Curbing Sports Agent Misconduct in an Evolving Industry


In this industry, everyone is a sleazeball and a loyal friend –it just depends who you’re talking to.  Drew Rosenhaus, one of the most well-known sports agents of all-time, currently represents over 170 clients but claims to have personal relationships with each one.  While I find this hard to believe, I would not question anything Rosehaus does or says that seems out of the ordinary.  Following the 2011 NFL Lockout, Rosesnhaus needed only 30 days to ink 90 deals totaling $600 million and earn an anticipated income of $18 million.  However, it is not all fame and fortune for sports agents.

 

The explosion in professional sports contracts equates to a similar rise in sports agent earnings, which are a percentage of a player’s total salary.  Therefore, the seemingly-lucrative sports agent industry has become filled with all different kinds of people and all sorts of problems.  Some agents are attorneys, while others could be high school dropouts.  Either way, they are both fighting for the elite group of talent that comes out of the college and enters the pros.  The NCAA, though, has not made things easy for sports agents or its student-athletes.  Current Bylaws and legislation surrounding sports agents are weak, rarely enforced, and in need of serious change to reflect the changing industry of professional sports.

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Save Tomorrow’s Leaders


When I was ten years old, the most technologically advanced video game systems I had were a PlayStation and a small Gameboy Color.  I spent hours killing things every week – but they were Pokemon and enemies of Crash Bandicoot.  And on TV, the only violence I saw was in Rocket Power or Hey Arnold.  If I wanted to see a movie that was rated R, it took a lot of sneaking around my parents’ movie cabinets to find the occasional movie and a few hours free in the living room to have a TV to watch it on.

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Now, young kids can access movies and see things that should be kept to a much older audience with the simple click of the mouse, or sometimes, the touch of their finger on an iPad.  TV shows are packed with violence and Call of Duty Xbox online chat rooms are full of kids half my age.  I am not saying that technological increases and the entertainment industry have poisoned our youth, but I do believe it has gone too far in contributing behavioral and educational difficulties in young kids—our leaders of tomorrow.  Since I only have 60 seconds, click this link and please read this recent study done by the Mayo Clinic highlighting all of the effects on kids and what we can all do to help.

I was happy as ever playing Math Blaster and Backyard Baseball on my computer as a kid—why is there all of a sudden such a desire to play video games full of violence?  This is a call to entertainment producers and video game creators to develop high-quality shows and games for our youth, a call to parents to encourage their kids to spend less time in front of screens and more time interacting with other humans, and most importantly, a call to each and every one of us to put the phone, video game controller, or iPad down and set a good example for our kids or younger brothers or sisters.  It is hard to make the world better for everyone with just one idea, but if we all strive to positively impact one person every day, the world will be a better place.

Million$ of Rea$on$ for the NCAA to Change Its Current Amateur Sports Organization Model : The 2010 UNC Football Scandal


Imagine being a highly-touted college football player and receiving offers of all-expenses paid trips to South Beach and keys to a Bentley?  You know it is illegal to accept the offers, but let’s think about what happens to you if you accept an offer like this from a sports agent or some other booster.  One scenario is that nobody finds out.  You dominate in your college career while living like a king, and then you go on to have a professional career and become a 22-year old millionaire.  This seems to be the perfect life, but someone will probably find out, right?  Well, even if they do, you will get kicked off the team and have your character questioned by NFL general managers.  Then, after sitting out for a year and just having to stay in shape for the NFL draft, these same GMs offer you your first payday worth more money than you could have ever dreamed about receiving.  Deciding whether or not to accept these gifts then seems to be the best ever “win-win” situation for the athlete—take the gifts!  If you do not believe this is reality, look no further than the 2010 University of North Carolina football agent scandal.

