Saturday, May 17, 2008

Armstrong leads athletes in humanitarian work

We all remember seeing them at one time or another. It seemed like it would be a trend that would transcend the way we look at charitable causes and it certainly has. The recognizable yellow Livestrong bracelet was released by Nike in May 2004 and created by Lance Armstrong, a world class cyclist and cancer survivor. Armstrong is one of the major athletes who has affected the world in a positive manner with his humanitarian efforts.

The “Wear Yellow Live Strong” educational program headed by the Lance Armstrong Foundation was launched to raise money for cancer research and awareness. By 2005, the foundation had generated more than $55 million in bracelet sales and there have been more than 70 million sold worldwide to date. Armstrong’s foundation now not only dedicates itself to fighting cancer by posting the latest information and resources but it donates money to other causes. For example, community programs for those affected by Hurricane Katrina were established. In addition, research grants and partnerships with other cancer awareness groups have become a key component of the foundation.

All this from a man, whose athletic career – and life – almost ended following the diagnosis of testicular cancer when he was 25. Despite many necessary surgeries to treat his disease, Armstrong went on to become possibly the world’s greatest in the history of cycling. His seven consecutive Tour De France wins from 1999 to 2005 is unmatched in achievement and perhaps a testament to his strength and will as a cancer survivor.

Before retiring in 2005, Armstrong established himself as one of the renowned athletes in the world. Besides being named Associates Press Athlete of the Year from 2002 to 2005, he was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 2002 and was the recipient of the ESPY’s Best Athlete award four consecutive years as well. Most recently, Armstrong was selected the No. 26 on the 2008 Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list.

Now at 36, Armstrong is three years removed from the competitive cycling world but has been relentless in his work with his foundation. Aside from the bracelets, his foundation has created several cancer survivor programs, endowments and benefits for education and awareness throughout the nation. Recently, the foundation held its annual LIVESTRONG Day on May 13, in which Armstrong traveled to several cross country destinations as part of the one-day initiative to raise awareness and money in the fight against cancer.

Undoubtedly, Armstrong is one of the most generous and conscious professional athletes to donate so much time and money to a cause. Sure, many pro athletes do their share of community work such as establishing their own foundations, making appearances, giving donations or speaking on behalf of organizations. But there is no lie that Armstrong’s effect on a worldwide scale for cancer awareness has surely been felt by its popularity and prominence in our culture today.

Many people who have followed Armstrong’s career and humanitarian efforts can also attest to the impact he has had in the cycling field and among cancer survivors throughout the globe.

Gary Boulanger, U.S. editor for the, knows that from everything Armstrong has gone through makes him unique when comparing him to other athletes that give back to the world considerably.

“For one, he lived through agonizing chemotherapy, so he's experienced the blackness of cancer firsthand. His celebrity gains him access to the best researchers and doctors in the world, and he listens to their needs. He's always been driven to succeed, and after his first Tour victory in 1999, he won six more Tours for others,” Boulanger said in an e-mailed interview. “As head of the Livestrong Foundation, he's the one steering the ship and getting face time with senators, presidents and cancer scientists. He seems more determined to beat cancer than he was racing against Jan Ullrich.”

Boulanger also believes that Armstrong knows that he stands as an illustrious and accomplished figure who symbolizes hope to so many people.

“Armstrong has lived through what has killed millions, so for some he's a savior; for others he is light in a dark tunnel,” Boulanger said. “His star shines brightly because God knows He can use Armstrong to affect millions, as is evident by the response to the Livestrong wristbands.”

Like Boulanger, Associated Press columnist Jim Litke, who wrote his piece, “Armstrong prevails again,” on June 1, 2006, considers Armstrong one of the most influential athletes in the world.

“I'd put Armstrong at the top of any athlete's list, though many dowork for a variety of causes,” Litke said in an e-mailed interview. “I'd put himbehind only Tiger and Michael Jordan in terms of influence and he doesmore than either in terms of socially redeeming work.”

Litke thinks that Armstrong basically brought cycling to the forefront in popularity to the United States because of his success and prominence.

“He's put bike racing on the map in the U.S.,” Litke said. “Though it's been a big sport in Europe for decades, he's boosted its fortunes worldwide.

For sufferers of cancer, Armstrong has not only stood as a symbol of hope but an inspiration as well.

Ana Melendez, a mother of whose daughter, Stephanie Melendez, 15, suffers from leukemia, knows that Armstrong success and campaign has given faith to survivors like her own daughter.

“It’s given hope to my daughter and others to know that it is possible that there can be a cure,” Melendez said. “There are many people who have not given up their lives because they believe that it can happen a lot because of Armstrong.”

Melendez said she really respects the LIVESTRONG foundation for all its work and belief in the cause.

“He’s made a lot of people aware of the cause and what many people go through,” Melendez said. “It really makes you more human when you hear it.”

Certainly Armstrong has gone above and beyond what it means to be an athlete that gives back. Now he may most be remembered for his contributions made off the track in the advancement of cancer breakthroughs then through his victories in Tour De France. Armstrong has had a lifelong effect on people and forever changed the way an athlete becomes involved in humanitarian practices.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The David Beckham Effect

Becoming one of the most recognizable sports figures in the world was not difficult with a standout talent (and kick) that echoed across the world. Gaining popularity on a social level wasn’t hard either probably due being in a relationship with a former Spice Girl. Standing as a larger than life celebrity in many countries was not an arduous task as well with the international marketing and branding of his name and image. Now, David Beckham is faced perhaps with the toughest test of all: bringing popularity to soccer in the United States, a country where the pigskin and baseball, America’s favorite pastime dominate.

After all, Beckham, 33, has finished a runner up for the FIFA World Player twice in his career in addition to leading his club teams to seven league titles and three European championships. All of these accolades have been accomplished after making his professional debut with Manchester United in England at the age of 17. Not to mention, Beckham had been captain of the England national team for more than six years before stepping down after the 2006 World Cup Finals.

While Beckham has made his living playing soccer in Europe, he began his ascent in America after problems with his previous club, Real Madrid, with many on the club questioning his desire and work ethic. He left Madrid for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy on January 11, 2007, which launched a frenzy of media and tabloid coverage. His contract alone deserved serious interest. Beckham signed one of the most unique contracts in sports history, a five-year, $250 million contract laden with incentives, which only really guarantees $50 million in salary paid by the Galaxy and other MLS teams.

And the other $200 million? Most of the money will have to be earned by Beckham with his exclusive endorsement deals and jersey sales. Not to mention after confirmation of the addition of Beckham to the Galaxy roster, marketing plans were already in tact for the star including pre-orders for Beckham’s coveted Galaxy jersey. Shortly after signing with L.A., Beckham held his first press conference where he addressed the issues of not trying to be the messiah of soccer in the United States but did intend to make a difference with his play on the field.

In his first season, Beckham made his debut in a friendly match on July 21, 2007, against English club Chelsea but later he re-aggravated a knee injury from earlier in the year and WAS forced to miss much of the season. He finished the season with only eight appearances including one goal and three assists.

“It was a disaster in a lot of ways,” said Grant Wahl, senior writer for Sports Illustrated. Wahl alluded to the fact that on the field the Galaxy faced challenges as even with Beckham, the team missed the playoffs and Beckham faced injury that put him on the sidelines.

Still, Beckham’s effect has already taken hold. Galaxy jersey sales alone were rocketing over the course of announcing his signing in addition to the boost in ticket sales and sponsorships with major companies. His arrival has also brought international attention to the MLS and the Galaxy.

Wahl said Beckham’s play has had a huge impact abroad and in the U.S.

“The clip (of Beckham’s first free kick) was the most watched YouTube clip in that week,” Wahl said.

