Three days after weathering a storm of criticism over its exploitive “Ri5e to the Occasion” t-shirts – including this epic takedown from The Nation’s Dave Zirin – Adidas appears to be backing down. Of all the negative commentary Adidas generated over the past week, none was more lethal nor more surgically precise than Zirin’s garroting of the sporting goods giant and its partner in crime, the walking antitrust violation known as the NCAA:
There’s been a river of ink already spilled over Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s horrific leg injury during the Cardinals’ Elite Eight victory over the Duke Blue Devils. … Now, however, we’ve reached the point where tragedy becomes farce. On Wednesday we learned that Adidas, in conjunction with the University of Louisville athletic department, will be selling a $24.99 t-shirt with Kevin Ware’s number 5 and the slogan “Rise to the Occasion” emblazoned across the back. His team will also be wearing warm-ups with Ware’s name, number and the slogan “All In.” …
You almost have to tip your cap: no non-profit does buccaneer profiteering quite like the NCAA. What other institution would see a tibia snap through a 20-year-old’s skin on national television and see dollar signs? In accordance with their rules aimed at preserving the sanctity of amateurism, not one dime from these shirts will go to Kevin Ware or his family. Not one dime will go toward Kevin Ware’s medical bills if his rehab ends up beneath the $90,000 deductible necessary to access the NCAA’s catastrophic injury medical coverage. Not one dime will go towards rehab he may need later in life. “Going forward, we don’t know what's going to happen in terms of medical expenses,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a group trying to organize NCAA athletes. “If Kevin has lifelong medical bills associated with his injury, he could be squarely responsible for this…These are things that are not guaranteed to players that are injured, and no matter how hard it might be for people to understand, that's the truth. And that should change.”
“Buccaneer profiteering” is exactly right. The NCAA has no shame. Adidas, on the other hand, may have at lest a little. ESPN.com reports today:
Adidas has stopped selling T-shirts featuring the jersey number of injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware, citing a “logo issue,” Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein told ESPN.
The shirts read “Rise to the Occasion” with Ware’s No. 5 substituted for the “S” in “Rise.”
Louisville had said it had waived adidas’ royalties for the shirt so it would not be profiting off Ware’s injury. Adidas would make contributions to the university’s scholarship fund.
Oh. “Contributions to the university’s scholarship fund.” That’s nice. That means Adidas will keep most of the profit it’s made from selling the t-shirts, the University will get none, but the company will make some sort of token “contribution” to its general scholarship fund. Meanwhile, no word on whether the NCAA will return its cut of the money generated by the sale of “Ri5e to the Occasion” t-shirts. (The NCAA strictly controls all merchandise related to “Championship Events” like the Final Four.)
And then there’s Kevin Ware, who’ll be sitting on the sidelines in Atlanta tonight. Back to Dave Zirin:
As for Kevin Ware, he returned to Louisville this week, his coach by his side. Coach Pitino announced that he is healthy enough to be in Atlanta for the Final Four, cheering on his teammates. Ware is now a newly minted media star: a 21st century George Gipp with the benefit of having a story that’s actually true. Unfortunately the school won’t even say publicly, if rehab doesn’t go as planned, whether he’ll still have a scholarship waiting for him when he returns in the fall. The official word from Louisville is that the question is irrelevant because “doctors are expecting a full recovery.” One thing is certain. At least he’ll get a lousy t-shirt.
Let’s hope Kevin Ware recovers enough to return to basketball next year so his scholarship remains in tact. It would be nice, though, if Louisville could give him some peace of mind while he recovers by stating up front that it’ll honor his scholarship.
In the meantime, the NCAA and companies like Adidas will continue to make money off (ahem) “student-athletes” like Kevin Ware long after this controversy fades. Shame is temporary; profiteering is forever.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]