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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.

Super Bowl Windfall Not Paying Off For Phoenix Business Owners

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

Phoenix Westgate Mall

PHOENIX — Fred Verbeke expected Super Bowl week to produce a windfall for his burgeoning local eatery. Opened in 2013, his Chocolade van Brugge Belgian chocolate shop, located in Scottsdale’s posh Fifth Avenue shopping district, has steadily gained new customers and grown to include a staff of five people. Verbeke had scheduled that staff for extra shifts to accommodate the anticipated 100,000-plus visitors pouring into the Phoenix area for the big game this week. But so far, “nothing.”

“I’ve never had bad days like this,” Verbeke says. “It’s definitely hurt us. I actually staffed up my people — double — and I had to send them home. I’m actually 600 percent below my normal days last year. … We just had a new shipment come in, we made extra waffles, we made everything extra, but it’s just not gonna happen. Until last week, it was really busy here.”

Verbeke even signed up for the Big Game Ready promotion championed by GoDaddy, Paypal and Yelp for businesses to attract customers via social media and signage that shows support for the heavily trademarked contest between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.

Business has also been slow at the White Hawk Gallery, a boutique that specializes in upscale Native American jewelry. Owner Mohammad Amirah bought extra supply from merchants and added hours to the schedule for his staff this week only to see “no one show up.”

“We’re seeing less traffic due to the Super Bowl being here,” he says. “This has really impacted our business. I’ve had customers honestly just say, ‘You know what, we were gonna come out, but we’ve decided not to because it’s gonna cost us a fortune, so we’re gonna go out to San Diego.’”

Amirah says he owns three White Hawk locations in the Phoenix area and is seeing a decrease in business of 50-60 percent at all three. “It’s pretty bad,” he says. He’s cut his staff down to one employee at each store per day.

That reality is hard to square with the one in downtown Phoenix where the NFL paints the picture of an economic success story. There are thousands of people enjoying free concerts, food trucks and the Tostitos Party Zone, which boasts 100-person lines of families and friends awaiting the opportunity to play free games for fun and prizes. The league has also packed both the Phoenix Convention Center’s north and south buildings, offering visitors the full “NFL experience” for a $35 entrance fee. The city has even cut off traffic around a nine-block section of downtown, which has been designated an “open campus,” where adults can legally consume alcoholic beverages — largely provided in blue and red aluminum bottles by Super Bowl sponsor Budweiser — on public streets and sidewalks.

The NFL announced Phoenix could expect a $600 million financial boon from hosting the Super Bowl in 2015, the Phoenix Business Journal reported last year. But the unfortunate truth for businesses such as Chocolade van Brugge and White Hawk Gallery is that this is business as usual for the Super Bowl.

“I’ve never ever found a significant impact of any of these events,” says Philip K. Porter, a professor of economics at the University of South Florida, in reference to the Super Bowl and other large sporting events. Porter has studied the economic impact of such events since the 1996 Super Bowl.

Phoenix hosted the Super Bowl in 2008, and while hotel, bar and restaurant sales rose by $41.6 million compared with the previous year, retail sales fell by $538.6 million compared with 2007, the Arizona Republic reported. That was largely the result of the economic recession that began in December 2007, but the NFL estimated the Super Bowl would bring a $500 million impact to Phoenix that year, which never quite materialized. Porter points out that the revenue decline associated with the recession was proportionally the same for Maricopa County, which is home to Glendale, Scottsdale and Phoenix, as it was for the rest of Arizona, despite the Super Bowl’s presence in the county.

“If $500 million actually happened, you’d be able to see it,” he says. “It would stick out like a sore thumb.”

The economic-impact estimates for the Super Bowl are based on informal surveys done by the NFL combined with the total spent by the league and its teams that is multiplied to find the so-called ripple effect of that spending on the local economy, the Arizona Republic reports. Such estimates neglect to point out how much of that money leaves town with the NFL and other corporations that aren’t based in the host city. It also doesn’t subtract the millions of dollars cities have to lay out to finance host committees, spending by tourism bureaus or police and public-safety costs. The safety spending alone costs an estimated $400,000 for Scottsdale, $1 million for Phoenix and $2 million for Glendale, the Republic says.

