Brian Bowen’s lawsuit against Adidas alleging civil RICO has been dismissed, with prejudice.
Federal Judge Joe Anderson’s ruling can still be appealed, but he was fairly strong in his language, writing that there was not enough evidence to show conspiracy on the part of Adidas and that the bar for this sort of lawsuit was high.
From his ruling: “... while Plaintiff devotes most of his arguments to these undisputed facts, they are not relevant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act’s (“RICO”) statutory standing requirements. That a fraud has been committed, and that Plaintiff has been negatively impacted by that fraud, does not suffice to confer standing to seek treble damages under civil RICO.”
Adidas placed the blame on his father, saying that “[t]hroughout Brian Bowen Jr.’s high school career, his father, Brian Bowen Sr., solicited and accepted money in return for promising that his son would play basketball for specific schools and programs. In each instance that Bowen Sr. took money for his son’s services, Bowen Jr. in fact played or committed to play for a particular team...”
We’re not speaking to his father directly here because we don’t know him, but what we’ve seen seems to indicate that’s at least partly true and it underscores that some parents see their athletically gifted children as a meal ticket. He wouldn’t be the first and he certainly won’t be the last.
We are closer than ever to dealing with the financial realities of the game and incorporating athletes more fairly into the profit, but it’s going to take a while to smooth out the rough edges and get a fair system that works well for the participants.
We do seem much closer though. Transparency would help as would a dose of reality. Someone like Bowen could play college ball and maybe a modest amount of professional basketball whether here or overseas. But very few guys will make the NBA, even fewer will make huge NBA money and a lot of them will end up with nothing for all their efforts.
So once we get the basic money issue straightened out, could someone, like maybe the shoe companies if they want to be useful, start teaching young players about exactly what can go wrong and the need to plan for something besides basketball? Could someone see them as people rather than a commodity?
If nothing else, a practical education in how to manage money would be very useful. Even the most wildly gifted players need to realize they are one injury away from never playing again. Anyone who follows the game can point to brilliant young players who fade away after physical problems. This is an opportunity the NCAA has never fully grasped, much to its shame. Basketball cannot teach you how to synthesize ideas from history, philosophy and finance, to pick a few.
We’d like to see the NCAA make education a long-term commitment, that athletes could always return to school when they realize that they won’t be making millions in professional sports. You know, put your money where your mouth is. Instead of a four-year commitment, let it be a lifetime commitment. We’re not talking about scholarships necessarily although that would be ideal, but maybe an easy way to return and a high level of support. A pride in the fact that someone returned 15 years later and got a degree: look, we stuck with him after he was done with basketball and look what he’s done with his life now! Wouldn’t that be great for a university to be able to say that?
Ideally, they - meaning high schools, AAU, shoe companies, the NCAA, whatever systems people come up with for young players who don’t want to go to college, and the NBA - should design what is essentially a basketball major or life path. That wouldn’t replace a liberal arts education, nor should it, but if that’s the path that someone follows, then let them build their life (and backup plans) around it.
The whole system, in other words, should be revised to incorporate what’s best for the players, and as good as it is to have money, that’s not enough. Part of the goal should be to educate young athletes to not just make money but to make it work for them, to build long and successful lives for themselves and their children.
Everyone in the system exploits talented athletes. As it is reformed, we should try to see them as people with complexities, with other gifts and talents, as human beings full of promise and potential.
In short, the focus shouldn’t be just money but how money can be used to build lives. That would be great reform.