracts to loyal associates of his from previous years. Friends like Foxy Brown and Nas got millions and so did acts like 112, Mariah Carey and his long-time hype man Memphis Bleek.

As for his deal with the Nets, reports suggest that his initial investment of $1 million will only be worth $800,000 when he divests, but he’s expected to retain his stake in the newly constructed Barclays Center, which just happens to have a 40/40 Club and Roc-a-wear store and will sell Jay’s Armond de Brignac champagne inside. As he raps in his new track “Open Letter,” “I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seat.”

Jay-Z is in the business of business, but he’s also in the business of granting opportunities and setting an example. He’s knocking doors down for the next generation of talented kids, whether they want to be in business, music, sports or management.

This may all just be wishful thinking on my part. Maybe athletes won’t sign with Jay-Z en masse and realize the opportunity to speak out and make their voices heard on social causes and civil rights. Maybe they won’t take the chance to usher in a new era of player control in sports where individuals rather than organizations call the shots and the players associations rather than the owners run the show. Maybe no one will realize the possibilities that are before them. But then again, maybe they will.

Dion Rabouin is the digital editor of The Atlanta Daily World. Follow him on Twitter @DionRabouin.

On Its 107th Anniversary, Let’s Not Forget That the NCAA is the Single Most Despicable Organization Ever

Posted in Opinion, Sports by dionrabouin on May 11, 2013

Rick Reilly wrote a great piece for ESPN.com about a gambling addict at the start of the NCAA basketball tournament to remind his readers that this time of year isn’t fun for everyone. Reilly felt it was important that we not forget about the people who suffer while we dutifully bemuse over our busted brackets on Twitter.

I’d like to take this time to similarly bring public attention to something that could easily be forgotten during the jubilation of March Madness: the unrivaled, unmitigated, tyrannical evil of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. There is literally not a more reprehensible organization in this country.

The NCAA is a glorified slave trading conglomerate that operates with impunity under the guise of promoting academics and amateurism, and we would do well not to forget it.

This is an organization that portends to be “always there for student athletes” when, in truth, the NCAA is no more concerned about the wellbeing of its so-called student athletes than the slave master is concerned about the wellbeing of his chattel.

This supposedly nonprofit organization makes money hand over fist on the backs of its players who are prohibited from seeing a dime of it. March Madness is the most glaring example.

In 2010, CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting paid $771 million to the NCAA for television rights to the 2011 men’s basketball tournament alone. That’s more than three-quarters of a billion dollars and the athletes who are making the shots, taking the charges and effectively doing all of the work will not now, nor ever, get even a sniff of it.

Television contracts are just the tip of the NCAA’s free-money iceberg. In 2011 the Atlantic reported that following the example set by schools like Ohio State, which in 2009 bundled all its promotional rights—souvenirs, stadium ads, shoe deals—and outsourced them to an international sports marketer for a guaranteed $11 million a year, the NCAA began to exploit its vault of college sports on film. For just $29.99, fans can now purchase DVDs and NCAA On Demand and own their favorite NCAA games. Even though they have since left college, the former athletes in the videos get nothing.

The NCAA also licenses its product through IMG College to video game manufacturer Electronic Arts (EA). In 2010 the company paid more than $35 million in royalties to the NFL players union to use the names and likenesses of players in its NFL Madden video game series. The NCAA players got nothing, despite EA selling a reported 2.5 million copies of its NCAA football game in 2008.

That’s by design. The NCAA makes athletes sign away their rights in Part IV of its “Student-Athlete Statement” for Division I, which states that athletes must give away “your name or picture … to promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs” in exchange for the right to play.

The so-called student athletes also get no remuneration for the injuries they sustain while playing in college. Former players who aren’t part of the lucky 1 percent to make it to the big time of the NFL or NBA don’t even get their medical bills paid by the institutions once they’ve left school and aren’t eligible for worker’s compensation as part of the code. After all, almost all of them are going pro in something other than sports.

And should these players attempt to receive any sort of compensation from their play, by, let’s say, selling their jerseys, signing memorabilia or even licensing their own name, the NCAA cartel punishes them and their academic institution with absurd sanctions for violating the supposed tenets of amateurism.

Some people think we need the NCAA to continue watching sports the way we do now, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The insignificance of the association was proven by the 1984 case “NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma” in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the NCAA’s football contracts with television as well as all future contracts as an illegal restraint of trade that harmed colleges and viewers. Since then schools and conferences have negotiated independently with TV networks and I’d say college football has far from fallen apart.

There’s a difference between corruption and unadulterated evil and when it comes to the latter the NCAA is it.

That’s not to say the schools themselves are any better. The institutions have pimped their players out for every dime they could, taking money for everything from the shoes their players are forced to wear to naming rights for the stadiums they play in (I’m looking at you Florida Atlantic University).

Make no mistake, what these kids do is a job. Players at even the lesser known athletic programs put in at least 40-50 hours of work each week to do what’s required of them as so-called student athletes. Sure, they are awarded a free dormitory and a meal plan, but then so were slaves. And as for the supposedly free education they get, it might mean something if the athletes were actually getting it.

A report for the Boston Globe found that for the third straight year in the 68-team field, 21 teams had Black graduation rates below 50 percent. Some schools, like the University of Florida, graduated 0 percent of their Black players.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Colleges promote, through financial incentives and payments to coaches, the athletic success of programs while offering an embarrassingly paltry sum for academic accomplishment.

