Like most "feel good" sports stories about athletes succeeding against long odds, the O.J. Mayo legend ends up too good to be true. Or should I call it the O.J. Mayo "brand?"
Reaction is coming hard and fast to ESPN's investigative report about Mayo's relationship with two shady characters who allegedly provided him with clothes, a flat-screen TV and a cell phone during his freshman year playing college basketball at USC. Some of these financial perks might have begun back when Mayo was at North College Hill High School.
The ESPN report is a sordid tale of how Rodney Guillory used money from Bill Duffy Associates Sports Management (BDA) to start currying favor with Mayo as he was becoming a national star at North College Hill and then at Huntington (W.Va.) High. Mayo's teams won the Ohio state championship his sophomore and junior years and the West Virginia state championship his senior year.
With Guillory's help, ESPN says, Mayo decided to attend college in Los Angeles, "home to the stars, (where) he was going to create the Mayo Brand, and then take his total package to the National Basketball Association.
Once he turned pro, Mayo would sign with an agent at Bill Duffy Associates Sports Management -- which represents a number of NBA stars, including Steve Nash, Yao Ming and Carmelo Anthony -- and the agent would polish that image."
Mayo recently announced that he was turning pro after one college season and in fact hired BDA to represent him.
Mayo denies any wrongdoing, and just as importantly several NBA executives tell ESPN that his status as a top draft choice won't be damaged by these allegations.
Everyone involved in these relationships with Mayo got a little something something out of it, and Mayo will be an instant millionaire when his name is called at the NBA draft in late June. No harm no foul?
College basketball and football have become a gigantic entertainment industry, with billions of dollars funneled back and forth among universities, conferences, coaches, media outlets, corporate sponsors and various hangers-on. Yet somehow the student/athletes, on whose backs the entire industry is built, don't get a piece of the pie.
The NBA and the NFL force star high school athletes to play at least some college basketball or football before they can be drafted into the pros, which both supports the college game and corrupts it at the same time.
Big-time schools are willing to recruit big-time players for one season, knowing that everyone's profiles will be raised by a Final Four or top bowl game appearance. But everyone loses a bit of their soul in the process.
Players borrow off of their future earning potential, and coaches pretend they don't know players are getting bought off. Universities that pride themselves on high standards and long traditions of graduating outstanding citizens pimp out 18-year-olds in order to build more luxury suites at the stadium.
Not much to feel good about there.
Contact John Fox: firstname.lastname@example.org