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What can you say? It's a story when someone as big as Reggie gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I don't think it's really a love or hate thing with the media. More like a snake stalking a mouse...
The Reggie Bush situation highlights, in our opinion, a very real need for the NFL Players Association to regulate and monitor marketing agents.
Currently, the NFLPA focuses only on contract representatives and investment advisors, and provides no oversight of the folks who help players do their endorsement deals.
As a result, marketing agents can take an unlimited cut of the money earned by players from advertising contracts. We've heard of standard fees as high as 25 percent. Meanwhile, agents can accept a maximum of only three percent of the value of the football contract as a fee.
We've also heard of circumstances in which the marketing agent takes a cut of the player's endorsement deal as his "official" fee, and is then paid a separate amount by the company securing the endorsement rights -- unbeknownst to the player.
Another reason for bringing marketing agents within the purview of the NFLPA arises from the fact that, while football agents jeopardize their NFLPA license if they pay players who are still NCAA eligible, marketing agents face no real scrutiny for funneling cash or cars or clothing to the kids or to their family members. The best deterrent for this kind of stuff is, in our view, an administrative mechanism that could take away the guy's right to earn a living if he breaks the rules.
In some circumstances, marketing agents can have significant influence over the player. In Bush's case, for example, it was marketing agent Mike Ornstein and not football agent Joel Segal who was sitting next to Reggie at the draft in April. And it's been Ornstein, not Segal, who offers up sound bites regarding Bush. Indeed, some league insiders believe that Ornstein hand-picked Segal to negotiate the Bush contract because Ornstein knew that Segal wouldn't and/or couldn't supplant Ornstein as Bush's most trusted advisor. Thus, marketing agents should be subject to the same rules and scrutiny as the "regular" agents.
As a result, it's critical that the NFLPA expand the pool of regulated parties to include marketing agents. If unchecked, they can do just as much harm to a player's interests -- if not more.
While we were in Morgantown on Thursday night watching the next can't-miss NFL running back prospect make like a man among embryos against the Maryland Terrapins, Charles Robinson and Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports blew the lid off of the controversy that has been swirling around last year's high-end halfback.
Though qualifying their conclusions with lawyer-recommended terms like "appear," the import of the article is obvious: former USC tailback Reggie Bush and family got paid, and handsomely, while Bush was still an NCAA-eligible student-athlete.
Per the report, the Bushes "apparently" received more than $100,000from rival groups attempting to secure the ability to represent Bush in his off-field marketing deals, the cut for which is not limited by the NFLPA to only three percent of earnings. And it has proven to be a lucrative assignment, given that Bush has been popping up just about everywhere via deals with Diet Pepsi and Subway and adidas, which recently got its name added to the list of approved NFL shoe suppliers so that the guy some in New Orleans are calling "Jesus in Cleats" could officially be "Jesus in adidas." (That actually has a nice ring to it.)
The report's details are of the dollars-and-cents variety, suggesting that Robinson and Cole tracked down receipts and other evidence proof to support the notion that money and benefits made their way to Bush and his family at a time when he was supposedly an "amateur."
The case against the Bushes includes evidence that an employee of one of the two candidates for the marketing gig, Mike Ornstein, used a credit card to pay for airfare and a limo for Bush's mother, stepfather, and younger brother to attend the USC-California game in Berkeley last season. Ornstein claims that the Bushes "paid for everything," but he acknowledges the possibility that charges might have been paid via his employee's credit card. Still, Ornstein "guarantee[d]" that there is documentation and cash receipts.
And if they don't already exist, our guess is that they soon will.
But even if the money was paid back after the fact (or is paid back now), such short-term loans conflict with applicable NCAA by-laws.
Besides, there's plenty of additional evidence to support a conclusion that NCAA rules were violated by Bush and his family. A New Jersey memorabilia dealer, for example, claims that he once loaned Ornstein $500 because it was "pay day" for Bush's family, and Ornstein was a little short.
Ornstein emphatically denied the allegation, swearing on his son's, his mother's, and his brother's life. "Let them all die tomorrow if I'm telling a lie," he said.
Then again, given that (as Yahoo! confirms) Ornstein pleaded guilty in 1995 to attempting to defraud the NFL while working as the director of club marketing for NFL Properties, his overall credibility isn't all it could be. Since Ornstein ultimately secured the right to represent Bush for marketing purposes, he has a natural self-interest in protecting the golden-shoed goose.
Despite the evidence that Robinson and Cole have gathered, the question of whether Bush will retroactively lose his eligibility for the 2005 season and/or his Heisman trophy depends upon an investigation that the NCAA is conducting. Because New Era Sports and Entertaiment -- the "other" candidate for the marketing gig -- has threatened suit against Bush and his family, the Bushes have refused to be interviewed. The current status of the NCAA investigation is generally unknown.
To date, New Era has not filed suit to recover the money it allegedly paid to the Bushes and otherwise spent in reliance upon a promise that New Era would secure the job of handling Reggie's marketing might. There were reports and suggestions over the summer that Bush lawyer David Cornwell pulled strings to get the FBI involved in the case, possibly to scare off the principals of New Era, one of whom already is in prison.
And from Reggie's perspective, the only possible source of jeopardy as to his NFL career is the FBI and/or the IRS, which might become very interested in exploring whether any payments or benefits received by Bush and/or his family constitute income and, if so, whether taxes were paid.
In Bush's case, the same high profile that has enabled him to generate $50 million in endorsement deals could prompt the powers-that-be to use him as an example to the rest of us that the tax laws aren't optional.