USC Football: Former Trojan WR Lonnie White, Traitor or Sportswriter?

Bill N@@Bill_N1Correspondent IJune 24, 2011

Lonnie White was receiver and special-teams player at USC, where he set a single-season record for kickoff return yardage that stood from 1986 until 2010.
Lonnie White was receiver and special-teams player at USC, where he set a single-season record for kickoff return yardage that stood from 1986 until 2010.

The Daily article "Play for Pay" written by Lonnie White, revealed that he received $14,000 in different forms of "benefits" gained by selling season tickets while a wide receiver and special teams football player for USC in the 1980s. 

White also implicated his brother, Tim White, who he says took money from a wealthy USC football supporter and his roommate, Ron Brown, who later signed with the agent who gave him money and other benefits. His father, Elwood, also told him this also happened in the 1940s when he played at Morgan State.

This could not have come at a worse time for USC due to the NCAA sanctions for the Reggie Bush violations. Of course, none of White’s revelations will result in any NCAA action against the Trojans because the statute of limitations expired a long time ago.

One thing that White did not point out is the fact that USC was sanctioned for ticket selling in 1982 as were many other schools during that time.  The NCAA knew that the complimentary tickets were being sold and let it go on for many years. Finally they changed the rules.

So why did White write this article that continues the negative spotlight on the USC football program? Is he a traitor to his alma mater and the Trojan family, or is there another reason?

First, it is important to understand that White has been a sportswriter since his USC Daily Trojan days. He graduated and worked as a sports-beat writer for the L.A. Times from 1987-2008. So there is no question that he is a professional sportswriter.

This is not the first time that he has written about this subject.  In July 2010, he wrote "Solution Long Overdue for Problem of Agents and College Sports."

He is not the first athlete to disclose this problem.  The article "College Football 2011: With NCAA Amateurism a Joke, Here’s How to Fix the Mess" identifies some of the recent revelations as follows:

Sports agent Josh Luchs, NBA star and TV commentator Charles Barkley, NCAA sportswriter Lonnie White, former OSU RB Maurice Clarett, former Texas QB Colt McCoy’s wife, four former Auburn football players and others have openly discussed the many athletes who have violated NCAA rules by taking money and none of them were ever sanctioned. 

In order to truly understand why he wrote both of these articles, it is helpful to review some excerpts. 

Long History of Illegal Benefits Given to a Player by an Agent or Booster (2010 article):

It will be very interesting to see how the NCAA handles the recent rush of rule violations allegedly committed at several major football programs.

Every case seems to deal with illegal benefits given to a player by an agent or one of his representatives. For people who have been around college football, this is nothing new.

It was that way before I played college football in the 1980s at USC, and it's still happening today. And you don't have to be regarded as a potential first-round draft choice to be enticed with money and gifts from agents.

As a senior playing the 1986 season for the Trojans, I was an unknown kickoff returner who had a limited amount of pass catches to my credit when I was approached by three separate agents.


Reasons Athletes Accept Illegal Benefits (2010 article):

Without getting too deep, the main reason why athletes get caught up accepting illegal benefits is because they feel exploited. With the NCAA generating more money than ever, skillful agents find it easy to lure athletes with cash, gifts and other perks.

For the NCAA to really be taken seriously, it needs to show consistency. Discipline for having agents provide illegal benefits should be the same at every school. It should not matter if a program turns itself in or not.

But that's too much work. It's much easier for the NCAA to cut deals than to have every school go the distance fighting accusations like USC did.

Besides, the NCAA knows better than anyone that players receiving illegal benefits have been a factor at nearly every successful football program for decades.

It's always been a matter of putting in the effort to find out.


The Dirty Secret on College Football (June 2011 article):

Even though I knew what I was doing was wrong, it seemed like everyone I knew who played college football enjoyed some type of extra benefits as a player.

It must be noted that all this went on without the coaches’ knowledge. That seems hard to believe. It is true, though. At major programs, the pressure to win and the time commitment the coaches put forth toward the program itself leaves major opportunities for players to interact with people who have a different agenda.

It also should be noted that I understand that every college football player’s experience is different and there are many athletes who never receive money or illegal benefits. But it would not be wise to think that it doesn’t happen or that it only involves cut-throat successful programs. Or that it has stopped.

I know at least five athletes, who are either a relative or close family friend, who played at the BCS level last season. And they all agree, there’s more rule-breaking going on than people know.

It’s the "dirty secret" of college football that will continue to grow as money and power is connected with the sport.


Possible Solutions (July 2010 article):

This wouldn't be a problem if the NCAA truly made school presidents, athletic departments and coaches accountable. It's no secret that every big-time athletic program knows the shady characters who hang around the school's athletes. Sometimes they blend in and, other times, they stand out. But the more a team wins, the bigger issue this becomes.

The key is developing true relationships with student-athletes. The NCAA has to find a better way to force college coaches and administrators to really get to know the young athletes who play for their programs. That would help make it easier for a student-athlete to turn to someone with authority to help once off-the-field problems come up over the course of a college career.

A good place to start would be for the NCAA to install rules that encourage more personal contact instead of punishing coaches for spending too much time with an athlete during the offseason.

Another idea would be for the NCAA to create a fund for athletes who are considered high draft picks to be able to borrow from. The money pot could easily be put together by professional teams and agents, who pay for controlled access time with players during the season. Everything would be regulated and student-athletes would be taught about the agent process from the start of their college careers.

White’s agenda is clear.  He wants to bring attention to the problem so that solutions can be developed instead of pretending they are rare events like the NCAA.

White knows that college football players have been taking illegal benefits for many years and it continues today. Colleges are unable to detect the secret payments, and the NCAA has to rely on the media to give them enough cases to make it look like they are doing something.

White has provided an accurate description of what elite college football athletes face every day and this is important to the sport if anyone will listen.  Athletic directors, college presidents or chancellors, NCAA …anyone listening?

It is understandable that Trojan fans don’t like the example he used, but White should be applauded for his efforts as a sportswriter in making this problem more understandable and visible.

What do you think? 


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