Playing now in his second season with the Galaxy, Beckham’s impact has been a bit more lukewarm but this process is not going to happen overnight. The important thing for the MLS and the Galaxy is that they have a budding international star playing in the United States for the first time in their history. Whether or not Beckham will have that lasting effect on America and make soccer one of the more popular sports in the future still remains to be seen.

“You have to play well, and the team has to win,” Wahl said. “Beckham can’t make soccer bigger without being on a winning team.”

According to several soccer experts and sports writers, Beckham has already made a splash with the MLS and improved its stature as one of the many professional sports leagues in America. Martin Rogers, a soccer writer for Yahoo! Sports, who wrote his column “Vend it like Beckham,” on August 6, 2007, proclaims that Beckham has already been able to transcend the image of the MLS on domestic and global levels.

“With his arrival in MLS, Beckham drastically increased the profile of the league. Bigger sponsorship and television deals were negotiated on the back of him signing, to the benefit of all MLS clubs,” Rogers said in an e-mailed interview. “Now, MLS is spoken about around the world - not yet as a top level league like the English Premiership, but as a product that is growing and more significantly, trying to better itself.”

Rogers thinks that Beckham does have that star quality about him, which makes him worth every penny he was paid to come play for the Galaxy.“Clearly, Beckham's limited playing time due to injury in his first season was disappointing, but events like the Galaxy's visit to New York to take on the Red Bulls (watched by 66,000) gave some indication of the kind of pulling power Beckham has,” Rogers aid. “So is he worth the money? For that we have to look at what his employers get out of it. Since signing Beckham the Galaxy has become an international brand, generated millions in revenues from sponsorship deals, exhibition games and shirt sales. So in my opinion, yes, he provides value for money.”

Steven Goff, a writer for the Washington Post, who wrote his article, “MLS Finds Growth by Reaching for Shining Star,” on April 6, 2007, expresses similar feelings. “He has had a major impact on the league’s visibility,” Goff said in an e-mailed interview. “Before Beckham, few non-soccer fans could name the team in Los Angeles. Now everyone knows it. From a marketing standpoint, his arrival has already paid off.”

Goff also believes that Beckham needs to continue to play better and consistently if he wishes to maintain the rise of the MLS.

“His performance, good or bad, will reflect on the league, no doubt,” Goff said. “Beckham needs to play well. Last year, he did not. This year he is.”

It will also be interesting to see if Beckham can lead a soccer revival similar to that of Brazilian soccer star Pele in the 1970’s. After coming out of retirement, he starred for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League beginning in 1975, which included a championship in 1977. During that time, Pele greatly increased the awareness for soccer on a national level and brought it to center stage in his final match on Oct. 1 1977, a match against Santos which was transmitted worldwide on ABC Wide World of Sports and played to a capacity crowd in New York Giants stadium. Perhaps, it is unfair to compare Beckham to a legend like Pele, but the attempts to duplicate the success are there.

However there are reasons to believe that because of circumstances now, the two cannot be compared because of the different time periods and other surrounding circumstances.

“Not so much a revival, but an increase in popularity to levels never before seen in this country. Beckham will not be the only factor, but he will have a part to play. I can see soccer overtaking hockey in terms of popularity within 5-10 years and then challenging the other sports with the exception of football after that,” Rogers said.

“This time it is different to Pele in the 1970s because MLS is built upon much sounder business principles than the old NASL.”The most important thing to remember is that one person, including Beckham, cannot make something popular overnight.

Wahl said he doesn’t think soccer will contend with other popular sports for a while and that it cannot be put on one person’s shoulders to put the sport in the spotlight.

“The lesson is (from the folding of the NASL) is one person can’t be a savior for an entire league,” Wahl said. “There is no lightning in a bottle that’s going to make soccer big. As time goes on, you’re going to see the MLS grow.”

Along with talent, a well-known and respected work ethic and popular image, Beckham’s wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Adams, and their children have also been brought into the spotlight. Prior to the Beckham family’s arrival to the United States, a short-lived reality show based on the Beckhams’ life including the rest of the family was already in the works.

Wahl said those who watched those shows and see the family in the entertainment media and constantly in the social spotlight has brought awareness to the MLS and is a big start in the development of fans; however, whether these people are in the for the long-term is up in the air.

At this point, the ultimate Beckham effect is still unknown. We do believe Beckham will have a prominent effect on soccer but will take him and serious effort from him. He will have to dedicate these next four seasons on putting out some amazing performances and hope that his name and image do the rest. For the most part though, Beckham has done much already in bringing prominence to the beautiful game on the home front. As for the social aspect, the Beckhams have definitely grabbed attention and have gone Hollywood.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Taylor has left a lasting impression

Prominent athletes losing their lives unexpectedly have affected many sports and their teams greatly throughout history. Many remember the career of Loyola Marymount basketball player Hank Gathers, whose death occurred in 1990. Two years ago, New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle lost his life after flying his plane and crashing into a New York City apartment complex. But few athletes that can attest to the kind of career Sean Taylor has had. He was one of the greatest defensive backs to play at the University of Miami and was a Pro Bowl selection in the NFL. His life was tragically cut short after being shot during a home invasion robbery. Taylor died on Nov. 27, 2007, at age 24. His legacy lives on with his family, friends, fans and many others he has touched throughout his career.

Taylor, a Miami native, was one of the top high school football recruits after a stellar season Guilliver Prepartory School. He then took his superior talents to Miami, where he became an All-American selection, Conference defensive player of the year award winner and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back every year. Playing a great junior season was enough for Taylor to enter his name in the 2004 NFL Draft. The Washington Redskins took Taylor with their No. 5 overall pick in hopes he would become one of the most feared defensive players in the game. He would sign a five year, $18 million dollar deal with the team but troubles would begin after his contract was finalized.

Skipping a mandatory NFL rookie seminar was the beginning of Taylor’s problems. He then was charged with a DUI but the charge was later dismissed in 2004. Following this he was several times during the season by playing dirty and making late hits after the whistle was blown. In 2005, he was accused of armed assault after reportedly brandishing a gun at a man following a dispute at Taylor’s home. He later pleaded no contest to the two misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 18 months probation. Eventually Taylor would be able to get his NFL career on track.

In his rookie season, Taylor would finish second on the team in interceptions with four in addition to 89 tackles, two forced fumbles and one sack. The next season, Taylor would follow up with similar numbers but a little bit down from his first season in the league. In 2006, Taylor had an off-year but was still named to the Pro Bowl squad. It would not be until a year later that Taylor turned it all around. He was named one of the hardest hitters by Sports Illustrated and was tied for the most interceptions in the league before his untimely death. The league had begun to feel the impact of Taylor on the NFL and the Redskins but it would short-lived.

Taylor’s death sent shock waves across the media and those directly involved with the NFL. His game was finally starting to emerge as one of the best and his family had become a huge part of his life. Before the 2007 season, Taylor’s life changed dramatically because of the birth of his then 18-month-old daughter, Jackie, who had become a major force in his life. His game and improvement could be seen through his change in his personal life and people were beginning to forget the thug image he had embodied for such a long time.

With Taylor gone, those in the media close to the Redskins and those who follow the NFL have all consistently agreed that Taylor’s affect on the game has been unique and distinct.

Will Allensworth, a loyal Redskins fan and blogger on the Web site, wrote a narrative on Sean Taylor following his death. He believes that Taylor was a once in a lifetime type player that affected not only the culture of the Skins but of the NFL.

“He was the unique type of player that could turn a loss into a win on his own. He gave our defense an attitude and a sense of purpose and I think all teams both benefit and need players like that to succeed,” Allensworth said in an e-mailed interview. “He really was a special, once in a lifetime caliber competitor.”

