A “warped ex-faculty member of Texas A&M that enables Johnny Manziel”—according to the Washington Post sportswriter Mike Wise, that’s what I deserve to be called for crying foul when he says in a column that Manziel, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the Texas Aggies, is “about a trailer park away from Tonya Harding.” (To be fair, I called Wise a moron for making the comparison.)
Those who are new to the Manziel story may wince at the snobbery of Wise’s “trailer park” crack. All it really proves is that Wise, a graduate of Cal State Fresno, is anxious to shed his class origins and join the East Coast élite. Reading the comparison to Tonya Harding, though, uninformed readers are going to assume that, like her, Manziel must have done something criminal. After all, Harding arranged an assault on Nancy Kerrigan, her skating opponent. Harding acted less like an athlete, seeking to defeat her competition, than like a gangster who wanted to maim a gangland rival.
Although Harding avoided prison through a plea bargain, Manziel may not be so lucky. Or so at least you would be right to assume after reading Wise’s column on him. And what exactly did Manziel do wrong, then? Hire thugs to break the legs of A. J. McCarron, the quarterback for Alabama? What else could be comparable to criminal assault? Here is what Manziel stands accused of: apparently he sold his autograph. For filthy lucre. ESPN has the incriminating photo of him signing his name. Signing his name? The monster!
For a college athlete to profit from his possibly short-lived fame is a violation of regulations set down by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). If he sold his autograph then Manziel admittedly “broke the rules.” What few in the sportswriting world are prepared to do, however, is to step back and look hard at the NCAA rule that prohibits athletes from trading on their own identity. Yet how is it even legal for an organization to prohibit someone from selling his own autograph? Doesn’t it belong by rights to him?
The truth is that the NCAA rule is an unenforceable contract seeking to restrain trade. It is an illegal and unethical maneuver to prevent competition from athletes, who might cut into the NCAA’s own profits—and the profits of its member schools—if they were allowed to trade freely in memorabilia. In economic terms, the NCAA is a cartel not unlike OPEC, which colludes to set prices and squeeze out competitors. Why else do college football coaches, middle-aged men, overwhelmingly white, earn seven-figure salaries while the players, who actually win and lose the games on the field, risk career-ending injury for a “scholarship” (tuition waiver, room and board, school supplies) that is “worth” less than the median household income in the U.S.?
Wise explains why the system is fair and why Manziel is as rotten as Tonya Harding:
You will read Wise’s column and not learn any of this, because despite the fact that Wise is paid to be a journalist, he is less interested in facts than in casual slander and reckless clichés.