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This is a case of three players receiving significant amounts of gifts from sports agents while still students at North Carolina in 2010.  Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little gave every Chapel Hill resident reasons to believe in the UNC football team, until they took the gifts, and consequently took away this same hope.  The three players were found to have accepted items including, but not limited to, rent payments, travel expenses, thousands of dollars in accessories, leased Bentleys, and all expenses paid trips to South Beach.  All three players were dismissed from the team, and the University of North Carolina took a huge hit to their reputation.  The school also suffered direct and measurable penalties with fines, vacated wins, and loss of future scholarships.  However, all three players are currently on NFL rosters—Austin signed for totals of 4 years and $3,675,000, Quinn for 4 years and $9,436,053, and Little for 4 years and $3,327,500 (Fox Sports).  Clearly, there is some sort of problem with the system if a player can take these gifts and be “punished” with angry college alumni and the loss of a year of college eligibility before becoming multi-millionaires.

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While it seems the players made out just fine in the long run, it is clear that the NCAA needs to reevaluate its current business model when you consider that the situation experienced by these three student-athletes was not unique.  Under the current system, NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from accepting any compensation for their athletic prowess from people not associated with the student-athlete’s school.  This is because the NCAA maintains that the school athletic programs are “an integral part of the educational program” since student-athletes are a crucial part of the student body, therefore, creating an amateur model where the student-athletes can not be considered professionals.  Moreover, the NCAA is unlikely to ever forego their status as an amateur sports organization due to the tax breaks on the billions of dollars it generates through college athletics.  Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code provides a federal tax exemption for any entity that is created to exclusively operate for “religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition.”  Therefore, the NCAA just does not care if, in this case, the North Carolina football program takes a hit to their reputation and a few student-athletes are put in a difficult spot, so long as the NCAA officials and universities are financially better off.

In order to put this in perspective, it is important to realize the magnitude of the money that is on the table for all of the different characters who are involved.  The NCAA enjoys approximately $650 million in revenue per year just from television and marketing fees, championship games, and investment fees and services.  Individual universities and colleges also make significant amounts of money from their athletic programs.  In the 2010 season alone, seven college football teams generated net revenue over $38 million, with only 4 out of 124 programs losing money.  In addition, reports estimate that alumni donations increase significantly as a result of successful sports programs.  On average, each team that makes the NCAA basketball tournament field of 68 teams receives an increase in alumni donations of $450,000, but this number can be much greater.  After winning back-to-back NCAA basketball championships and a NCAA football championship from 2006-2007, the University of Florida’s athletic department received an increase in alumni donations of $38 million.  Schools can benefit from athletic success in other ways, as well.  Universities that win a national football championship have experienced, on average, an 8% increase in enrollment for the following school year, creating yet another reason for school administrators to deeply care about their sports programs.  This conversation would not be complete without considering the significant benefits received by NCAA officials and coaches, as well.  Myles Brand, former President of the NCAA, made $895,000 in his last year, which is even less than contracts worth over $1 million that are signed by several athletic directors and coaches throughout the country.  Last but not least, we have the players.  These young men and women are the ones responsible for the money made by the previously mentioned entities; however, they are not compensated for doing so.  While many of these student-athletes receive scholarships to attend their respective universities, this is barely a fraction of the money they are generating for the groups of people who are preaching the ideals of amateurism and getting rich at the expense of their student-athletes (Corgan).

