By Ken Reed

In many ways, and in many instances, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football, has shown himself to be an immature spoiled brat. Comedian Argus Hamilton described Manziel’s past year this way: “In one year he’s gone from Johnny Football to Johnny Walker to Johnny Hancock.” Character-wise, it doesn’t appear that Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is in the same category as a Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, or even Curt Flood, who fought for baseball players’ right to free agency.

However, by allegedly taking money to sign his autograph on helmets and other items, he’s helped put the spotlight on the NCAA’s absurd amateurism rules (e.g., Manziel can sign autographs at a Texas A&M function that raises thousands of dollars for the school but can’t take a few hundred bucks for himself at an autograph show in a hotel). A Texas A&M study showed that Manziel was responsible for generating $37 million in media exposure and public relations benefits for the school as a result of his stellar Heisman trophy season. In return, A&M let’s him go to class for free.

Here’s where we’re at: If an investigation reveals that Manziel did indeed accept money for his autograph, he would be in violation of an NCAA rule that prohibits athletes from profiting commercially from their athletic ability. Manziel could be suspended for several games, perhaps the entire season, if the allegations are true.

But here’s the deal: Americans are more upset with the NCAA and their crazy rules than they are at Manziel. They should be. This is an economic justice issue. In fact, it’s today’s civil rights issue.

If Manziel did indeed take the autograph money for purely selfish reasons as most people suspect — Manziel comes from a wealthy family and there’s no indication at this point that he took the cash-for-signature deal for a greater cause, i.e., social justice for his college athlete peers — he won’t go down in history as a social change agent icon.

Nevertheless, if his actions lead to the dismantling of the NCAA’s archaic amateurism rules, the world of college sports will be a better place.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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