Near the end of the Alabama-LSU National Championship game, I looked at All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu sitting forlornly and lonely on the bench, and wondered whether he knew that his “Honey Badger” nickname was a specialty drink — a Jack Daniels honey brew reportedly infused into a new beer product.
It was quite likely being slurped while he sweated in both LSU’s home town of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the site of the game. I wonder if he knew that the new beer is the product of a budding joint venture between his school and a for-profit beer microbrewery near the LSU practice field in which he toils – but cannot indulge. The Tin Roof Brewing Company announced its partnership with LSU to market a light ale packaged in the LSU school colors. LSU chancellor Mike Martin reportedly supports the venture, potentially making LSU the first major university to officially license a school beer.
The beer itself would be named after a famed defensive unit from the LSU 1958 national championship team, but that is just the base ingredient for the “Honey Badger.” Most of America had never sipped the term until they were exposed to Mathieu’s scintillating punt returns, interceptions, and saliently, a honey colored Mohawk strip in his hair style. The phenomenonleft us collectively salivating for more. During several games, including the National Championship on college football’s biggest media stage, Mathieu was repeatedly called “The Honey Badger”. Needless to say, there are plenty of LSU licensed Honey Badger t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other beer belly cover ups from which LSU gains a royalty. That royalty, I suspect, does not trickle down in any significant way to the teenage star that generated the buzz – pun intended.
As the Honey Badger funeral-walked off the field I also wondered whether he was going back to dorm or apartment, living on a shoestring like most African American major college football players. He is one of five children born in New Orleans. Mathieu’s father has been incarcerated every day of his Tyrann’s life. During his formative years, Tyrann’s mother was not around much so he was raised through loving default of his grandparents in the core city. I wonder if he knew everyone seems to be making money from the buzz creator except the creator.
Why not just create a trust fund for Tyrann’s post-graduation use, and his grandparents if he likes. This is not a radical concept. Trust funds have been in existence since Moses was a baby. It is a more equitable way of dealing with profitability in college than a blanket waiver of all related intellectual property rights by the athlete especially when he is in financial need. As a practical matter, the college football player has no real alternative than to play the minor league sport of college football if he wants to play professional football. So he has no choice but to sign the waiver as part of gaining NCAA eligibility. A trust fund is just what it says, funds held in trust for someone else. The university could hold a reasonable proportion the revenue generated from the use of a player’s intellectual property (like a Honey Badger nickname). LSU is to receive a 10% royalty from the beer, if approved by its governing board. Why not put a royalty amount in trust for the one who is most responsible for generating the revenue?
Royalties need not only be for “royalty” like the multi-million dollar universities. They can be shared with those who create the revenue, even if they are students. It is only a timing event for receipt. We do this all the time when determining if there is a taxable event on previously earned income. Deferred compensation packages, stock option schemes are just a few examples. The issue is not if you are entitled to the money, just a matter of when. If we determine players are entitled, it is fundamentally no different here. Players can deserve proceeds from use of their name, and just defer receipt of the compensation until after he graduates – a reasonable condition for receipt.
Some say the best way to rob a bank is to own one. Then you can receive an excessive bonus and even make out fine with stock options during bailouts or bankruptcy via Chapter 11 reorganizations. It appears the best way to profit from college players is to administrate them. We can change that if there is the institutional will among the NCAA and its member institutions. Of course it is also possible to have federal campaign finance reform but that doesn’t mean it will happen.
The best shot may just be a fandom uprising like the woman who started a social media revolt causing Bank of America to retract its higher fees to customers for accessing their own money. But what are you going to do, boycott the games? We seem to love the school more than the people who play them. Are LSU students going to transfer to … ‘Bama? So it will be interesting to see whether LSU students and the Bayou community mount a protest to the governing board prior to upcoming final approval of the beer joint venture. I rather doubt it. Louisiana has been ranked the 5th largest beer consumption state in America. I would not be shocked if they loved there beer traditions more than they love the idea of player economic equity.
And will LSU voluntarily vote against its own economic interests? Will the NCAA make them? Since LSU cannot sell alcohol inside the stadium, the chancellor wants to profit from alcohol outside the stadium. LSU had over 90,000 people inside the stadium for each of its 6 home games this season. The one game they played in West Virginia where alcohol sales were allowed brought revenue of over $120,000, thoughBug Lights were sold out by halftime. The math is alluring. No. I should say the revenue is alluring.
If LSU’s board approves the deal, what semblance of fairness is left to its amateurism principles? The justification for preventing professionalism of players is the nonprofit status of educational institutions. The endeavor of educating students is not supposed to be profit first, educate students as a byproduct. And because of that hallowed environment, the players, too, are not allowed to profit since they too are in school for education, not to be current professionals — i.e. profit-first individuals while in school. So it seems to me amateurism at bottom is tied to the non-profit nature of educational institutions. The more the institution profits at the expense of the players the less justification it has to prevent profits to those players. So if a school profits from a player’s nickname, and what’s worse, does so by fostering and profiting from booze among students, it loses its moral high ground. It would seem to me to be a hypocritical one-sided standard for the school to bend the purist standard for itself but not the students who they profess are the reason the school exists.
Roger M. Groves is a professor of law at Florida Coastal School of Law and Director of the Center for Sports and Social Entrepreneurship. Follow him at Twitter@rgroveslaw and http://center4players.com