Autographs, agony and media attention

It’s not always easy to be a Gamecocks supporter. We’re the Wile E. Coyotes of football fandom: When victory is in sight, we’re often flattened by a falling anvil.

The latest anvil was news that our not-so-secret weapon, Jadeveon Clowney, might be a casualty of the firestorm that is Johnny Manziel. Just days after news broke that Texas A&M’s Johnny Football was under NCAA investigation for accepting payment for his Johnny Hancock, Clowney was drawn into fray. At issue: an unusually high number of Clowney-signed items popping up for sale on EBay.

Foes salivate as Carolina fans hyperventilate

Georgia and Florida fans no doubt celebrated the thought of a lengthy Clowney suspension improving their teams’ odds of seizing the SEC East championship, and Clemson fans surely salivated over Carolina’s potential season-altering imbroglio. But by the end of the day, USC had done its best to nip things in the bud by saying it had investigated the Clowney situation and found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

“We have investigated things that have been on eBay with him (Clowney) and other student-athletes before, “USC Associate Athletics Director Chris Rogers told The State. “In the situations I can say we looked into, there was no further for us to go, and we determined there was no violation.”

Cause for celebration, right? Well, maybe. Hopefully. But what about Rogers’ wiggle-wording: “In the situations I can say we looked into.” This implies that some situations were looked into but perhaps some were not. Just which situations are we talking about? The ones that came to fore today, or other situations?

A story with legs?

We all hope the Clowney signature-for-pay brouhaha is a one-day story, but it’s probably not. Why? Because a variety of items for sale on eBay by multiple sellers is no reason for concern. But if it’s true there is a batch of Clowney-signed items – nearly 300 – with sequential numbers out there, it sends up red flags. That many items surely weren’t signed on the sidelines or at a crowded media event; they had to have been signed at a sit-down autograph session.

As a former reporter, I can tell you exactly what the media scribes are doing now. They’re thinking about those sequential signatures and wondering why Clowney would spend considerable time signing items for someone who was going to profit from them. They’re contacting autograph brokers and sources in a hunt for someone – anyone – to come forward and say money changed hands.

You can say it’s not fair, and you can say the media sucks, but that’s what reporters do. This is a hot story, and chasing it is their job. It’s not personal. Some like Clowney and admire his incredible talent. Some would love to see Steve Spurrier lead the Gamecocks to a national championship. After all, that’s a hugely emotional and salable story too. But with reporters, admiring or liking an individual doesn’t matter. It can’t matter, because if it does they’re not doing their jobs.

Carolina fans deserve honesty

The bottom line is that there may be more tension-inducing headlines ahead. Of course, even if an anonymous source comes forward claiming Clowney accepted payment for his signature, it’s ultimately meaningless (except in the court of popular opinion). The only thing that could endanger Clowney’s season is a credible witness willing to go on record with the NCAA.

At this point, it’s likely the only people who know for certain why there is such a large number of sequential Clowney-signed items out there are Clowney and the broker in question. And we must presume Clowney has assured Carolina officials that he did not violate NCAA rules prohibiting college athletes from profiting from their name or image.

I like Clowney; he seems like a nice guy with a good head on his shoulders. I want to believe he’s done nothing for Carolina supporters to be concerned about. By the same token, I hope that if there’s fire to go with the smoke, he does the right thing by telling the truth. A protracted investigation isn’t fair to Carolina fans, and a fair to middling season without an anvil hanging over our heads is better than a championship season that comes crashing down.


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