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After laying out these facts, many different schools of ethics, including deontology, virtue ethics, and consequentialism, can be used to better understand and evaluate the actions of the many different characters in the UNC football case.  The situation for the players and agents was very similar.  Both groups of people had a duty to follow the rules and codes prohibiting the exchange of benefits between agents and students-athletes that are outlined in the NCAA bylaws, as well as the Uniform Athletes Agents Act (UAAA) and the Sports Agents and Responsibility Trust Act (SPARTA) (Heitner).  From a deontological perspective, these agents and student-athletes would be expected to carry out their duties and follow the rules.  However, the student-athletes, especially those from a disadvantaged childhood, can hardly be blamed for being swayed by the gifts and attention that agents offer.  From a consequentialist perspective, these football players knew that their most severe “punishment” would be a suspension, without having any impact on the millions of dollars coming their way in professional contracts the following year.  Similar reasoning can help explain why agents, who are in a bloodbath competition to sign the most promising future professionals, continue to offer gifts to student-athletes.  With some star athletes earning lifetime salaries of over $300 million dollars, an agent’s 3% take of that is $9 million.  Therefore, agents could risk a few tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and penalties to sway a player to sign with him and earn him 500 million times his investment throughout the player’s career.  With millions of dollars in potential earnings up for grabs, a few years of suspension or fines from violating the UAAA or SPARTA, if they are even caught, is often times not enough to deter illegal behavior by the agents.  While virtue ethics considers the character and intentions of both the players and agents, it is hard to hold them at fault when you consider the potential consequences for their actions in the NCAA’s current system.

The NCAA shares a large portion of the blame for this and many other occurrences of illegal behavior between agents and student-athletes.  Essentially, the NCAA has created a shareholder-focused business model, where its executives and highest ranked administrators are the “owners” and main beneficiaries.  While holding collegiate sports to amateur status has allowed the National Collegiate Athletic Association to receive millions of dollars in tax exemptions, it has consciously ignored the most important stakeholders— the 170,000 Division I student-athletes who make this all possible (NCAA.org).  The NCAA should be blamed for maintaining its outdated system in an age where media sponsorships and the millions of dollars generated from the commercialization of NCAA sports have taken the association to record-high profits.  It seems as if the NCAA, with a focus on profits, has taken a consequentialist approach to this situation.  Apparently, the association feels that the money that would be saved from reducing scandals and the ensuing backlash to universities compared to the money saved through tax exemptions under the current system would not be enough to warrant changes to the current amateur sports organization model.

This relationship between the NCAA and its student-athletes can be closely paralleled with that of large corporations and its employees.  Many of the largest companies have received increasing criticism in recent years for seeking increased profits at the expense of treating its employees unfairly and subjecting them to extremely low wages.  The same case needs to be made for the NCAA.  It only makes sense, as a number of recently-published scholars have proposed, to lift amateur status and allow student-athletes to either receive money through sponsorships or a basic revenue-sharing system.  However, this would cause the NCAA to give up their tax exempt status and millions of dollars in tax savings.  A virtue ethicist would look at the character and intentions of the NCAA and see a group of people who are motivated by profits and financial growth with far less concern for its student-athletes.

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There is no reason why the NCAA would not be able to lift amateur status from its student-athletes and still thrive in a rapidly growing industry.  In an “About the NCAA” section on its website, the NCAA claims that it was “founded more than one hundred years ago as a way to protect student-athletes (and) the NCAA continues to implement that principle with increased emphasis on both athletics and academic excellence” (NCAA.org).  In reality, the NCAA is doing the exact opposite of protecting its student-athletes, and therefore, it is time for a change.  While the agents and players in the 2010 UNC football scandal clearly broke the rules, the system was set-up for this to happen.

Student-athletes generate hundreds of millions of dollars while playing in college and some go on to earn hundreds of millions more as professionals in the years immediately following college.  If the NCAA wants to protect its student-athletes, it is time to take a look in the mirror and reconsider if “stealing” the profits from the student-athletes is the best way to protect them.  Many proposals have been made and rejected, but now is the time to get all hands on deck and devise a solution before any more scandals take place.  The UNC scandal was probably not even the only case of illegal behavior during that season, but it was the only one that got caught.  We live in a world where unethical behavior can sometimes be overlooked until it is noticed, and consequently, causes media uproar resulting in serious repercussions.  However, the NCAA has now been caught by many people for their unethical business practices without any repercussions or changes.  Maybe punishment is not necessary for the NCAA, but it certainly is time to stop punishing its student-athletes.

