College Player Unions: A Slippery Slope

Syracuse University
(Photo: SU)

One of my gifts is knowing what I don’t know. I know. Not exactly resume material. But still…as a writer, it’s one of my greatest assets. Aside from my wit – ha!

There is much I don’t know about being a student athlete. I struggled juggling sorority life and academics during my days at Syracuse. And that wasn’t nearly as demanding.

Except for this one time…my friend Gina and I hung out at a fraternity house until everyone was asleep, swiped their composite picture off the wall, carried it down Comstock Avenue, and propped it up on the fireplace in our sorority house to greet the sisters of AZD. Our house boys (from the same fraternity) arrived the next morning freaking out about it – while it was staring them in the face from our living room. After much giggling, they eventually figured it out and returned it to its proper place.

Why did I tell that story again?

Oh, ya…

Not exactly the perils of training, travel, and competition. Along with demanding academic standards, depending of course, on which school you attend (not pointing fingers).

I’m sure going to college on a sports scholarship is a lot like going to college with a job (full or part-time). Which, a lot of people do. Because they have no other choice.

Student athletes have a lot on their plates. But they receive a lot in return. An education that is paid for (in whole or in part). The chance to shine on a national stage. And the unique opportunity to be drafted to play the game they love and make millions doing it.

In turn, athletes create opportunity for their schools in attendance, naming rights, and jersey sales. All of which generate money. Lots of money.

It’s a win – win.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fair.

In an effort to represent themselves and their unique issues, football players at Northwestern University formed the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and won the right to do so through a regional National Labor Relations Board. I have no problem with players organizing to lobby the NCAA on behalf of college athletes. If anything, I applaud their leadership.

Nutrition is just as important as training, so if athletes say a healthy meal plan needs to be part of their scholarship package, I have a hard time arguing with that. Kind of seems like a basic need to me. Expenses like books, transportation and such are also frequently touted.

There is a fine line on some of that stuff. But there’s also a not-so-fine line: payment to players outside of school-related expenses. This is a whole different ballgame. To me, amateur athletics have a unique and sacred place in sports. One I would hate to lose altogether.

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess. And how the players organize and lobby on behalf of themselves is part of it. But one thing is sure: It’s a slippery slope. One that could permanently alter the landscape of college athletics. And one that needs to be navigated very carefully.

Colleges are academic institutions. They are not training grounds for professional sports. They are not minor league ball clubs. Even if athletics do generate a majority of  the income at some schools.

Students should appreciate college for all that it is. And all that it’s worth. Which is, a  lot. No matter who pays for it. And what you end up with, an education (and some stories to go along with it), will last you far longer than your chosen career, whether you work in an office, a studio, or a stadium.


Disclosure: I do not condone theft. Especially theft of items that value more than $1,000, which constitutes a felony in the State of New York. Besides, the last time I checked (which was a long time ago), Zeta Psi had their composite pictures screwed to the wall. And upon further investigation, I found that the Zeta Psi fraternity is no longer active on the Syracuse University campus. But no one can ever take away my story. Or my education.

Out of the Closet…and Into the NFL

Michael Sam, defensive lineman for the Missouri Tigers

Michael Sam, defensive end for the Missouri Tigers and potential NFL draft pick
(Photo: Brandon Wade | AP)

Ready or not…here he comes!

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam hasn’t even been drafted, but already he’s changing the National Football League as we know it.

A projected third or fourth-round draft pick, Sam is an All-American defensive lineman and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. But, that’s not why he’s making headlines in the NFL draft talk.

You see, Michael Sam is gay. He’s not the first gay athlete to come out publicly. But if he’s drafted in May, he’ll be the first to do so where no one else has…the NFL locker room.

We knew this day would come. It was just a matter of when. In coming out, Sam and his Mizzou teammates set an example for his future team and all teams.

“Sam had in fact told his team at the University of Missouri that he was gay last summer. It was prompted by a simple team-building exercise with a question from a coach: ‘Tell us something we don’t know about you.’ Some of the team had already known. Some were shocked by the news. All of them embraced him. None of them told the media.”
 –Cyd Zeigler, Outsports

In today’s world, there is no player who doesn’t know someone (or isn’t related to someone) who is gay. Still, reaction from players and executives around the league is mixed.

Some say it’s long overdue and that if Sam does his job and performs on the field, his off-the-field life won’t matter to his teammates.

Others insist the media attention and potential locker room issues will cause his draft stock to fall.

Sports Illustrated asked NFL executives and coaches to share their thoughts on Michael Sam (anonymously). Most predicted his path to the NFL would be an uphill battle, even daunting.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
NFL player personnel assistant to SI

But, here’s the thing. For anything to become acceptable in ten years or twenty years, someone has to take the first step. Today.

