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O.J. Mayo proves amateurism is as quaint as teenage chastity

Life of Kings note: I've been a bit busy with another story this week, and a little bummed about my friend Chris' passing, so my friend and colleague Childs Walker is stepping to the plate today with blistering entry about the O.J. Mayo situation. Enjoy. -- KVV 


It is beyond absurd that we've created a system which vilifies young athletes for attempting to profit from their talents.

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USC basketball star O.J. Mayo is the latest athlete in this unfortunate spotlight after ESPN reported on his alleged relationship with an agent. He denies accepting gifts from the agent, but even if he did, I just can't muster any outrage.

Here's how I look at it. If I had been such a great writer as a college freshman that The New York Times wanted to pay me $1,000 an article, would anyone have been angry? Would my college or my journalism advisor have been lambasted for allowing the relationship? Would my parents have been portrayed as grasping fiends? Would I have been ineligible to write for my college newspaper?

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Of course not. Everyone would've been thrilled that I had gotten ahead so quickly. We have a basic understanding in this country: if you have a talent and you can convince someone to pay you for it, more power to you. Unless, of course, you're an 18-year-old football or basketball prodigy.

Now, I understand that college basketball isn't a perfect parallel to college journalism. There are nefarious influences looking to sink their hooks into young athletes in the interest of future profits.

But I don't believe the NCAA polices such relationships to "protect" athletes (Mayo's headed for the NBA draft lottery - he needs no protection).

I believe the organization is protecting the perceived competitive balance of its multi-billion dollar football and basketball businesses. And that has what to do with education?

Fifty or 75 years ago, amateurism meant something to people. "Gentlemen" still viewed sport as a healthy complement to intellectual and business pursuits. But that notion now seems as quaint as teenage chastity. Market forces claimed sports decades ago, and our stubborn resistance to this reality needs to stop.

If the NCAA finds that USC set up the alleged agent relationship, then the school should be penalized for stepping outside the rules to achieve an advantage. But if the agent found Mayo without the school's help, that's just nature taking its course.

The NBA is at least as much to blame for this foolishness. David Stern doesn't want new employees without a year of college experience. That sounds fine on the surface.

But the talent market sends incredibly mixed signals to players such as Mayo. These players know that scouts are watching and that the individual units of Stern's conglomerate are willing to pay them and play them as soon as they're available. They know they're worth something.

This is where the NBA's de facto monopoly status becomes a problem. If Stern wanted to enforce his college rule but there were three other roughly equivalent leagues, Mayo and his peers wouldn't be confined.

They'd be like any other talented people who are free to spurn one company for another that will appreciate their gifts.

But the reality is that Stern's word sets the agenda for elite basketball prospects in this country. So he essentially takes cash out of their pockets for at least a year.

As long as this is the case, we're going to see stories of premature relationships between players and money men.

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I spoke to Mayo about this issue three years ago at a high school camp in Richmond. He struck me as a bright, composed young man who had thought about the subject. He was not angry that the NBA had just announced its ban on drafting high schoolers. But he also felt that if a professional team wanted his services, there was no logical reason for anyone to prevent it. I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now.

--Childs Walker 

PHOTO: AP

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