Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No innocents in the story of the ex-agent paying college football players; Prediction on Goodell’s outcome of Favre investigation

There are two stories going on today in sports that can only be categorized as sad—though neither is all that surprising.

The first involves the former agent, Josh Luchs, who in a Sports Illustrated story this week put together by George Dohrmann, one of the magazine’s truly gifted reporters, goes into painful detail about his years paying college football players. What makes the story credible is that Luchs names names—lots of them. He doesn’t portray himself as some kind of victim of the rules or a do-gooder. He simply explains how he got into the business and how he started paying players. Then he explains how he STOPPED paying players when he went to work for Gary Wichard, whose name has become a part of the ongoing debacle at North Carolina.

Is it a shock to anyone that there are dozens of guys like Luchs out there, working either on their own or for agents, who are giving money to players? No. What makes the story important is the detail. Luchs not only names the players he paid, he describes how he did it and how much he paid them. He also names players who turned down money when he offered it to them. Some players have confirmed the story; most have either refused to comment or ducked calls from the magazine. Ryan Leaf, a centerpiece in the tale, admits knowing Luchs and hanging out with him but doesn’t remember taking any money for him. Read the story and decide who you believe on that one.

A lot of agents and the NFL and the NFLPA are going to claim that Luchs is tainted because he was suspended for turning a check from a player over to his lawyer rather than to Wichard, who he was in a dispute with at the time. The check was for a little more than $5,000 and Luchs quit being an agent after his suspension because he thought the incident tainted him in a way that would make it impossible for him to recruit players in the future. He makes the point that he was never investigated or suspended or disciplined in any way for paying college players but was suspended for putting a check into trust with his lawyer during a legal dispute.

At the end of the piece Luchs says he came clean because he has two daughters and when they go on line and read about him in the future he doesn’t want them to only find the stories about his suspension. That may sound like a stretch. I believe him. I believe every word of the story. It has an absolute ring of truth to it.

One small part of the piece is Luchs describing a pre-arranged phone call with Mel Kiper Jr. in which Kiper just happened to call while Wichard and Luchs were sitting in their office with a big-time college player.

“Hey Viper,” Wichard said, according to Luchs. “I’m sitting here with the best defensive end in the country.”

“Well,” Kiper said, “That must be (I forget the guy’s name).

The player signed with Wichard and Luchs.

Kiper’s defense is that being friends with agents helps him get to know players. Here’s my question, why does someone who is supposed to be analyzing players need to know them? And, if Kiper wants to taIk to a player for some reason, you’re telling me they won’t talk to him? They all think he’s a star, a very important guy. That’s a complete copout. He doesn’t NEED agents to do his job.

I’m a reporter, I NEED to know players. I do everything I can to avoid dealing with agents. In fact, sometimes when a player tells me I have to talk to his agent in order to talk to him, I say thanks, but no thanks.

In 1993, when Wayne Grady was still an important player—having won the 1990 PGA—I approached him about talking to him for ‘A Good Walk Spoiled.’ Grady was very pleasant and polite but said, “I’ll need you to talk to my manager.”

For Jack Nicklaus I might talk to an agent. Not for Wayne Grady. On the rare occasions when I have taken a deep breath and dealt with an agent, it has led me to—nowhere. I was interested a couple years ago in doing a hockey book involving Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. I made the mistake, on the advice of Gary Bettman, of talking to Crosby’s agent. (I should have just walked into a locker room and introduced myself to Crosby and taken my chances that way. In the past when I’ve done that I’ve succeeded even with guys I don’t know about 90 percent of the time). The agent and I talked back and forth several times about setting up a meeting for me with Crosby. It never happened. “Sidney doesn’t want another distraction this season,” he said.

The point of the meeting was to explain how I could do the book without being a distraction—which I could have. I’ve done it before. Agents are paid to say no 99 percent of the time unless someone is paying—then the answer might be yes.

Of course the apologists are already coming out of the woodwork to attack Luchs. The morning pitchmen on ESPN had Luchs on today. Throughout the morning they referred to him constantly as, “this guy,” or “this agent.” They wondered if he was a snitch. Then Chris Mortensen came on and said, “this guy was decertified by the NFLPA.” No he wasn’t. He chose to leave the profession after the suspension. You may say that’s a technical point but Mort throwing it out as absolute fact—almost casually—sums up what the establishment’s approach to Luchs is going to be.

During the interview Greenberg asked Luchs if he felt badly about, “throwing people under the bus.”


These players knowingly took money, in many cases asked for money. They knew they were breaking the rules just like Luchs knew he was breaking the rules. There are no innocents in all this—including Luchs. The difference now is Luchs isn’t claiming to be innocent.