On an NFL level, Allensworth knows that the league and its fan will never forget what Taylor brought to the gridiron every Sunday.

“I think the impact is enormous because he was such a phenomenal football player that represented what many fans love about the game; big hits as a result of Sean's uncompromising passion for providing them,” Allenswroth said. “His on-field legacy will be that of a guy who played the game in the right kind of way; incoming NFL players can watch his highlights and immediately recognize that Sean Taylor exemplified the way the game should be played.”

Alex Marvez, a senior writer for, who wrote his piece “Taylor was starting to figure the game out,” on Nov. 27 2007, believes that the former Miami star was turning into the player many envisioned him to be when he was lost but also a responsible young person.

“He was one of the NFL's top young players and a human highlight reel based upon his hard-hitting style of play. But Sean also was someone who, by all accounts, was starting to mature into a responsible young man,” Marvez said in an e-mailed interview. “He could have been a role model for young players who got into trouble early but ultimately turned their lives around.”

Marvez also insists that Taylor’s death was more unsettling because of the way it happened compared to the deaths of other athletes in the past.

“What separated Taylor's death from the others was how it transpired. This was a young man trying to defend himself and his family from a home invasion that, sadly, had roots to family members who knew the intruders,” Marvez said. “That is a true tragedy.”

One tragedy is hard to compare to another said Charles Robinson, a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports, who wrote a piece on the many burglaries occurring with athletes on Nov. 28, 2007.

“I think it's hard to compare the death of one athlete to another, but anytime someone loses their life as a victim of a crime - rather than an accident or something more natural - it creates a more elaborate outpouring of emotion. The deaths of Gathers and Lidle were viewed as both tragic and preventable, but they were also deaths that we could learn to cope with because there was some sense of reasoning behind them. We knew why they happened,” Robinson said in an e-mailed statement. “But in Taylor's case, there will always be an element of anger and questioning, because we can easily point the finger. In effect, we can easily look at someone and hold them responsible. The fact that Taylor died because of someone else's choice is what makes it more jarring and emotionally difficult to deal with.”

Robinson also agrees that Taylor has left a legacy for his performances on the field but eventually the game will move on without him despite him trying to become a positive individual.

“Without a doubt, Taylor has left a legacy in both Washington and Miami in terms of the way he played and the standard he set on the field. But in reality, that will fade,” Robinson said. “In a perfect world, we'd look at Taylor and his legacy would be to teach players (and maybe even fans) the fragility of their careers and lives, and help them to embrace every moment they are given. But that's not likely.”

Taylor was a player that did not deserve to be taken away. However his legacy has served as a way to educate the NFL and its future on how tragedies shape the way teams do things now and how great of a player he had become. His game was certainly one that was distinct and should last through many more lifetimes. His legend will continue despite being taken away from the game he loved early in his life. Time will tell if this indeed is the case.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Summitt is a major player in women’s sports

An NCAA championship is seen as the ultimate accolade for college coaches. Winning more than one is something very few can brag about as it almost never happens. But Tennessee women’s head basketball coach Pat Summitt can claim eight championships, the most in women’s college basketball, including back-to-back titles in the past two seasons. Additionally, Summitt has 983 career wins, which makes her the winningest coach in college basketball history ahead of Hall of Fame coaches like Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.

Despite the awards and recognition, Summitt seems to take a backseat at times to many athletes in the history of women’s sports such as Serena and Venus Williams, Billy Jean King, Marion Jones, Danica Patrick and Lisa Leslie. Summitt has done much to improve and grow the visibility of women’s college basketball. Although Summitt is not quite a household name, she has not risen to the level of fame of those athletes because of her low key and humble demeanor and because she is a coach and not an athlete. She has been able to establish herself as one of the best coaches in the profession but has not been a prominent marketer but more concerned about her program and her players. With her success in winning games and championships, she should have even greater recognition than she has received at this point. She has improved the image for the women’s game in the media and it has spread the popularity across the nation. However, it is safe to say that women’s basketball would not be where it is today if not for her.

Since beginning her career as head coach at the age of 22, Summitt has enjoyed tremendous success with the Volunteers. She has won numerous awards, including being a seven-time recipient of the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Coach of the Year awards in addition to leading her team to 14 conference championships. To put her in context with another basketball legend, Summitt surpassed John Wooden’s former record of 13 Final Four appearances in 2001-2002. To date, her team has made the semi-finals of NCAA tournament 18 times. Summitt also proudly institutes a strong policy of her players receiving an education and has been able to boast a near perfect graduation rate for all her players since her time as coach. Her illustrious career has seen little error and has been unmatched by many in the field, whether it be in the women’s or men’s game.

Several of those in the coaching and media seemed to share the same sentiments about Summitt and the strides she has made in advancing women’s athletics.

“I think (Summitt) is a very influential person,” said University of La Verne women’s basketball head coach Julie Kline in an e-mailed interview. “Her involvement is the community is admirable, her ability to lead young people is evident, and her willingness to speak in so many different forums and her professional achievements make her very influential.”

Kline also insists that she has set the standards very high and does not go away from them which set her apart in being very successful in their profession.

“She is a role model for other coaches to follow. Success is measured in many different ways, not just in wins and losses. There is a bigger picture with athletics and she gets it,” Kline said.

Mike Strange, a sports columnist for the Knox News Sentinel in Knoxville, Tenn., wrote a column on April 5, 2007 about Summitt’s achievements being unmatched in the world of sports.

“I would have to say she is one of the most influential women in sports at this time,” Strange said in an e-mailed interview. “Summitt has been constant for more than two decades. She won her first NCAA title in 1987 and is still going strong.”

Strange also thinks that Summit’s values and traits have been a big part of what she has been able to establish on her teams.

“Discipline and intensity have been trademarks of her own background,” Strange said. “That certainly toughened her up and she demands those commitments from her players. Tennessee will rarely be outworked. Defense and rebounding are byproducts of hard work and they are the basis of her program.

John Shearer, a contributing writer for the, a newspaper based in Tennessee, wrote about Summit’s rise to the top in his article on April 6, 2007.

“It doesn’t surprise me that she became such a great coach,” Shearer told me on Tuesday. “I think she was a real good player and has good leadership. She was kind of born to be a coach.”

Shearer also agrees with the notion that Summitt has been instrumental in raising women’s sports to another level.

“I definitely rank her as one of the giants in women’s sports,” Shearer said. “She has been real good as far as gaining popularity for the sport.”

As a coach, Summitt has done a lot for not just women’s college basketball but for women’s sports in general. Many years ago, the national media would not even care to cover women’s basketball let alone other sports. Now, because of her longevity and success at such a high level, Summitt has set an example of what it takes to take women’s sports to new heights. The respect for her in the sports industry is enormous and for good reason. Just on her prestige and name alone, women’s college basketball has received much more media attention, new fans and much more visibility to the public. She has led the way for women’s sports to continue to grow into the next decade with her contributions to college basketball and eagerness to speak on different issues facing the advancement of women’s sports. Undoubtedly, this makes Summitt a major player for women’s sports now and in the future even though her fame has not reached a high level just yet.

Friday, May 2, 2008

College Athletes deal with MySpace, Facebook

Facebook and MySpace are two social networking sites that almost every college student is familiar with. We both have accounts with the sites and actively use them. The reasons why we have profiles are to keep us connected with friends and most importantly, it’s fun. The sites allow us to see personalities of our friends and get to know more about them. Today, with the help of these sites, we are also able to hear news about people and events, updates on friends, get information about the current political race and hear about new movies and music all on these sites. As students, and Galo, as an athlete, have to be cautious with what is posted and what the information on each site is revealed because you never know who could be reading it.