“Certain people benefit — the hotel owners certainly benefit, people that do partying, catering, that sort of business, they may get some benefits,” Porter says. “On the other hand, if it’s just the average person, they’ve just been sold a bill of goods.”

While local business owners like Verbeke, Amirah and others see their sales dwindle, businesses like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott reap big rewards. For the week of the Super Bowl, hotels in Phoenix are charging average rates 364 percent higher than normal, according to a recent survey by TravelMag.com. The study finds some hotels in the region increasing rates by 1,000 percent over their usual price during the year. Further driving demand, the NFL reserved nearly 20,000 of the Phoenix area’s 55,000 rooms. Hotel owners come out on top because of the increase in room prices, but the Arizona Republic finds that while occupancy rates and revenue for hotels increase for the weekend of the game, they decrease before and after Super Bowl week, meaning fewer people overall come to visit.

The money paid for hotels, frequently accounting for the biggest spend visitors make during a Super Bowl trip, often leaves them too cash-strapped to splurge on many of the things they would in other circumstances, Porter says. Additionally, the Super Bowl drives out the kind of travelers many businesses depend on and replaces them with a spate of visitors who are in town just for football.

“If you look at the local events — the local zoo, the aquarium, ski resorts, other things that people would typically go and enjoy when they’re on vacation — you’ll see activity at those places actually goes down around the Super Bowl,” Porter says.

It’s a game of economic musical chairs, explains Neil deMause, co-author of “Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit,” that often leads to taxpayers and local businesses having nowhere to sit when the music stops.

“You’re bringing a lot of people somewhere to spend money, but it’s like saying ‘Look at the economic impact from having a bunch of people get out of an airplane and walk around handing each other $20 million in $100 bills,’” he says. “[What city] they’re spending the money [in] doesn’t really matter, they’re just handing it to the NFL. Unless they’re stopping along the road to eat, there’s not a lot of spinoff for the rest of the local economy.”

And the problem isn’t simply a loss of revenue for small or local businesses. Tammy Nappe, a bartender at a P.F. Chang’s in Scottsdale that sits between the Scottsdale Mall, which is hosting the city’s Fan Fest in collaboration with ESPN, and the W Hotel, says she has seen foot traffic at the internationally known restaurant come to a virtual standstill.

“We thought we’d be a lot busier. It’s really strange,” Nappe says. “I’m driving to work, and I see so many people out and around the mall, but they’re just not in the restaurant right now. Everything’s booked up. This is our season, so we should be running some pretty good numbers. We should be pretty busy.”

Nappe says servers who were expecting to work extra hours are being cut during their shifts and leaving with only $20-$40 per night. While it’s left her confused, economists have found that the low spending numbers from early in the week during the Super Bowl are typical, even in industries that generally benefit from the game.

That’s a lesson Amirah says he learned in 2008. “Everyone that was coming into the store was either asking for directions of an NFL supplier, store location or any NFL merchandise — pins, pendants, earrings — that had anything to do with the NFL stuff,” he says. “No one’s asking for the turquoise and silver and things like that.”

This year, he lined a table with NFL and Super Bowl T-shirts, hats and drink cozies, placing it in front of his jewelry store. “If you’re not selling Super Bowl stuff,” he says, “you’re not going to have any business.”

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Phoenix To Roll Back Open-Container Laws Downtown During Super Bowl Week

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

drinking beer glasses

Phoenix will be rolling back open-container laws and decriminalizing public alcohol consumption in parts of downtown during the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

Local officials on Friday announced the designation of a nine-block area they’re calling an “open campus,” where adults can legally consume alcoholic beverages on public streets and sidewalks, according to the Arizona Republic. The paper reports it will be the largest special-event liquor license ever issued for the city’s downtown area.