And Michael Sam just bravely took it. For himself. For past players. For current players. And for future players.

Whether he gets drafted into the NFL or whether he even plays a game, Michael Sam has already made a legacy for himself.

And it’s a legacy that transcends the locker room, the field, and the game.

Michael Sam changed the face of the NFL.

Before stepping foot on the field.


Ode to the Bowl Championship Series

The final touchdown of the BCS era. (Photo: )

The final touchdown of the BCS era.
(Photo: BenLiebenberg/NFL)

You were much maligned, often chided, and the source of never-ending controversy.

There was always someone left out, someone undeserving, and someone who just plain choked.

We took our frustration out on the only thing that would tolerate it. You.

But what no one wants to say is that much of the time, the system got it right. You got it right. Exactly right. Even if we didn’t like it.

The Bowl Championship Series played its last National Championship game at the Rose Bowl Stadium on Monday night. And interestingly enough, the game mirrored your tarnished legacy.

When the number two Auburn Tigers took the field against the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles, at first it looked lopsided. Like the Tigers were going to run the Seminoles out of Pasadena. And eat their pretty horse for dinner.

But slowly, the tide changed. (Yes, every National Championship story needs an Alabama reference.) And the Seminoles showed us who they were…the team you knew them to be all along. And they emerged victorious. The last National Champions of the BCS era.

You weren’t perfect. But you weren’t a disaster either.

In the end, you were just misunderstood.

We’re not sure what’s next for us. All we know is…we think we’ll like it more than you.

And, we have a year to figure it out.

Thanks for the football. Thanks for the debate. And thanks for the memories of a perfectly imperfect era.

We’ll think of you when the sun rises on a new era of college football…

And we decide we hate it every bit as much as we hated you.

Rest in peace, Bowl Championship Series.


Johnny Manziel’s 21st birthday: 21 things to ponder

Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football) lights it up. (Photo: TMZ)

Johnny Manziel (aka Johnny Football) lights it up.
(Photo: TMZ)

On Friday, the most celebrated vilified controversial quarterback in college football has a birthday. But, this isn’t just any birthday. This is the 21st birthday of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

So many questions…but I narrowed it down to 21. Consider this my gift to you.

  1. How did God let “Johnny Football” turn 21 on a Friday?
  2. Where will this celebration occur?
  3. How could it not be Vegas?
  4. Will they shut down the strip?
  5. Will it last a day? A week? A month?
  6. Has extra security been brought in?
  7. Have extra bathrooms been brought in?
  8. Has extra booze been brought in?
  9. Who will be there?
  10. Forget it. Who won’t be there?
  11. Will Archie Manning have a talk with him before he goes out?
  12. Will he bring his Heisman Trophy?
  13. Will he wear his Tim Tebow jersey?
  14. How many body parts will he sign?
  15. Will he get paid for signing said parts?
  16. Will he get parking tickets?
  17. Will he make the cash sign and “make it rain” at midnight?
  18. Are there movie rights?
  19. Will he pull a Greg Brady and insist he be called Johnny Bravo all night? (Credit to my Mother on that one.)
  20. Will AJ McCarron be responsible for getting him up the next morning?
  21. How has he been partying in clubs for the last two years?

So many more questions…guess we’ll just have to wait for the pictures. And the movie.

Happy birthday, Johnny Manziel! Be safe. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Or, in your case…stay home.


We’re Crushing: On Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel

What happens when you’re really, really ridiculously good looking and your helmet gets knocked off during a football play? If you’re Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel…this.

Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel with the sexiest football photo ever. (Photo: Getty/Jonathan Daniel)

Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel with the sexiest football photo ever.
(Photo: Getty/Jonathan Daniel)

McDaniel, a junior, rushed for a career high 92 yards during the Irish’s win over the USC Trojans last weekend. But it wasn’t until this shot went viral that he became an instant internet star.

There’s just something about the way he’s breaking tackles, gently cradling the ball, and doing so while staring deep into your soul…with chiseled features, perfectly mussed hair, and sexy smirk to boot.

Usually when a football player loses his helmet, he looks like he lost a few marbles with it. Lately, every time I see the Texans’ J.J. Watt, he’s bleeding profusely from some opening on his face…either organic or man made.

But Cam McDaniel makes football look easy, sexy, and stylish.

If the NFL thing doesn’t work out, the boy’s already got a guaranteed backup plan as a male model.

But this weekend, it’s all about game day and McDaniel will be focused on beating Air Force Academy.

And I’m hoping “Blue Steel” is in his playbook.