Anything that can be written, indirectly said or visually understood could be taken the wrong way or be shown in a negative light. Albums posted that display pictures last weekend’s party or a message that discriminates against pupils or even personal moods can all give a sense of student-athlete that is fine for most but it could object others. The way someone is perceived online today is what people take you for many times in real life, especially for college student-athletes.
They have to be cautious not only for there own appearance and for the reputation of the school, but they have to be aware of the repercussions of having fans and what they may do as a result of athletes having a social networking site profile.

In his article “Vulgarity and taunting by college fans. How much is too much?” published on Feb. 26 in Sports Illustrated, writer Grant Wahl touches on the subject of college basketball athletes and the negative interaction with fans through Facebook.

“It seemed like this year had been on of the ugliest years with fan behavior,” Wahl said.
In his article he mentions an incident with an Indiana player who changed his commitment from playing at Illinois and choosing Indiana instead which sparked threatening messages not only through e-mail, but on the athlete’s Facebook profile.

“What's more, the popularity of social-networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace has made college athletes and their personal information far more accessible to the public, especially if the athletes are naive when it comes to, say, posting compromising photos of themselves or accepting friend requests from strangers,” Wahl said in his article.

Wahl said in our interview that through these social networking sites, the athletes are opening themselves up on a personal level to strangers and the unruly fans.

As for fixing the problem, Wahl said a solution is the education of the student-athletes by their schools, which some schools have done.

“Athletes will get smarter,” Wahl said.

As for regulating the use of these sites, it seems like each school will make their own policies rather than the NCAA creating a policy, Wahl said.

“In this case, I think they (NCAA) will leave it up to the individual schools,
Wahl said.

The use of these social networking sites is widespread among most, maybe even all universities and colleges throughout the nation, and even internationally. They are popular, and students use them for various reasons.

“I think this is just a part of life with college students,” Wahl said.

So why has something that is a part of college life become negative? For us, we have concluded that it is up to the discretion of the users. Putting information about your life is up to the author, but there also has to be a realization that for anyone, not just college athletes, the information is opening a door for potential negativity and danger.

These possible dangers are what has many schools across the nation worried and what San Diego Union Tribune writer Brent Schrotenboer explains is part of the reason why these athletes get in trouble with these networking Web sites. Schrotenboer has covered this story in his own article, “College Athletes Caught in Tangled Web,” which was published May 24, 2006.

“(College) athletes are in the public eye more in the average student,” Schrotenboer said in an e-mail interview. “Universities also want to protect them from unwanted advances from strangers or would-be agents, which are easier to do in the digital with these social networking sites.”
He also believes that universities and colleges will continue to track the situation with their athletes to ensure some kind of control over what is exposed online.

“Schools that want to avoid being reactive to a potentially embarrassing situation try to be proactive by setting a policy that either limits or bans student-athlete use of these sites,” Schrotenboer said.
Marco Pineda, a former Division I student-athlete at Gonzaga University, said that he was always told to be aware of what he posts and writes on his online profiles.

“There were a lot of times I was told to not post things that are related to alcohol or drug use,” Pineda said, who played tennis and now coaches at Gonzaga. “Just being pictured at parties and things go on behind you could make a connection to you.”
Pineda believes athletes need to be conscious of what they allow to be visible on their profiles for their own safety and peace of mind.

“If there is something out there you don’t want anyone to see, don’t post it,” Pineda said, who also has both a Facebook and MySpace account. “College athletes are held to such higher standards by many so they are always being watched because they are in the spotlight.”

To remedy this situation, both Pineda and Schrotenboer offer ways for student-athletes and schools to protect themselves.

“I’d say the safest and fairest way is to set a policy warning student-athletes that if certain team policy violations are evidenced online, then they will be held accountable,” Schrotenboer said.

“There should be some restrictions and guidelines but every student-athlete should be able to have these accounts,” Pineda said.

From a legal perspective, experts believe that schools have every right to restrict their athletes from their involvement with social networking sites. Because of their pledge to be part of the team, they are not granted the same rights as other college students.

“As a general rule, (colleges and universities) are allowed to do restrict their student-athletes,” said Deborah Zexter, an attorney and part time instructor at the University of La Verne. “To be on the team and play for the school, they are allowed to give these types of restrictions.”

“It’s basic contract law,” said Justin Janzen, an attorney and also a part time instructor at La Verne. “When student-athletes sign the contract to be part of the team, it overrules the basic amendment laws.”

In the end, the best way these institutions can protect themselves and their student-athletes is to set a policy that is strict but still allows them to use these networking sites. It will be very difficult to get them to stop using it all together. With a signed contract or agreement, schools and athletes can both get what they want, which is decreasing the chance of embarrassment while still being accessible on these Web sites. Yet, every school and student-athlete is different, so the way cases may be handled will vary. However there is no doubt that is problem will continue to arise for colleges and universities and its athletes if there is nothing done to contain potential trouble for both parties involved.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Politics should have no place in the Olympics

The 2008 summer Olympics Games in Beijing are coming whether some people like it or not. It seems like some people are pushing to get their voices heard while others are simply trying to make a statement. The biggest concerns being raised by those who are trying to insert politics into the upcoming Games. Though the Olympics have been a forum for political exhibitions throughout the course of history.

Back in 1936, African American athlete Jesse Owens put to rest Hitler’s vision of Aryan rule over the world by winning four gold medals when Germany hosted the Games. American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their own stance when they gave a black power salute at the 1968 Games in Mexico. Boycotts began to take a place in the Olympics when in 1980, the United States decided to not participate in the Games after the host nation Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan while the Communist nation followed suit in the 1984 when Los Angeles held them.

Demonstrations are now taking place for the upcoming Games in August, most notably those in London, Paris and San Francisco. In the Bay Area, there were many concerns for the torch, which included previous demonstrations atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Protestors posted large flags and banners with the words, “Free Tibet” in reference to China’s strict human rights policy in their country.

These political outrage and demonstrations are beginning to take the spotlight away from the Games with the opening ceremony not even due to start for another four months. Many countries have been able to adopt their policies and change laws because of demonstrations and protests in the past. However at some point there must be some restraint and realization that the point of the Olympics is to showcase the best athletes in the world and not put political agendas on display.

Most journalists and others who have investigated the situation of politics in the Olympics are somewhat split on the sentiment that politics are continuingly taking away from the true nature of the Games.

“In democratic countries, people have a right to voice their opinion,” Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times columnist said in an e-mailed interview. “Human-rights organizations and other groups want the maximum publicity for their causes, and they know that the Olympics are watched by billions of people, so these groups latch onto the Olympics to achieve widespread dissemination of their message.”

Scott Herhold, a writer for the San Jose Mercury News, who wrote his opinion piece, “Olympic Games always have been about the Politics” on April 10, offers that political involvement in the Gamges is almost unavoidable at this point.

“As they're set up now, it's inescapable,” said Herhold in an e-mailed interview. “I could see a different kind of Games -- a much less nationalistic kind -- which might be less given to politics. But that would be a much different event.”

Herhold insists that the Games site is also a major draw for the host country to show their power and stature in the world.

“Athens organized the ’04 games to show the world its abilities,” Herhold said. “And it's particularly important to the Chinese, who have emerged as a world power to rival the U.S. and Europe.”

Amy Spiro, a contributing writer to the and Washington Square News, wrote her article “Olympics never about the politics,” on Monday puts forth the notion that the Games do indeed take away from the athletes.

“When you make the game about politics is most certainly detracts from the pure purpose of the game, which is athletic competition,” Spiro said in an e-mailed interview. “If the 2008 games becomes solely about China's treatment of Tibet (not an unimportant story by any stretch of the imagination) then who is really going to remember the incredible achievements made by athletes in every divisions?”