Don’t Blame the Phones, Blame the Users!


After reading this blog prompt, I knew I wanted to write about smartphones.  One afternoon a few months ago, I was laying in my living room at home with the new family puppy.  This also meant that I was subject to my mom’s favorite TV shows, Ellen, Dr. Oz, etc.  However, I figured that the excruciating pain of watching Ellen’s dancing and listening to Dr. Oz’s medical advice, both of which my mom finds to be extremely entertaining and life-changing, would be worth it for just that one afternoon if it meant I could play with the new puppy.  In between telling my dog how much I loved her, in my puppy/baby voice of course (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about), something on the TV grabbed my attention.  Sherry Turkle, an MIT technology and society specialist, was on one of the shows talking about her recently-published book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.  The title of the book should explain the main idea pretty clearly, but if you want to know more, I will let her fill you in from a recent TED talk.

It was fascinating to listen to her talk about the false impression that technology has “connected” us, when in reality, it has made us more alone than ever.  So maybe I didn’t run out to the bookstore (or pull out my phone to shop on amazon.com) to buy the book, but the general idea behind her research changed the way I viewed social interactions with friends.  While I still can be found checking scores of games or texting with a friend, I try to make a conscious effort to not be on my phone when I am with my friends.  That being said, this approach is often extremely boring because when I put my phone away for good and look up to start conversation with my friends, I often see everyone looking down at their phones.  But I blame the people, not the phones.

Simply do a Google search for “cell phone call saved life” and you will find plenty of evidence for the good that comes out of having these phones.  So maybe these are extreme cases, but I am sure you can all individually think of a time when having a smartphone was clutch.  Personally, I would have probably missed my flight, or had a panic attack at the very least, to Raleigh this morning if I didn’t have the ability to check-in for my flight on my phone, skipping a 15-minute wait to print out my boarding pass.  However, as Sherry points out in her book, we are often times sitting in a room with many people, but we might as well be in different places due to the fact that we have our heads buried in our phones.  This is the problem with smartphones; we do not need to be playing Monster Truck jump or whatever stupid game that people play all day when we are with other people.  After a week in Jamaica without being able to use cell phones to communicate and arrange plans to meet up with friends for meals or activities, I realized that I can ‘t survive without a phone—but strictly for that purpose.  I am not trying to say that I am innocent of smartphone abuse, but if we all just made a conscious effort to use them for communicating with others rather than for personal pleasure, I believe that everyone would be better off.  It is not the phone’s fault for offering applications that are useful in the right setting, but instead, it is the user’s fault for not being able to control when he/she chooses to use this application.

A Sure “Win-Win”


Imagine being a highly-touted college football player and receiving offers of all-expenses paid trips to South Beach and keys to a Bentley?  You know it is illegal to accept the offers, but let’s think about what happens to you if you accept an offer like this from a sports agent or other booster.  One scenario is that nobody finds out.  You dominate in your college career while living like a king, and then you go on to have a professional career and become a 22-year old millionaire.  This seems to be the perfect life, but someone will probably find out, right?  Well, even if they do, you will get kicked off the team and have your character questioned by NFL general managers.  Then, after sitting out for a year and just having to stay in shape for the NFL draft, these same GMs offer you your first payday worth more money than you could have ever dreamed about receiving.  Deciding whether or not to accept these gifts then seems to be the best ever “win-win” situation for the athlete—take the gifts!  If you think I am just making this up and stretching the truth of what really happens in these situations, pull out your laptop and google “UNC football agent scandal.”