Scottsdale, a small, largely affluent neighboring city in Maricopa County, is also dialing back its outdoor alcohol prohibitions in advance of the NFL’s big game Feb. 1, when the Seattle Seahawks face off against the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium in Super Bowl XLIX. While revelers will not be allowed to carry open containers on the streets unencumbered, Scottsdale’s main entertainment districts will both be closed to vehicle traffic, and the city has granted temporary permits to allow bars and nightclubs in the area to expand their outdoor serving areas, the Republic noted.

“It will be monstrous compared to anything else that’s ever been downtown,” Jeff Moloznik, vice president of development for RED, which operates CityScape Phoenix, a large retail and office center in the area, told the paper. “There’s going to be more than ample opportunity for everyone to sample just about anything they want.”

A similar limited-area rollback was announced in Indianapolis in 2012 when the city hosted the Super Bowl for the first time. The allowance of open containers was in effect for a week in that city. New Orleans, which hosted the game in 2013, does not have similar open-carry restrictions.

As part of the 2015 Super Bowl celebration, downtown Phoenix will be dubbed Super Bowl Central and the streets of Scottsdale will give way to the so-called Entertainment District Experience, which is expected to feature four days of partying and celebrity appearances, beginning early Thursday morning.

Super Bowl Central opens Wednesday, Jan. 28, and will sprawl over 12 blocks in the city’s center. It is expected by local officials to draw an estimated 1 million fans with free concerts, interactive games, beer gardens and a nightly fireworks show starting next week. The area’s feature attraction will be a massive 30-by-100-foot rock-climbing wall known as the Grand Canyon Experience. The wall is textured like sandstone and includes a waterfall.

Authorities in the city announced they will begin closing streets in the nation’s sixth-most-populous city on Tuesday in anticipation of the event. Some offices in the area will offer flex scheduling or allow employees to work elsewhere, according to the Arizona Republic, while others will operate as normal.

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Second Year Stud Mike Scott is Leading the Atlanta Hawks’ January Renaissance

Posted in Sports by dionrabouin on January 21, 2014

Mike-Scott-Hawks

Against the Houston Rockets on Friday evening at Philips Arena, things looked bad for the Hawks. Atlanta native Dwight Howard’s squad was in town and they were doing a number on the hometown team.

After the first six minutes of the first quarter, the Hawks hadn’t scored, the Rockets had put 11 points on the board and power forward Paul Milsap had been tagged with his second foul. Then something happened that changed the course of the evening and led Atlanta to an 83-80 victory, their second in a row over one of the NBA’s top teams. When asked about it in his postgame press conference, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said it succinctly.

“Mike Scott,” he whispered.

Scott, the second year forward from Virginia has come on strong this season. He was the talk of training camp and in center Al Horford’s absence, he has asserted his will on the offensive end for the Hawks and played big minutes.

After Friday night’s 14 point, 7-10 shooting performance, including the Hawks’ first six points and eight of their first 10 in the opening quarter – an outburst that dug them out of an 11-0 hole – Kyle Korver, who extended his NBA record 106-game three-point streak on the night and scored 20 points, gushed about Scott.

“Mike was so big for us,” said Korver. “We were playing a little bit slow, couldn’t get a good look, I don’t think we scored for, like, six minutes…and Mike came in and had eight points in that quarter and he really gave us a spark. We need him to do that.

“Mike is a very capable scorer, he’s done it his whole life. He’s a great pick and pop player, he’s expanding his game, driving to the basket and he finishes well. He’s in constant motion, you know, and he’s gonna be a big part of what we do going forward.”

Scott played only 18 minutes, but they were some of the biggest minutes of the game. He threw down three straight dunks and picked the Hawks up after a horrific start to keep them in the game.

His offensive effort was impressive, but for Coach Bud, Scott’s improvement has been most important on the defensive end.

“I think defensively is an area where we’ve really been talking to him about improving and that’s an area that if he can take some strides and take some steps, he gives us so much on the offensive end,” said Budenholzer. “He’s a unique player offensively.”

That improvement has helped get Scott on the court in Horford’s absence, since a season-ending right pectoral injury, and make an impact.

