June 25, 2010

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the recent imposition of severe sanctions against USC's college football program (ie., L.A.'s only pro football team) is the lack of anything resembling journalistic propriety or balance in covering such a story. An athlete, in this case Reggie Bush, gets accused of having received benefits (or, in Bush's case, his parents), and the sports media will go balistic with the platitudes, accusing the athlete and the school of being sleezy, unethical, and even worse, "professional." Since sports "journalism" typically thrives when it sucks up to the powerful institutions and individuals that dominate sports, an athlete or school will usually be presumed guilty even on the flimsiest of evidence.

So now it turns out that simply applying a little bit of due diligence to the evidence the NCAA used to place the USC football program on the fritz is enough to pretty much discredit the entire factual case. Were the university to challenge the sanctions in federal or state court (it has already adeptly played the first card, by offering to submit to the least important of the sanctions, the bowl ban), it would most certainly win, since the courts are not usually willing to permit quasi-public entities like the NCAA to redefine "reasonable basis" for guilt into the novel standard "no basis for guilt at all; fuck you !!" At the very least, it is going to provide Trojan Nation the rhertorical grounds for its defense. The evidence that Pete Carroll "knew" is significantly weaker than the rather clear evidence that John Wooden knew about the antics of Sam Gilbert.

More troubling, though, is the whole notion that Reggie Bush, or any other athlete, should have to apologize for wanting to make money playing football. We tend to forget that the NCAA regulations concerning amateur play are malum prohibitum; that is, they reflect actions and conduct that are banned not because they are immoral or unethical on their face (ie,. malum per se), such as murder, theft, or fraud, but because the acts are just prohibited. An example of a malum prohibitum law that we face everyday is parking in a loading zone, or speeding on a freeway. Driving fast or parking in a certain location is not, in and of itself, evil, since we can perform the identical act and not be breaking any rules.

In Bush's case, taking money for playing football is not now, nor was it 2004, an evil or unethical act. Of course, in 2004, Bush had no choice in the matter, since the NCAA prohibited him from doing so, and the NFL had recently received judicial sanction allowing them not to give athletes Bush's age the right to do so. Since there was no competing set of values that Bush and the NCAA could have a free dialogue over, insofar as Bush and other college athletes having not been given any free choice, Bush's decision to take money from third parties was not an evil act, nor would his decision to obey the NCAA regulations on the subject have imparted any virtue upon him. In the moral universe, rules concerning compulsory amateurism at the college level impart upon the athlete the same obligations that obeying Jim Crow laws imposed on Rosa Parks.

Amazingly, NCAA rules that would be considered to have a much stronger malum per se basis, such as academic fraud or steroid use, would not be considered to have anywhere near the stigmatic effect on the football program. Admitted roid users, like Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich, have never seen their awards threatened, or had their actions lead to penalties against the teams for which they played, even though the taking of PED's clearly gave them an unfair playing advantage, and directly assisted their teams in gaining wins. On the other hand, no one has creditably argued that Bush driving a car paid for by one of the many parasites that compulsory amateurism festers gave him any added skills on the field, or actually tainted USC's results, any more than Sam Gilbert paying Alcindor or Walton tainted UCLA's wins, or you or I parking in a yellow loading zone makes us bad people.

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