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The Tribune’s David Haugh tried to do the impossible Saturday. He wrote a column invoking the old-fashioned values to explain why Marcus Jordan needs to knuckle under and wear Adidas sneakers on the basketball court of the University of Central Florida. Basketball, Haugh reminds us, is a “team sport based on unselfishness and sacrifice.” Jordan is challenging the “oldest rule in sports. What the coach says goes for everybody every time.” Haugh is bewildered. “How can the son of the man widely considered the best player ever in a team sport defy such a fundamental team concept?”
Why does the coach at Central Florida want his players in Adidas? Because of a $1.9 million shoe contract between the university and the company. Why doesn’t Marcus Jordan want to wear Adidas? Because he prefers Jordan Brand, the line cooked up by Nike for his father, Michael Jordan.
When Central Florida recruited Marcus Jordan, it “made a recruiting promise it never should have made,” says Haugh, the promise being that he could wear his dad’s shoes. But now a $3 million extension of the contract between Adidas and Central Florida is at stake, and it is time for Marcus to get in line. “A college scholarship isn’t a right,” Haugh reminds us. “It’s a privilege. That privilege comes with conditions.” One of those conditions is to “follow a code of conduct established by the athletic department or team.”
There have been codes of conduct as long as there has been collegiate athletic competition. A college athlete is expected to be humble in victory, gallant in defeat. He is expected never to cheat. He is expected to compete for love of the sport and to give his all on the playing field. He is expected to serve his alma mater selflessly throughout his life.
Needless to say, that’s all still true, but the codes of today are far more complex than they used to be. The modern college athlete is expected to wear the sneaker brand stipulated in his university’s multi-million-dollar contract when competing for multi-million-dollar gates. He’s expected not to care that not a penny from those millions of swirling dollars wafts his way.
The assignment Haugh gave himself was to make Marcus Jordan’s desire to do right by his dad’s business deal sound arrogant and Central Florida’s position to defend its own business deal ring with timeless virtue. If Haugh had been one tick more earnest he could be accused of satire.