On the other hand, Kevin Spitz, a writer for the Daily Illini, the college newspaper for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champne, published in his column, “Ditch the politics, champion the athletes,” on April 10, that politics should be ignored but it does not take away from the athletes.

“Politics do not necessarily take that away from happening,” Spitz said in an e-mailed interview. “I think politics can be present, and the spirit of the games can live on.”

With the protests on hand, there has to be some indication on whether this will be a continuing trend into the Games.

Graham Messner, a local columnist for, writes that the boycotts and protests will continue and take away from the spirit of what are the Olympics.

“I do think the Olympics make it easy for protest because there are too many cameras and too many members of the media to record any type of effort to punish such actions by the hosting country,” Messner said in an e-mailed interview. “It’s the perfect environment for a protestor.”

Others like Garrett Cleverly, a writer for the Arizona State Web Devil site, who wrote his piece, “Keep politics out of the Olympics,” on April 8, insists that China will take the precautionary steps to keep the protests at a minimum before the Games begin.

“I think China will do the bare minimum to clean up its act,” Cleverly told me on Tuesday. “They will do what they need to do to look favorable to other countries. But it’s only a temporary solution to a major problem and once the Games are over, it will go back to the way it was before.”

In her column “U.S. athletes grapple with China human-rights issues,” Elliott found that many U.S. athletes are focusing primarily on the training for the athletic competitions rather than getting involved in the political situations including the China’s link to violence in Darfur.

“Any athlete who feels compelled to speak out should be able to do so. Those who don't, should not feel they have to,” Elliott said.

Elliott, in her column said, athletes are being asked to look beyond their events and to look at the political issues at hand which may be hard for the young athletes to understand.

“There are some very young athletes (gymnasts, swimmers, etc., who may be only 16) and are not very aware of the world around them,” Elliott said.

Elliott was able to speak to the U.S. Olympic committee spokesman, Darryl Seibel who said American athletes can comment on the issues, but there are rules that they must follow, referring specifically to Rule 51 in the Olympic charter.

The charter, which can be found online, states that Rule 51 enforces that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other sites.”

In her column, Elliott spoke to notable Olympic athletes including swimmer Michael Phelps who said he is mostly focused on preparing for the games.

However, on the other hand, Elliott spoke to U.S. softball player Jessica Mendoza who is a member of Team Darfur.

“There are other athletes whose way of preparing for their events involves becoming very concentrated and narrowly focused so as not to be distracted by outside events,” Elliott said. “Nothing wrong with that. Plus, I think that many athletes right now are still worried about making the Olympic team. Once they have made the team they may feel more relaxed about discussing human-rights issues.”

As for protesting at the games this summer, Elliott said demonstrations will probably be stopped quickly before anything can happen.

“I think that people will try to stage protests but that the Chinese government will have a heavy police presence and will quash anything as soon as it starts,” Elliott said.

To this point, China has still not taken the steps to improve their vows to improve human rights, pollution and press freedom. The government has made vague statements about efforts to help the cause of human rights and has done little to improve relations with foreign media that will be covering the Games. Although, China has spent over $20 billion over the last decade to improve air quality and minimize pollution. Despite the environmental improvements, not enough is being done to address all the other issues.

The current political demonstrations, protests and boycotts are starting to be overdone and disrespectful to the athletes who have trained all their lives for sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity. Granted, China certainly has many things to consider as the countdown to the start of the Games continues. But, that does not give these other protestors that trying to advocate for human rights or change policies the right to disgrace their country’s athletes for their own personal beliefs.

The Olympics have not even started and already there is much more news about the not about the actual sporting events then there should be. The only thing that can change this is China making a clear stance and protestors beginning to back up and letting up a bit because it is needed. Many athletes are focused on the competition that is at hand, rather than focusing on the issues. They cannot be blamed for this because the Olympics is what they train and work for. The political issues have caused a stir for the games, but there is no room for politics on the greatest athletic stage in the world despite all of the incidents in the past because in the end it is all about ultimate athletic achievement.

Sport salaries get out of control

With the U.S. economy on the verge of a recession, salaries for professional athletes seemed not to have faltered. Today many contracts in sports are among the most recognizable and illustrious because of their dollar amount. In 2001, superstar major leaguer Alex Rodriguez signed the biggest contract in sports history when he netted a 10 year, $252 million dollar deal with the Texas Rangers. After being dealt to the Yankees in 2004, Rodriguez resigned with New York for an unprecedented 10 years, $274 million dollars. Single handily, Rodriguez is making more money than some countries make in a year. The ironic thing is that currently the second highest salary belongs to Rodriguez’s teammate, Derek Jeter, who makes nearly $19 million playing for the pinstripes in the Bronx. Despite these large sums of money, spectator sports make very little compared to the rest of the economic market and salaries of illustrious sports figures do not make much of a difference either.

“Spectator sports contributed less than $40 billion to the gross domestic product last year, or less than 0.3 percent. If you look at the sports salaries only, their share of GDP will be even less, basically of no statistical significance,” said Julius Walecki, professor of economics at the University of La Verne in a e-mailed interview. “In other words, you could either double or totally eliminate those salaries and the national economy would almost feel no difference.”

Still, inflated paychecks for athletes will be a continuing trend in the future. It is simply the way many organizations in their respective leagues do business. They thrive on profiting for their players, athletes or teams by marketing them with television, endorsement, marketing deals in addition to the revenue they make from ticket sales, apparel and other memorabilia.

“It's probably not a good trend at all, and we may not like that for different reasons, but at the same time the laws of supply and demand work rather well here,” Walecki said. “There's simply not enough supply of talented players and quite a bit of demand, so the prices of salaries will continue to go up.”

Yet, with so many athletes being paid so much these days, there must be some discontent with how salaries are being paid to these high priced athletes. Part of the reason may be the agent or representation for these athletes who continue to pitch and sell their clients. Another reason is that there are stronger and more gifted athletes than there was 50 years ago. The biggest reason though is that the sports industry is a multi-billion dollar business. It generates millions for teams and athletes but even more companies, sponsors and other with significant investments to sporting events. Still, mostly the superstar athletes are the ones that setting the standard for the best paid athletes as opposed to those learning less.

The average salaries for athletes in the various sports differ but in most, there are minimum salary guarantees that vary by sport when contracts are signed. In 2006, salaries in Major League Baseball rose nine percent from a year before, to a little over $2.6 million according to an Associated Press report. In other sports, particularly the main four (MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL) there are similar minimum contract deals, which are usually $1 million or more. However, all of these leagues have salary caps in place, which basically limit how much a team can spend on players. The point of the cap is to keep overall costs down in the league and to not allow one team with more money to dominate the sport. If owners do overpay, they often will have to pay the league back with their own funds.

Still teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have no trouble paying their players and are always in competition to outbid the other for the services of the best player available. In the case of Rodriguez, both teams pursued a trade for him while on the Rangers in which both teams would have been able to extend his contract once it was over. Financial security is one of the biggest things pro athletes strive for when they first enter their respective leagues. Whether they are drafted, signed as a free agent or traded, they are always seeking for that sense of stability with their contracts. GOOD!

Yet it seems that many of these athletes are grossly overpaid and even undeserving at times of what they receive. Several players after they are signed are never the same or fail to maintain their play or improve because they settle down and stop trying. Others seem to just be bad investments when teams throw them huge amounts of money. For example, San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito is set to make $18 million this season as part of his seven year, $126 milllion dollar deal signed in 2007. After an underachieving season last year, Zito currently has an ERA over six and has lost both of his starts in this early season. In contrast, Rodriguez has been a perennial AL MVP award winner and Triple Crown threat ever since he put on a Yankees uniform.