A recent article by former NBA player and former U.S. Representative Tom McMillen and Education Secretary Arne Duncan reviewed the contracts of more than 50 football and basketball coaches in major conferences and noted that athletic performance incentives in the contracts average $600,000, compared to $52,000 for incentives promoting academic performance.

This was precisely the culture of disservice and malfeasance the NCAA was created to prevent when it was established on March 31, 1906 as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States. Today, rather than looking out for student athletes, the organization seems solely consumed with making sure none of them see a dime for their troubles and that any who do are summarily and publicly punished.

The cartel was encapsulated best by one of its own. In a note of hypocritical perfection, former NCAA President Walter Byers summed up the state of the organization in his book “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes,” by writing “Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”

Sounds about right.

Rick Ross Needs to Learn a Lesson From the Steubenville Rape Case

Posted in Opinion by dionrabouin on May 11, 2013

(Written for Atlanta Daily World)

William Leonard Roberts II is a clown. He’s a clown who has made a very good living pretending to be a notorious international drug dealer surrounded by guns, henchmen, champagne and women. He is the prime example of just how unreal hip hop has become.

The stories Roberts tells under his rap moniker Rick Ross are likely true stories about Rick Ross. They are not, however, stories about William Leonard Roberts. Roberts is a fake, a phony, an imposter. He began his career rapping in the first person about hustling, murder and a multi-million dollar, crime-fueled lifestyle that he saw on television.

Not only has he stolen another man’s name and life, but his raps push lies to Black children about how great it is to be a murderous drug dealer. Rappers have long ceased being role models in their rhymes, but one could at least ask for some authenticity and a bit of compunction.

The real Rick Ross, the one whose name Roberts stole (and is being sued for stealing), actually made millions of dollars working with Central American drug lords peddling crack cocaine to unsuspecting Black communities and spent 13 years in prison for it. He has been more than conciliatory about his actions and their deleterious effect on urban neighborhoods to this day.

The man who actually lived the life William Roberts raps about now spends his time working with communities to keep kids out of the streets and to dispel the notion that there’s anything glamorous about selling drugs.

The fake Rick Ross, the one who was really an Albany State football player and then a corrections officer during the time he raps about selling kilograms of cocaine and meeting with “the real Noreaga” who purportedly owes him “a hundred favors,” has made his money pushing a story of gangster make believe. But that was all fine and good, all part of the “rap game,” until his verse on the Rockie Fresh song “U.O.E.N.O.” (a cute way to say “you don’t even know”).

“Put molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it,” Ross rapped.

That stopped the presses. Because even though almost all the fake Rick Ross raps about is murder and profiteering from drug pushing, there’s still a line drawn at condoning rape.

You can rap about selling poison to children, murdering innocents and slapping prostitutes around all you want, but drugging a woman and raping her? That’s a bridge too far.

The fake Rick Ross has insisted that even though his lyrics have been “interpreted as rape” they really aren’t. This statement seems to come from two misunderstandings on his part.

The first is that it’s obvious the fake Rick Ross has no idea what molly is. The drug is the crystal form of pure MDMA, a substance typically found in Ecstasy, and is known for its ability to reduce inhibitions and provide feelings of euphoria. But it’s not a sedative, so dropping it in a woman’s drink wouldn’t help you “take her home and enjoy that” without her even knowing.

Second, he apparently doesn’t understand that enjoying a woman without her consent is rape.

Rather than apologize for what he said, he’s been playing defense all week, attempting to blame listeners for interpreting his lyric about rape as being about rape.

“There was a misunderstanding with a lyric, a misinterpretation where the term ‘rape’ wasn’t used,” he told a New Orleans radio station last week. “I would never use the term ‘rape,’ you know, in my records. And as far as my camp, hip-hop don’t condone that, the streets don’t condone that, nobody condones that.

“I just wanted to reach out to all the queens that’s on my timeline, all the sexy ladies, the beautiful ladies that had been reaching out to me with the misunderstanding,” he continued. “We don’t condone rape and I’m not with that.”

Then he took to Twitter to apologize for the way others had interpreted what he said.

“I don’t condone rape. Apologies for the #lyric interpreted as rape. #BOSS,” Ross tweeted earlier this week. He followed that up by directing a tweet toward Reebok, the company he has a contract with, and women’s group UltraViolet writing, “Apologies to my many business partners, who would never promote violence against women.”

There was just a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that illustrated to all of the U.S. that even when a woman (or girl, in that case) intoxicates herself it is still illegal for a man to “enjoy that” without her knowledge or consent.

Steubenville football players Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond probably didn’t think they were condoning or committing rape when they took advantage of a girl who had passed out at a party. But they’re serving at least a year in juvenile hall now, nonetheless.

There’s a lesson from that case that William Leonard Roberts obviously missed and its one that his fans would do well to remember. Far too many folks have this idea that rape is only something that occurs in back alleys when a masked man grabs an unsuspecting woman and violently takes her against her will. Most rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows and often someone the victim trusts.

There was a time when it wasn’t cool in hip hop to sell drugs. There was a time in hip hop when it wasn’t cool to disrespect women. There was even a time in hip hop when it wasn’t cool to drink expensive champagne and live in the suburbs. Those days are gone now. I just hope we aren’t witnessing the end of the time when it’s not cool to rap about date rape.