Monday, September 23, 2013

APU? Student Athletes Need A Champion - They Need John Denver.

Interesting weekend for college football. Not because there were very many good games – there were only a few, but up crept something new - college football athletes finally took a stand. Or at least a little bit of one.

Hello, uh, Vad Lee? Paul Johnson
wants to talk to you...
Sporting headbands, wristbands, and other miscellaneous gear with the acronym "APU" - standing for "All Players United" - players used the platform of their bodies to display their position. While it comes off initially as a little Jim McMahon-ish, it's the first level of solidarity or at least public solidarity that we've seen presented by active players who support being paid for their efforts.

A couple of things here. First, was this successful? It at least made the ticker on Saturday, and I'm sure it will get some run on the talk shows in the next week. If attention was the goal, so far, so good - but unfortunately for the players, they don't control the next 48 hours of the media cycle. Who does? The TV networks and their business partner - the NCAA. Very interesting to see how much play this will actually get. If ESPN or FOX run away from this story or let it slide - I suspect pressure from the outside. (Don't be shocked if that happens - they are all compromised.)

So - did they get attention? Yeah, but we'll see if they get any help with keeping it there.

Second, where do the coaches fall on all this? Were the coaches of players who took part in this aware?

Well, looks like Paul Johnson wasn't...
“No, I wasn’t aware of it,” he said. “I can assure you that now that I am aware of it, we will talk to (players) about it.”
That doesn't sound too positive for Vad Lee and crew.

An aside (sort of) – what should the coaches' positions be on something like this? Should they be in favor of it, or do they see it as a distraction to their own immediate desire, which is to win?

It is an interesting dilemma for a coach – you want to show solidarity and support for your players after all, they're the ones out there providing the labor that's getting you millions of dollars. You don't want that "he doesn't care about us, he just uses us" emotion in the locker room.

But is it a distraction for your team with so many coaches giving that lip-service about maintaining focus each week, but if their kids are worried about putting their APU wristbands, do they see that as a threat on their attention?

The coach doesn't want to come off as if this is something that isn't important, but they were also much rather their players focus on playing the game and winning. Not sure how I would handle this if I was the coach.

At least the NCAA acknowledged it Saturday. From the NCAA on Saturday:
As a higher education association, the NCAA supports open and civil debate regarding all aspects of college athletics. Student-athletes across all 23 sports provide an important voice in discussions as NCAA members offer academic and athletic opportunities to help the more than 450,000 student-athletes achieve their full potential.
The organizing group, the NCPA (National College Players Association) says that they will continue. But if Paul Johnson's stance is any indication - there might be some difficulties with that.

I've been sitting on an idea for a while now, and I guess now is a good time as any to throw it out. Before this past weekend, the players never had a specific platform where they could make an impactful statement. The "APU" demonstration has brought upon a limited amount of attention to this point, but is that effective for them? It embarrasses the NCAA, but the NCAA is already embarrassed on a fairly consistent basis of late – and they don't seem to care.

So what platform is there where you find all of college football and all of college football media in the same spot?

A lot of other people have thrown out the idea of players sitting out games and refusing to play. I think that's bogus. No way you get all those kids to lay down at the same time. Too much of a risk, too many people involved. They wouldn't sit out the national title game, because I don't think any athlete or group of athletes would ever want to risk that opportunity.

But there is one place where a student-athlete gets the platform to say whatever they want... the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

All the cameras are on - coaches, players, media (and the creme de la creme of sports and news media, at that) are all in attendance. Listening to what that one person has to say. This is where it can become a news story that forces action.

Because, in the end, that's what their goal should be. Raising awareness is great. But can you raise awareness to the point where you FORCE a real reaction? That's tough. You need the right platform...

And the right person.

That's what really complicate matters. If Johnny Manziel was to repeat this year with the Heisman Trophy, the opportunity would be wasted. Johnny Football telling the world how tough it is to be a college athlete and it's not fair that everyone else makes money from his and his fellow athletes' efforts? He'd be laughed out of the room. It'd just be another rehash of court side seats and pictures with LeBron. Tough? Johnny Football doesn't have it tough.

Manziel's just too polarizing, and a lot of people already think he's getting paid anyway. Worse for college athletes, the moment would of passed them by.

Story time... Back in the 80s, Tipper Gore and a bunch of the other United States Senators' wives all got together because they were in a hissy fit about the band 2 Live Crew. They thought their lyrics were disgusting and should be censored. In fact they wanted all inappropriate music to be censored.

You may remember watching the Behind the Music on VH1, where they kept on calling people in to the Senate hearings. Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister. Frank Zappa. These "demonic" artists or getting chastised by all of these Senators and their wives for music that they found inappropriate.

Snyder, with big hair and makeup, came across poorly as a crazy rock star. Zappa was just unfortunately the smartest person in the room, and no one realized it. Tipper and her group, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) were going to win this battle.

Tipper & Co. then brought in their ace in the hole - John Denver. Clean cut guy, plays music the whole family can listen to. Surely he'd support the PMRC's cause in censoring the outrageous lyrics of Twisted Sister, 2 Live Crew, W.A.S.P., and others... right?
(I am) strongly opposed to censorship of any kind in our society or anywhere else in the world.
It was Denver's testimony in the hearing that was the most impactful - because people didn't expect to hear that from him. It carried real weight.

Everybody needs a little John Denver in their lives.
Especially college athletes.
In order to force a real reaction from the NCAA, the athletes need a John Denver to 1) win the Heisman and 2) take the opportunity of that platform to bring their agenda to the forefront. The Heisman isn't the Emmy's - they won't play you off if you are making a political statement or are taking too long.

That moment, that stage is theirs.

So who is John Denver for college athletes? They need to be respected as an individual, as a leader, and come from an environment where a statement like this wouldn't outwardly appear to be self-motivated or in their own best interests. Someone that has the personality and presence to command the attention of a room like that.

I browse through the odds for Heisman, and a few names jump out at me. Teddy Bridgewater, by all accounts, is an outstanding person with great character. Mariota? A lot of Nike influence in Oregon could cloud his impact - I also know very little about his leadership presence. Jameis Winston? Probably too young - would need someone who's been around the college block for awhile.

Which leaves me with something that feels a little strange...

Could AJ be the voice to push for real change?
Could AJ McCarron be the one to provide the tipping point that will change college football forever?

If he wins the Heisman, and chooses to take that opportunity, he just might be.

Heisman Trophy winner, three-time national champion (assumption), from one of the most accomplished college football programs in the country?

That'd get the NCAA's attention. And if they didn't react to that, they'd have to fold up shop.

I'm on Twitter. I have lots of thoughts that aren't near as long as this one. @harry_long