Every week, check out Freelance Friday, featuring a rising journalist who is (ahem) a few decades younger than me. See their take on . . . whatever.
BY JERELL RUSHIN
This says a lot: University of North Carolina officials suspended 13 football players this week for selling an exclusive group of team-issued shoes made by the school’s athletic gear sponsor.
So what are we missing here? Those athletes wanted a little spending change, and they were getting it through the shoes they were given by the university. Why is North Carolina punishing folks who make huge profits for its athletics department and for its overall campus?
It makes no sense.
Yes, it’s a secondary NCAA violation, but that’s equivalent to jaywalking in the middle of the night with nobody around. Who cares? What we have regarding North Carolina and these football players is a prime example of micromanagement, people. That’s the gentle way to put it, along with the following: If your spouse constantly checks to see what you are doing when it is not called for, you will become irritated.
Student-athletes are irritated. And now they are less willing to go to war for their universities.
ShoeGate at North Carolina is just a symptom. As for another one, players entering the NFL Draft following their final college season are skipping bowl games in numbers never seen in recent years. There was LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffery doing so after last season, and according to Sports Illustrated, this likely is a trend without a foreseeable ending.
What’s happening is that athletes finally have realized they will never get the benefits they deserve from their universities, at least not directly. So they’re taking an indirect approach.
Like ShoeGate. Here’s a shoutout to those 13 North Carolina football players who switched the power from their university to themselves, but the reaction would have been different had they sold training shoes instead of limited-edition Air Jordan sneakers. For the record, the namesake of the shoes in question at North Carolina is Michael Jordan, and he dribbled for the Tar Heels,
But back to ShoeGate. To use an Olympic analogy, training sneakers are well-below bronze and far from gold in the shoe business. Which means those North Carolina players could have gone unnoticed if they had sold non-iconic kicks. They were suspended because of the huge bucks that never touched the hands of North Carolina decision makers. The school wants a monopoly on every penny that can be earned off its brand, and this is money that its athletes helped make by the millions.
This isn’t to say universities shouldn’t care if their athletes are doing something illegal or unethical. This is to say that a secondary NCAA violation involves neither of those things.
You still don’t get? Well, when Tar Heels players are away from their hometowns, the University of North Carolina is essentially their guardian. Their guardian gave them free shoes and the players decided to sell them to put money in their pocket. More specifically, student-athletes have real responsibilities, and their only income is usually school-issued monthly stipends. They need more money.
Those 13 North Carolina football players figured out a way to get it, and good for them.
Jerell Rushin is the sports editor at The Signal, Georgia State University's independent student newspaper. He's a senior journalism major, but he is fascinated by environmental science and anthropology. The only time he switched teams was when he transferred from Georgia Southern University to Georgia State in 2017. He enjoys attending concerts, shopping and being mediocre in Madden NFL.