After Luchs, Kiper came on and blustered about how important it was to know players and how, “we all do it,” (become friends with agents). Actually Mel, we don’t. Do I know some agents? Of course. I get along with some better than others but I sure as hell don’t ever talk to them while they’re recruiting a player. Luchs makes the point that Kiper never said, “Hey, you should sign with Gary Wichard.” What he did was give Wichard an extra level of credibility because college football players DO know Mel Kiper and what he does.

The one guy who stood up for Luchs was Kirk Herbstreit. Good for him.

Some are comparing Luchs to Jose Canseco—whose charges in his book on steroids in baseball ended up being 99 percent verified when all was said and done. Here’s the difference: Luchs wasn’t paid for this story. He didn’t do it to make money. He says he did it for his daughters. I believe him.

On to Brett Favre. The NFL is ‘investigating,’ charges that Favre sent texts and phone messages and pictures of himself—not ones you would want your kids to see—to a former employee of the Jets while he was playing with them. Favre has refused to talk about the story, which makes him APPEAR guilty. It doesn’t make him guilty but even the apologists are having trouble wrestling that one to the ground.

Here’s one prediction: Roger Goodell is not going to be the one to end Favre’s consecutive games streak. If the charges prove true he may reprimand him, he may fine him. He isn’t going to suspend him. He will point out—correctly—that Favre has never been in trouble with the league before. If guilty, Favre will pay a heavy price. You can bet he won’t be seen in too many jeans commercials down the road and it might even affect Favre’s ability to get a network TV job—at least for a year or two—if he ever does retire. Oh wait, silly me, ESPN is still in business. Forget that last thought.

All of which is fine with me. If he did this, he’s a boor and he’s stupid. That said, I don’t think it quite makes him Tiger Woods. Or is that my anti-Tiger bias? Or is it racial? My friend Michael Wilbon apparently thinks it’s racial. Here’s what he wrote in today’s Washington Post:

“We’ll see if the hypercritical morality police officers who sentenced Woods to damnation for his philandering ways are as heavy-handed with a fair-haired quarterback and the face of America’s favorite sport…or if Tiger’s transgressions are deemed to be somehow, ‘different.’ We’ll see.”

Look, Wilbon and I have been down this road before. He likes Woods, I don’t. But seriously? What Favre is accused of doing somehow falls into the same category as what Woods has admitted to doing? “Hypercritical morality officers?” One had to be hypercritical to think Woods was, you know, not exactly the best guy in the world to do what he did?

Favre has been lampooned (correctly) time and again for his Hamlet act on retirement. Everyone—even ESPN—is reporting this story as it moves along. So how does race or people being ‘hypercritical,’ factor in here? Seriously Mike, I know you consider Tiger a friend, but the time to start claiming he’s been unfairly treated hasn’t arrived yet.

And probably never will.

(Note: Click here for George Dohrmann's article-- Confessions of an agent)


JeffW said...

John: I thoroughly enjoy reading this blog. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

In no way do I want to defend Tiger, but while what he did was immoral and indefensible, what Favre did (allegedly) may have been illegal. It is really upsetting to see talking heads (all men - hmmmm) claim this "isn't that big a deal" or that that they "can't understand why the NFL is even investigating".
This isn't about Favre trying to cheat on his wife. This is about a high level Jets employee harassing another employee, with the help of another Jets employee. That is serious. Sorry, but that's a big deal. It shouldn't (necessarily) be about the morality of what he did, but about how illegal what he did is.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that Andy Pollin brought up the Wichard story last night on his show with Steve Czaban and didn't mention the Mel Kiper angle.

Justin Morton said...

I'm with Ed on this. Tiger didn't do anything illegal or anything that would get him fired with a company. What Favre has allegedly done is at the least sexual harassment and maybe even a crime.

This is absolutely a racial issue. The press couldn't wait to jump on Tiger Woods for cheating on his wife. And with Favre, it's "boys will be boys".

I mean who did Tiger really wrong, beside his wife? No one. I'm not trying to defend Tiger, but it's a little shocking to see the reaction the press has had to both individuals.

Meh. You're better than this, John.

Gordon said...

Lets see, college players taking money. Not exactly a revelation. Next your going to tell me water is wet , the sky is blue and politicians lie.

It's past time when something needs to be done for the "student athletes". These kids ceased being students a long time ago. All the one and dones' don't even have to go to class in order to remain eligible. And the BCS and NCAA basketball "empty suits" can stop reminding everyone that these kids get a $200,000 education for free. A. they have little time to go to class and B as soon as they leave the scholarship is taken away so even if they want to go back they can not. The ones who need to go back often can not afford it.