Obviously, there are some athletes that fit the billing of their salaries and many others that fall short. But, the question of whether athletes are overpaid for what they do compared to many others in society that risk their lives including firefighters, police officers and emergency workers as well as doctors, lawyers and scientists.

Some close to the sports industry still maintain that there is some reason to pay players like A-Rod huge amounts of money and others reasons to not. Kevin Kaduk, who writes for the Big League Stew blog on Yahoo! Sports, recently compared how much Rodriguez makes in one season to the payroll of the 2008 Florida Marlins. However, Kaduk believes that high priced athletes are just part of the economic side of sports and capitalism.

“On one hand, the players are getting paid an awful lot of money just to play a game. On the other, they're also bringing in millions and millions of dollars for the men who own the team,” Kaduk said in an e-mailed interview. “The owners wouldn't be paying it if they couldn't afford it.

Brad Rock, a writer for Deseret Morning News, in Salt Lake City, Utah, shared similar sentiments in his article, “Athletes are not worth their wages,” on May 31, 2006. Rock turns to the fact that athletes are being paid because of their image and ability.

“Athletes are overpaid because it's a matter of supply and demand. The demand for great athletes is great, their potential to generate revenue is high, so they are a valuable commodity,” Rock said in an e-mailed interview. “Most skills can be learned. But at the pro level in sports, some of it is simply genetics. You can't "learn" how to play in the NBA, just because you want to be there. You either have the talent/size or you don't.”

And with sports salaries beginning to reach astronomical numbers, both Kaduk and Rock predict they will increase in the future.

“I don't see any reason why it would slow down,” Kaduk said. “While our country is facing a downturn in the economy, we haven't seen that trickle down to professional sports yet. I think people almost really see this as a life staple and not a luxury, anymore.”

“I think salaries will continue to rise,” Rock said. “Although most team owners say there is a breaking point, I think there would simply be fewer teams if salaries got too high for some owners.”

Overall, sports salaries are something to watch. It indicates how much attention and money these corporations, business sponsors and other entities are putting in the professional ranks. It is also an indication of our culture and how much we want to pay to see the best athletes in action. If owners know they can get fans to come watch the best athletes play, they will pay top dollar for them and hope to make millions more in profit from fans, companies and other financial investments made. The fact of the matter is that the industry is making tons more money than what athletes are making. But if the meter keeps going up, it is almost certain that sports salaries could get out of control eventually.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pacman deserves another life

Over the years professional athletes and their run-ins with the law have become all too common. More than headline news, many of them often end up facing prison sentences and punishments brought down by the court. In recent memory, one of the most controversial decisions was over NFL quarterback Michael Vick who signed a plea agreement, which stated that he helped organized a dog fighting ring and killed dogs on his property. For his actions Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and three years’ probation. For his actions, Vick was suspended indefinitely from the NFL and will remain ineligible to play until his release from prison in October 2009.

Although Vick’s crimes, which included fighting and killing dogs, are inhumane and appalling, the rap sheets for many other prominent athletes are just as bad. For example, the most notable, timely and newsworthy is the possible reinstatement of another troubled athlete is that of the Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. The former University of West Virginia standout was the sixth overall pick of the Titans back in 2005. The Titans were not afraid to take a risk on drafting Jones, making him the first defensive player taken that year but that was despite brushes with the law in high school and college.

Shortly after being picked in April 2005, Jones’ troubles started with an altercation in a nightclub in July for which he was arrested for assault and vandalism. A year later, Jones was arrested again in Georgia, this time on a drug charge of marijuana although charges were eventually dismissed. Then in October, Jones was cited for a misdemeanor charge in Tennessee following an incident of spitting in the face of a female student a club.

However the most controversial event of all his legal affairs would occur during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in February 2007. Jones was the center of an investigation where he was involved in a strip club fight and shooting that resulted in three victims, one who was paralyzed. Witnesses claimed that Jones started the brawl after beating strippers near the bar of the club and that his entourage being involved in the shootings. Then earlier this year, Pacman continued to go out with his posse as they visited an Atlanta strip club where he allegedly punched a stripper in the face.

Following the events in Las Vegas, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Jones for a full season. Pacman tried be re-evaluated and reinstated into the league before the Super Bowl. After being unsuccessful with that attempt, Pacman will try to make himself available to teams before the upcoming NFL Draft in April. Yet with a consistent knack for getting in trouble, there is still a chance that Pacman could spend another season at home.

Still, some in the sports media believe Pacman will get another chance soon. Among them is LZ Granderson, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and contributor to, who wrote about troubled African American athletes in his article “Danger of Street Cred,” on Dec. 4 2007.

“Pacman Jones should be reinstated because those are the rules the NFL stipulated,” Granderson said in an e-mailed interview. “Now, with that being said, I feel he should be required to meet with an NFL official on a regular basis because he's proven to be a man of poor judgment.”

A different sentiment was expressed by Tim Dahlberg, a national sports columnist for the Associated Press, who wrote a piece “‘Pacman’ deserves a lifetime NFL ban,” on June 20, 2007.
Dahlberg believes all the details have not been disclosed yet but that Pacman will eventually go down the wrong path again.

“He may deserve a second chance, but not until he comes clean about the shooting in Vegas, which he hasn't,” Dahlberg said in an e-mailed interview. “Just in short, I think Pacman will eventually get in trouble again because he has a history of ignoring warnings and taunting authority.”
From a coaching perspective, University of La Verne football head coach Andy Ankeny maintained that if Jones stayed out of trouble during his time out of the NFL that he should get another chance.

“As long as he kept his nose clean when he was suspended, he deserves another opportunity,” Ankeny told me on Tuesday.

Yet, he believes that the next team that takes him on must be cautious and lay down the rules for his conduct, which if violated might force him of the league once and for all.

“The head coach that takes him has to set aside strong expectations for him and set aside a policy that if you do this, you are done,” Ankeny said. “With his opportunity, he does not have a margin of error.”

Pacman has certainly been a headache to the NFL, the public and especially law enforcement agencies. However, there have also been glimpses recently of Jones getting his life together and trying to make his return to the NFL work. He is in shape and has been pleading through his attorney to get back in the league. Obviously, this seems like a case of a wealthy, spoiled young millionaire who splurged, partied and hung out with the wrong crowd.

Now with the potential of never playing in the NFL again, Jones has to get his act together or he could be out of the only job that he has known. In his defense, Jones has shown a side that many do not know and that has often been overshadowed by his off the field troubles. Among them is donating money to the 100 Club, a foundation in Tennessee that supports families of emergency services. He also reached out to a local Nashville high school that was trying to raise money after losing one of their football players in a car crash. Later, he was involved in giving money so Nashville police officers and firefighters can acquire new uniforms.

Despite his history of troubles, Jones should get one final chance by the NFL and whichever that decides to take a gamble on him. When he has played, he has been an asset to that organization on the field but not so much off the field yet. With many legal troubles, Jones should be condemned for his actions but I believe he may have learned his lesson because he has tried to stay out of trouble and the spotlight recently. He knows that this may be the only opportunity he gets to redeem himself and get back into his sport. Should he violate his agreement as an NFL player again, the game could be all over for Pacman.

Friday, April 4, 2008

College sports betting is needed

The worlds of sports gambling and college sports have almost become synonymous over the years because of their interaction. There is no doubt of a connection between two, especially during the college football bowl seasons but it resonates especially during the time known as March Madness, which is the men’s Division I college basketball tournament.

An astounding 37 million people are expected to participate in pools, or wagering with bracket picks amongst one another for cash and prizes, according to an estimate by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a job counseling firm in Chicago. On the Internet, people are engaged in pools as well. As many as 200,000 pools have been created on Facebook reaffirming the popularity of the tournament with wagering and betting on March Madness.

