Universities recruit athletes with shoe bribes

Jody Michael

Why did I choose to attend Kent State? It’s a simple 15-minute drive from my house; I can live at home and not waste money on room and board. The university offered me some generous renewable scholarships. The journalism program has a state-of-the-art facility.

Why do some football players choose to attend Kent State? The team’s uniform contract is with Nike.

Seriously. That is exactly what the Record-Courier reported last year when the football team switched its uniform contract from New Balance to Nike.

“KSU even believes the switch to Nike could help in recruiting,” the story read. “One of the first questions most recruits ask is, ‘What shoes do you wear?’”

Perhaps you have noticed the football team gets some free Kent State apparel, all of it displaying the Nike swoosh; many players like to wear it around campus. Apparently that little swoosh is extremely important, for some reason.

Fast-forward to present day. Have you heard about the investigation of Ohio State football players receiving illegal benefits? A similar investigation is beginning at the University of Oregon, where agent Willie Lyles allegedly broke NCAA rules when successfully recruiting running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk.

Lyles told head coach Chip Kelly that Seastrunk loves Air Jordan sneakers. Air Jordan is a Nike product. Nike headquarters are in Washington County, Ore., just two hours from the University of Oregon. Nike co-founder Phil Knight is a UO graduate and has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the school.

Knight may have also donated some special Air Jordans to lure Seastrunk.

My question is: Why in the world would you pick a college on the basis of what shoe brand you get to wear?

This is one reason ESPN.com uniform columnist Paul Lukas absolutely hates Nike. He describes Nike as a “lifestyle company” —selling not just clothes, but a lifestyle, through “flashy ad campaigns” and “expensive endorsement deals.”

Thus, Nike “promote[s] their own brand in a way that eclipses the brands of the teams they outfit.” Nike influences people to think it’s important to wear its merchandise — all the best athletes do! Those crazy enough to think that actually matters at all eventually succumb to the propaganda and feed the corporate monster.

I just don’t understand how a person like (supposedly) Seastrunk can let something so unimportant as a pair of shoes influence where he attends college. Forty percent of the world population doesn’t even have shoes to wear.

I still remember the barrage of posters in my middle school reminding me how so few student athletes ever “go pro,” and even those who do should have a fallback plan in case of a career-ending injury or because most athletes retire from sports before turning 40 years old.

Keep in mind that as a Kent State student, $271.13 of your tuition each semester goes to the athletic budget. Nearly one-fourth of the athletic budget funds full-ride student-athlete scholarships, some of which may start going to athletes who care more about shoes than an education.

Jody Michael is a junior news major.

Contact him at [email protected].