This is a case of three players receiving significant amounts of gifts from sports agents while still students at North Carolina in 2010.  Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little gave every Chapel Hill resident reasons to believe in the UNC football team, until they took the gifts, and consequently took away this same hope.  The three players were found to have accepted items including, but not limited to, rent payments, travel expenses, thousands of dollars in accessories, Bentleys, and all expenses paid trips to South Beach.  All three players were dismissed from the team, and the University of North Carolina took a huge hit to their reputation.  The school also suffered direct and measurable penalties with fines, vacated wins, and loss of future scholarships.  However, all three players are currently on NFL rosters—Austin signed for totals of 4 years and $3,675,000, Quinn for 4 years and $9,436,053, and Little for 4 yeares and $3,327,500.  Not to mention, the hundreds of thousands in combined gifts they received while in college.  Clearly, there is some sort of problem with the system if a player can take these gifts and be “punished” with angry college alumni and the loss of a year of college eligibility before becoming multi-millionaires.

There are many characters at play in this ethical conversation when you consider the behavior of the players, the agents, the athletic program, and the university administrators. There are many ways this relates to ethics from class when you consider the way these behaviors and interests may conflict.  The athlete being offered gifts clearly has an interest in getting to the NFL and having a multi-million dollar professional career, but accepting the gifts causes damage to others without having much effect on the prospects of their NFL careers.  The agents are in a bloodbath competition with other agents to sign the next big superstar.  With some star athletes earning lifetime salaries of over $300 million dollars, an agents 3% take of that is $9 million.  Therefore, agents could risk a few tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to sway a player to sign with him and earn him 500 million times his investment throughout the player’s career.  Then we have the athletic program—all they want to do is win and generate revenue for their program and their school, and putting highly talented players on the field on gameday is the best way to do this.  So, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tempted to look the other way if a star player was receiving suspicious treatment from outside members of the program. Lastly, the University administrators have a similar incentive to look the other way when you consider how much money and recognition sports programs bring to their school.  Essentially, with the penalties and system the way they currently are, this is the perfect storm for serious ethical scandal.

Conspiracies in the Courtroom


I won’t ever forget September 11th, 2001, nor will I ever forget the day I sat in my basement and watched hours of YouTube conspiracy theories blaming the US government for the attacks.  I will start by saying that I do not believe the government was behind the 9/11 attacks. and I am deeply sympathetic for everyone who lost someone that day, but the magnitude of the implications if the theories were true made for a wildly entertaining and thought-provoking experience.  Later that same day, sitting in my rolling computer chair in front of an old desktop from the prehistoric ages, my new love for conspiracy theories illuminated my future career plans—I was going to be a lawyer.

While anybody with some interesting camera footage or a couple crazy ideas can come up with a “conspiracy theory” and lawyers require years of schooling, testing, and experience before presenting their first opening argument in the courtroom, I would argue that both conspiracy theorists and lawyers sometimes do a very similar task.  Imagine a court case where the prosecution firmly believes and presents one explanation for what happened, while the defense provides another credible, yet completely different set of facts and reasoning to explain the event.  Of course nobody would say that either side has presented a conspiracy theory, but with a ruling at the end of the trial, somebody’s evidence will prevail.  It is likely that the winner in the courtroom would be whoever does the best at providing the most facts which call the opponent into question, while also defending against claims made by the opposition.  This is pretty much the process by which conspiracy theories work, as well.

Following this comparison, the best conspiracy theories, then, are also the ones who don’t just present an explanation on an interesting topic, but also one that has a solid army of facts and evidence to back it up.  The problem, however, is in who gets to determine the validity of facts and evidence.  Just like we saw earlier in the semester with the Mike Daisey and Apple stories, as well as a number of other cases we have studied, sorting through truth and lies is quite the task.  In the case with the 9/11 conspiracies, the implications of taking the theories for truths would be so significant that we, as a society, are extremely hesitant and cautious in what we believe.  Therefore, while conspiracy theories are a great form of entertainment much like exploring puzzles or mystery, they rarely ever lead to any calls for action.  Unlike the courtroom, there is no jury deciding on the validity of opposing claims made by two sides.  But while there is no jury deciding who wins in the case of conspiracy theories, sparking controversy and discussion among the millions of people who hear these theories is enough to keep the conspiracies coming.