These pools in turn help to increase the popularity for college basketball, the NCAA and its respective teams and organizations. However, the question is whether the wagering and betting during March Madness is a problem for the game and the NCAA? Sure it generates money and popularity for all those involved, but does it harm the game?

With so much money on the line, there are concerns among many in the NCAA that student-athletes or others involved in the athletic departments of many schools may get involved in gambling. It violates NCAA policy, specifically article 10.3 of the Division I manual, which states, “Individuals shall not knowingly participate in sports wagering activities or provide information to individuals involved in or associated with any type of sports wagering activities concerning intercollegiate, amateur or professional athletics competition.”

This means student-athletes as well as athletic administrators and staff members cannot engage in filling out their own brackets for pools if there is a fee or any money involved.

There have been many incidents in the history of college basketball where players have thrown games or “shaved points” which decides games in their favors because of deals made with bookies or bettors. Historical events of gambling on college basketball include Florida guard Teddy Dupay who was linked to a gambling investigation which eventually ended his career in 2001. Four years earlier, two former Arizona State basketball players, Steven Smith and Issac Burton Jr. both pleaded guilty to a point-shaving scheme.

To compare these events to college basketball films, one of the first movies that come to mind is the 1994 release of “Blue Chips,” which starts Nick Nolte and Shaquille O’Neal. In the movie, Nolte plays the coach of a college basketball team but finds out one of his players was part of an alleged point-shaving incident with a booster of his basketball program. Nolte chooses for a while to keep the matter under wraps because it went unnoticed by governing parties like the NCAA and the conference. Also, an upcoming film to be released later this year, called “Boston College Point Shaving Case”, will investigate the dealings of Boston College basketball players who dealt with mafia in fixing games in the early 1980’s.

With so many incidents affecting the integrity of the game and many others that probably will never come out, there are questions if betting should even be allowed on college sports.

Many in the sports realm who follow gambling were able to give insights on this growing and possibly unstable problem.

Josh Peter, a writer for Yahoo! Sports recently published, “Betting Threat” on March 18, which investigates the link of gambling to student-athletes.

Peter believes that with the introduction of pools on the Internet, there is more concerns about what many college athletes may get into.

“Internet pools have contributed to the NCAA's concerns about athletes' involvement in gambling. Not so much because of the pools themselves, but because of the vast array of gambling opportunities available online,” Peter said in an e-mailed interview. “You no longer have to find a bookmaker, and you can place a wager even more discreetly. And that concerns the NCAA.”

With so much more accessibility, you may think the NCAA would look into Web sites like Facebook to try to deter some of these pools from happening. But Eric Benderoff, a technology reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who wrote an article, “Facebook sites face scrutiny for NCAA March Madness pools” on March 14, believes that the NCAA will not take action.

“I do not think the NCAA will get involved in enforcing illegal pools,” said Benderoff in an e-mailed interview. “Overall, I think the NCAA has a tremendously hypocritical attitude toward this. It's possible they may assist the Feds go after illegal gambling, but only if it involves student-athletes or perhaps people close to those athletes. Otherwise, they will continue to operate with blinders on.”

To see what some Division I schools were doing with March Madness coming up, I explored what was going on at Ball State University in Indiana. Kyle Shaner, the assistant sports editor of the BSU Daily Newspaper, published his article, “Gambling in polls prohibited,” on March 20 which offered insight on the situation at his school.

Shaner maintains that those close to the athletics department have made clear of the policy at the school and with the NCAA regarding gambling as he learned in his own article while interviewing a men’s tennis player.

“Joe Vallee, a men's tennis player at Ball State, said the team is reminded every year about the NCAA's no-gambling policy. The teams are reminded right before the NCAA basketball tournaments, he said,” Shaner said in an e-mailed interview. “Ball State informs all of its coaches and athletics staff and the reminders are then relayed to the teams. From what I've been told, the coaches are responsible for telling their players and they do that in person. So it appears that Ball State does remind its athletes and staff about the policies but it is not extremely vigilant and prying into the people's lives.”

Still, there is a consensus that even though gambling on sports like college basketball is a problem, it is needed for its continued stay of interest.

“I think gambling increases TV viewer ship, which in turn increases what networks can charge advertisers for airtime and what networks are willing to pay for broadcast rights,” Peter said.

“But gamblers who have wagered on the betting line are inclined to watch that game until the final horn.”

“I have no problem with the policy and it seems like members of the NCAA do not either,” Shaner said.

As long as student-athletes, staff and administrators refrain from betting on games, gambling on sports like college basketball should be here to stay. It is essential for people to be able to bet on sports, especially those in college because it’s part of the excitement during March Madness time. In the college ranks unlike the professional levels, there are surprises and many underdogs emerge. Anything can happen and people enjoy being able to make wagers on an engaging event like the NCAA tournament. In addition, a record high $228 million was wagered last year on college basketball around March Madness time which is not only good for the economy but good for the growth and popularity of the game. People enjoy the fact that they are able to make picks that can end up hurting them or bringing them glory depending on the outcome.

It is because of this that betting on college sports must continue but with a careful eye on student-athletes and those involved with many of these institutions. They must be able to be educated and held accountable if they are to break the policy and not adhere to the NCAA agreement they sign. It is a privilege to be an NCAA athlete and it does come with sacrifice. However, when your career is on the line and the prestige of your college is in the spotlight, there is no reason to disgrace yourself and your school. As for everyone else, they should also be wary of the kinds of bets placed because you never know what will happen when you risk it all. But for now, March Madness should continue to be fun for all those that can legally bet on it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

James has been more than just a prodigy

Sports prodigies can often be a hit or miss proposition. We can always look at athletes in the past for examples of this phenomenon. In tennis, we once saw a young Anna Kournikova take the women’s game by storm. However we soon found out that her looks were driving most of the hype and her game was anything but special. On the other end of the spectrum, Tiger Woods burst onto the scene winning major tournaments and improving his game even more. Woods became a sports icon and remains a prodigy not only just for his success on the course but for his affect on sports businesses.

Like Woods, LeBron James seemed bound to be more than just another superstar athlete. From his senior year in high school, ESPN televised James’s games live while he was playing for St. Vincent-Mary’s High School in Ohio. His name and reputation kept growing bigger as he entered his name into the 2003 NBA Draft, where he was chosen first overall by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.

James, only 18 at the time, went on to win the league’s rookie of the year award as well as many personal accolades. Recently he also became the youngest player in NBA history to score 10,000 career points, beating the likes of other young phenoms like Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets.

Yet, I was still not sure how LeBron stacks up against other sports prodigies and how much he has impacted the NBA.

Bill Wolfum, a writer and blogger for compared the impact and hype of James and female golfer Michelle Wie on their respective sports in on of his blogs. “I think the biggest difference between James and Wie are their maturity levels,” Wolfrum told me on Monday. “LeBron has had this natural maturity that he has been able to keep and it has been fun to watch.”

Wolfrum also believes Wie’s inability to handle the media and play well stands in contrast to James. “In Wie’s case, they could have done some things different but it’s really just not living up to the hype,” Wolfrum said. “From day one, LeBron was charming and funny. That just drew you to him. He played the phenom role perfectly because people had a lot of expectations and he has met those and exceeded them.”

In comparing other prodigies in the basketball realm, I spoke to Garrett Nakagawa, a basketball and recruiting analyst for, where he covers USC guard OJ Mayo. Mayo unlike James, was playing against high school varsity teams as a seventh grader because of his advanced game and a rule that allows younger athletes to compete against older competition in Kentucky. Mayo went on to play five more years as a varsity player for two high schools in Ohio and West Virginia before committing to USC in 2007.