The schools are making huge money from these kids. Over his four years at Florida there were an estimated 1.2 million Tim Tebow jerseys sold at an average of $150 per. Do the math and divide by two for the Gators take. Florida State got busted years ago for the players getting free shoes from foot locker. Meanwhile coach Bobby Bowden had a huge shoe contract with Nike.

Coaches can come and go as they please and the players are are bound to sit out a year if they transfer The schools make huge dollars from football and basketball. Michigan makes enough from football to subsidize the entire athletic department..... and then some. Surely something can be done to include the players in the cash grab.

If nothing else some small strip end will eliminate the agents, or at least vastly reduce their influence. Besides whose worse the BCS/NCAA or agents?

I'm not proposing a free agent system that allows , fill in the blank with a school name , to be the college equivalent of the New York Yankees just a system that one, acknowledges the inequity and two at least tries to eliminate the influence of agents. It's my guess that IMG and companies like Nike and Gatorade don't have clean hands either.

Given Mel Kipers reaction one has to wonder how many agents payrolls he's on?

Anonymous said...

Brett allegedly obtained Jenn Sterger's phone number from a third party without her permission, then proceeded to send pictures of his cock to her, again, without her permission.

That's not just boorish and stupid, it's creepy and illegal, and way worse than Tiger's disgusting, yet ultimatly consentual affairs.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feinstein,

This was fantastic, as usual, except that I agree with the Tiger/Favre sentiment(not yours--the sentiment in the comments). Tiger pulled a fast one on the American people, in a way, and what he did was reprehensible. (Obviously, he pulled a fast one on his wife too.) But there was no evidence of coercion. In Favre's case, fortunately the coercion didn't work, but it sure as heck was lurking. And that's why sexual harassment laws exist.

On a Luchs-related note: I'm not sure if you've written about this before, but there is probably no better person to do so: what do you think about paying college athletes?

I don't know what the right answer looks like, but I sure don't think it looks like the current mess.


Anonymous said...

I tend to lean in everyone's direction on the the Favre vs Tiger issue. I think what Wilbon, and everyone who discusses why Favre isn't getting the attention that Tiger got is that we've already seen Favre's bad side - his wife has written about his infidelity, he's been to rehab (on his own, not league orders) and he has been ripped endlessly for 2-3 years on his whimsical will he or won't he play saga. Compare that with Tiger's completely squeaky clean image prior to seeing it go across the bottom line on ESPN 'Tiger Woods in serious car accident' or whatever it was, that jump started the entire saga. THAT is what the difference is - along with the theory that his wife beat him with a golf club.

And on the agent paying player issue, Gordon jarred my memory to what always lingers when the issue of paying college kids a stipend, or God forbid a salary. While Gordon says that schools are making a killing on these kids, I sorta disagree. There isn't much profit in the athletic departments. Who is making a killing off the players? The coaches....what are there, 40-50 coaches making $1m+ a year now? And the top guys make $3-$5m? Its amazing to me that the players don't revolt against THAT -- Saban and others are truly pimping their 'kids' for more money than anyone.

Hustle said...

"....If he did this, he’s a boor and he’s stupid. That said, I don’t think it quite makes him Tiger Woods. Or is that my anti-Tiger bias?" John, you REALLY can't be serious..HAHA, see this is the risk you run when you allow your anti-Tiger bias to rule common sense. Again, what Tiger did was immoral, but not illegal. He cheated on his wife (over and over again) but he didn't break any laws. What Favre is "alleged" to have done is pretty much sexual harassment. How you call that "boorish" and stupid is really beyond me! At least Wilbon has made it clear over and over again that a man's personal problems is none of his business (unless it's proven to be sexual harassment). At least, he's been pretty consistent with his stance which is much more than I can say for you. Seriously, would you still think it's boorish if that was your daughter or wife that "allegedly" got pictures of Favre's "junk" on their phone?? Favre has gotten a pass from the media (especially the likes of Peter King) for years and I will be the first to say let's reserve judgment until it's proven that he did something wrong but please, do NOT compare this to what Tiger did. Understand that this is about sexual harassment, first and foremost...nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Question: Why even mention Tiger or Wilbon at all? Are you able to discuss a particular athlete (Favre, Duval) without in some way comparing said athlete to Woods?

John hates Tiger, but can't seem to stop talking about him.

By the way, there is no competition. Favre and Woods are both terrible husbands and fathers. Let's leave it at that.