“I think tonight he made some great rotations,” Budenholzer continued. “He saw where he’s supposed to be a half a count earlier and he’s playing a little bit bigger and playing a little bit more physical and we need that to continue.”

Scott understands the importance of defense when it comes to getting on the court for Budenholzer, a disciple of San Antonio Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich, and he said he’s committed himself to that end of the floor.

“Offense comes natural to me, I’m an offensive player, so one of the challenges as a player [is] to get better on the defensive end,” Scott told the Daily World. “That’s just something I want to continue to work at…I’ve still got to get better with both, but I just take the challenge to guard smaller players. That’s been one of my weaknesses and I think I did pretty good tonight.”

As for his impact in the first quarter, when he all but saved the game for Atlanta, Scott chose to remain humble.

“I was just looking to come in and have a lot of energy,” he said. “My teammates got me the ball, I just finished forcefully around the rim and just try to pick up the team.”

As the Hawks face a season without their best player, Scott may be the key to maintaining the early season success and maybe even advancing in the postseason. If Friday night was any indication, he’s ready.

Al Horford Huge as Atlanta Hawks Win Overtime Thriller on Ryan Cameron Night

Posted in Sports by dionrabouin on January 21, 2014

Try as he might to play the role of The Grinch, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall couldn’t spoil a special night for the children of the Ryan Cameron Foundation or the Atlanta Hawks.

After a dormant first, second and third period in which he scored only 2 points, Wall took over the fourth and led the Wizards from seven points down in the game’s final minutes (13 at one point in the fourth quarter) to force overtime. But with the game on the line and 1.8 seconds on the clock in overtime, Hawks center Al Horford stepped up and hit a buzzer beater to win it, notching a career high 34 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

“It was good for our group to win a close game,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “It was great to get those two huge free throws by Al and a big basket to win it.”

Budenholzer was pretty mum about how the final play of the game was supposed to go, saying only that the team had “multiple options,” but the game’s hero was less inhibited.

“There were three options [on the play]: me, Paul [Milsap] or Kyle [Korver. They overplayed both of those guys,” said Horford after the game. “It was supposed to be a lob for a dunk. We’ve worked that play since before I was comfortable with it.”

Horford got the ball on an inbounds pass from lightly used reserve forward/center Pero Antic, who came in the game specifically to make the lob. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague said he had no doubt about the game’s outcome from the moment the ball hit his teammate’s hands.

“I knew it. [Horford] got the height on [the shot],” said Teague. “It was just a great pass by Pero.”

Horford’s fade away jumper from about 10 feet as time expired took the Hawks to 12-11 on the season and brought the team its 11th straight home win against the Wizards. It also brought the Highlight Factory to its feet and sent attendees to Philips Arena’s RED Lounge for the Ryan Cameron Night after party. Cameron, the ever bashful announcer, used the opportunity to facetiously take credit for the win.

“I try to give back, man. You know? I want to give something to the fans,” Cameron told the Daily World after the game. “I give them free basketball and then we win.

“No, but really, I mean last year we lost and then people didn’t really want to party. Tonight, people are hanging around and they’re going to have a good time. I mean, it was a thrilling win. It was an awesome, awesome basketball night.”

Ryan Cameron Night included discount tickets for fans, special contests during the game for kids involved in the Ryan Cameron Foundation and contributions to organizations like Atlanta Day Shelter for Women & Children, Inc., Genesis Women’s Shelter, Celine’s Place, My House, VOX Teen Communications, Big Kidz Foundation and others that Cameron’s foundation serves.

It was the third annual celebration for Cameron and his not-for-profit organization, which supports youth in and around the Atlanta area.

“We just want to make sure that people understand that we’ve been doing this stuff in the community since 1990, with the give back and the foundation,” said Cameron, who serves as the team’s PA announcer during games in addition to hosting the morning show on Atlanta’s V-103. “Me being from Atlanta, it’s very important that the Hawks are supportive of me and I’m supportive of them. It’s a great partnership and we just ask people to go to RyanCameron.org and volunteer and help us out with our cause.”

As for the night itself, Cameron summed it up quite simply.

“It was a ball,” he said.