Despite the obvious connections between each other, Nakagawa is careful to point out that Mayo and James are two different types of players. As a result, he believes the comparisons of being prodigies coming from high school highly favor James because of his abilities on the court.

“They are not very close at all,” Nakagawa said. “Coming out of high school, LeBron was physically mature and ready to play. Mayo just doesn’t have that in athleticism yet.”

Nakagawa also thinks that James is the best basketball prodigy he has seen thus far through the history of the game.

“He is easily at the top because in the very first year he came in (the NBA), he was physically ready to contribute,” Nakagawa said. “In my mind, that makes him the best to come out of high school and make the kind of impact he has.”

As far as that impact, James has not only affected the game of basketball on the court but off the court as well. His uncanny ability to endorse many products has only raised his reputation in the sports world according to Jake Appleman, a SLAM Online writer, who has written about the rise of LeBron James.

“He has the perfect combination of street-cred and PR savvy,” Appleman said in an e-mail interview. “You combine that with an off-court sense that mirrors his play on the court, in that he sees everything a few steps ahead of the game and you've got a marketer's dream.”

Indeed, with endorsement deals with Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck, James has transcended the sports advertising and marketing business by increasing profits and paving the way for other prodigies in the future.

While there are many prodigies that can be compared to LeBron but where does he really rank? That is where many of the sources are divided.

“He easily has to be in the top five,” Nakagawa said. “He is right there in front of Sidney Crosby of the NHL but behind Tiger Woods.”

“On par, LeBron is with Tiger,” Appleman said. “They both do things that nobody has before them and continue to set new ridiculous precedents.”

“I really don’t think you can compare (LeBron) and Tiger,” Wolfrum said. “Because Tiger has taken the golf to a level it’s never been before.”

In the end, the measuring stick for a prodigy is determined at least in part by the media, the public and the fans. In James’ case, he has been one of the most decorated figures in sports today.

At 22, he is still a prodigy because he is able to do things that many players could only dream about at such a young age and accomplish after decades in the NBA. Already, James has been able to carry his team to the NBA Finals, win the Eastern Conference title and be a contender for the league’s most valuable player award. James’ prodigy status is fueled by the massive endorsement deals he holds currently that are easily over $100 million a year which includes contracts for his own sneaker line, Sprite and Powerade campaigns and an exclusive deal with a trading card company.

I believe right now he is the second biggest sports prodigy only behind Woods but ahead of those like Crosby, Freddy Adu from the MLS and Andy Roddick of the ATP tennis circuit. His lasting impact on the game has become a worldwide effect because of the amount of products and reach he has right now. The scary part is that he has now reached his full potential yet because he is so young and should only become better as he gets older.

Still I think the best way to determine the prominence of a prodigy is by analyzing their field of sport. The NBA has never been the same because of James and will continue to advance much more because of his name. But in the world of sports prodigies, James has been able not only to affect the game with his amazing skill set but with his ability to have a lasting effect with his endorsements, visibility and image on the sports industry we know today.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Could Bush affect USC football history?

It happens to athletes at small colleges and universities across the nation. Many times it is due to boosters, agents, marketers or even family connections. However in the case of NFL star Reggie Bush and his alleged gifts at USC comes up, it’s an issue of national importance.

First, Bush is one of the most celebrated players in Trojan history as he led them to two national championships and became the seventh recipient of the Heisman Trophy in the school’s history. Secondly, the men of Troy have reigned as one of the best Pac-10 conference teams and a persistent national contender for the past six seasons.

As a result, Bush is still under fire for alleged agreements with a former colleague, Lloyd Lake and with San Diego businessman Michael Michaels. The controversy began on Apr. 23, 2006, when allegations surfaced that Bush’s family was living in a home belonging to Michaels in San Diego, which is considered an extra benefit and a clear violation according to NCAA policy.

Both Lake and Michaels joined in creating New Era Sports & Entertainment, a marketing company that intended to have Bush as their first client. However ties seemed to be strained when Bush allegedly broke an agreement to sign with New Era and found new representation before entering the 2006 NFL Draft.

On June 1, 2006, an FBI investigation was launched into a possible extortion scheme on behalf of Lake, Michaels and New Era. However Lake has claimed to have recorded conversations with Bush that could reveal that gifts were given to him and his family. Among the alleged gifts to Bush include over $300,000 in cash, rent and $12,000 car that is believed to be financed by Michaels.

More gasoline was poured on the fire when author Don Yeager released his book, “Tarnished Heisman” on Jan. 15 of this year. The book includes transcripts and claims made by Lake, in addition to alleged instances in which USC coaching personnel were involved with Bush and his potential link to extra benefits.

If any of these allegations are found to be true, Bush will surely be in trouble but what will happen to USC?

On May 2, 2006, head coach Pete Carroll told the Associated Press that he is not concerned that the program will face any penalties from the NCAA due to these allegations.
Yet with the ongoing probe by federal authorities in addition to independent investigations by the NCAA and the Pac-10 conference, there is still a chance that USC could face the repercussions of Bush’s actions. As a result, there could be a domino effect that results in both governing bodies setting forth penalties that could allow others like the Heisman committee to rescind their trophy they awarded Bush in 2005.

Still I investigated how many in the USC community like those close to the situation and others with outside knowledge would react if such a catastrophic after effect would occur from the Bush controversy.

Brandon Hancock, a teammate that shared the backfield as a full back with Bush in the 2003 and 2005 seasons at USC, offered that if the school did know about the alleged gifts it would be a black eye but he maintains that the program never suspected anything in his time there.

“I would be upset if there was knowledge on behalf of USC,” said Hancock, who received his master’s degree from USC in December 2007. “I would be disappointed in that regard but we never suspected any foul play or anything of that nature.”

Still, Hancock believes that does not take away from the achievements made by those national championship teams in 2003 and 2004. “They are not going to come to my house and take my ring away,” Hancock said. “It’s not going to take away from what we accomplished then.”

The same sentiments were emphasized by Adam Rose, a graduate of USC, who writes for his Los Angeles Times blog, “All Things Trojan.” Rose deems that it is improbable that the school will face any consequences on the behalf of its former star running back.

“I think it is very unlikely that USC will be sanctioned by the NCAA at this point,” Rose said. “I think the allegations are not really evidence and I believe USC knew nothing about it.”

Rose puts forth the notion that USC is in the same predicament as other schools have been in the past, such as Michigan, who had no knowledge of one of their own star players, Charles Woodson, receiving gifts while still at Ann Arbor.

But Rose thinks that the likelihood of USC having to rescind their national titles because of these investigations is very slim.

“It would be difficult for this to happen because A. there is no precedent for this, B. they don’t have method to do this and C. it is more of a headache than they want to deal with,” Rose said.

As for those bleeding cardinal and gold currently, many of them differ in feelings if USC was affected by potential sanctions. Junior Jeremy Hall thinks despite the allegations against Bush, his school was not aware of his dealings.

“I still don’t see anything USC knew about it,” Hall said. “There is no way that they can keep track of every player 24/7.”

But if the school does face punishment from governing bodies for its knowledge in this case?

“They can’t really complain about it,” Hall said. “It has happened to other schools so why should USC be any different?”

Although there is still reason to believe that Bush may have violated NCAA rules, USC should and probably will not face any penalties. Coach Carroll and entire athletics program at USC are very open and willing to help if they had any information. But clearly this is a situation between Bush and his former associated parties.

The school itself should not have to pay for Bush’s actions if he did in fact take gifts while still in college. I believe when it is all said and done the school will be found innocent of any wrong doing and put all this behind them. As for Bush, it remains to be seen how it will play out if he did in fact get involved in some shady practices while in a Trojan uniform.