Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Living Within The Rules

It is not a fragrant world. ~Raymond Chandler

Some days, I can't get the radio turned off quickly enough.

The local sports station has an op-ed segment which gives the on-air types a chance to actually spit out an opinion without the other two constantly interrupting him or her. These tend to be pretty vapid rants, so most of the time I ignore them until I get the traffic report and can turn the radio off. Today, one of them just got a little too stupid.

Let me summarize what he said. At Clemson, a young man who happens to be a football player has gained guardianship of his little brother, for reasons I'll describe below in more detail. The young man is a fine person, who got a Pell Grant and is working part-time jobs to earn money to support his brother. After a story appeared in the local newspaper, there was an outpouring of support. One coach and wife offered to be foster parents to the brother; others offered to drive him to school; and money, lots of it, was being offered to help support the pair. But, says our intrepid commentator, the evil rules-makers of the NCAA are forbidding the school to help this young man because it would violate rules governing payments to athletes. Obviously, the NCAA is a bunch of trolls that detest happy endings and want to see this young man suffer because of their dumb rules.

Right.

Now, let's look at the real story. First of all, Ray Ray McElrathbey, the football player, sounds like a truly fine young man, one I would be proud to know. His mother used to take him along to crack houses and keep him in another room while she fed her habit. His father was no better alternative, being a compulsive gambler living in Vegas. Somehow, Ray Ray beat the odds and made it to Clemson to play football. But that wasn't enough for him. His little brother, Fahmarr, was still stuck in the hell-hole Ray-Ray had escaped, so the young man decided he would attempt to get guardianship of his six-grade brother, which he did, at least temporarily. Fahmarr just started school in Clemson. Ray Ray, as noted, has a Pell Grant, which supplies some money for living expenses, but the only way he can make ends meet to work at any odd job he can get. Obviously, once football season starts, that's going to be harder, but young Mr. McElrathbey is not one to be intimidated by a challenge, not where his brother is concerned.

When the story appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier, there was an immediate upwelling of emotion in the area. People want to help, and that's good. But Clemson is in a bind, because Ray Ray is an athlete. The NCAA is very strict about monies, presents, and services being given to athletes by boosters or by the school. In fact, it's probably the single most common cause of schools being put on probation. Star athletes have often been given expensive cars, “no-work-high-pay” jobs, and plain old cash payments to get them to come to a school. Because of that sort of thing, Clemson can't allow favors to come to Ray Ray and his brother without controls.

Now, nowhere in the article linked above do I see where the NCAA has called the school and told them to throw Ray Ray to the wolves. It's Clemson itself that is proactively trying to work things out, although you never would have known that from the radio commentary. My guess is that something will be worked out.

But, some people need to get in touch with the real world here, notably the misguided radio commentator and one of Clemson's coaches as well. Let's face it. If you could bypass the rules governing gifts and payments by claiming you needed to support a child, every athlete would have a little brother, sister, second-cousin-twice-removed, or whatever living with him. And that kid would find him or herself to be the proud owner of a Hummer, jewelry, stocks, bonds, and anything else wealthy boosters could shove his way, so that the athlete could provide “support.”

Athletic programs cheat. If they didn't, the NCAA wouldn't need all those rules.

But there's another hypocrisy here. Quoth Clemson coach Vic Koening: “I know we have to abide by the rules and everything. But someone in a similar situation not involved with the NCAA can get all the help they want.” Sure, Coach, they can go to the Department of Human Services (or whatever they call the welfare folks in South Carolina) and try to get whatever pittance they can get. More likely, the brother would end up in a foster home, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but, living with a responsible family member would be better.

Sure, people were lining up to offer help; one coach and his wife offered to be foster parents. Now, I'd be shocked if one couldn't find more than one student at a school the size of Clemson who wasn't in a similar situation, wanting to get a younger sibling out of bad surroundings. Who's offering to help that young man or woman? Who's offering money to set up trust funds? What coach is making pious speeches about someone who doesn't run a fast 40-yard dash but is working to become a doctor or a teacher? What coach's wife is offering to drive the kid to school?

How about that, Coach and radio guy?

As I said, I think Clemson will work something out for Ray Ray and Fahmarr, and that's good, because helping one kid is better than helping no one. But, with all those offers of money and time, wouldn't it be something if Clemson offered to help any student in similar circumstances? Oh, they can't support everybody's little brother and sister, but with all that money that's being offered, a fund could be created to provide that little bit of assistance that could make a difference. And, not a single NCAA line would be crossed because the fund would be available to all students, not just athletes.

From what little I know of young Mr. McElrathbey, I suspect he'd be proud to know he'd kicked off something like that. I suspect he knows other candidates for that kind of help.

Because he knows first hand how the world can stink.

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