Alabama Football: What You Need to Know About the "Suitgate" Claims
Larry Burton (Syndicated Writer) I guess there's no better person, other than the mall store owner Tom Albetar himself, to tell this story since I, myself, had my first job out of Alabama running a men's clothing store in downtown Tuscaloosa that also routinely sold clothing to athletes at the University of Alabama.
Like Albetar, we routinely gave discounts to athletes, but then we we routinely gave discounts to almost everyone.
I just saw on television an ad for Joseph A. Banks clothing stores, it's a national ad and it proclaimed that for two days only, buy one "suit and get any two free!"
That should tell you something about the clothing business. There's lots of wiggle room in clothing, especially in suits. Of course this was back in the early '80s, but we could buy fine looking suits for $69, mark the "regular" price $269 and then we could run them on sale for half off and still double our money.
So if an Alabama player walks into a Joseph A. Banks store this weekend and buys one suit but leaves with three, there will be somebody that will report, "Today another Alabama player posed for pictures and signed some merchandise and left with two free suits."
Such is the way of college football today.
Anybody with a computer and either a grudge or the desire for notoriety can become a "reporter."
And no doubt an Alabama detractor will pick up that story and run with it and after a while a certain number of people will believe it's true.
So yes, back in the day we would be tickled to have athletes come in and buy clothes from us and, yes, we wanted pictures and memorabilia to show that that they shopped here. It made others want to shop there too. It was a win-win situation.
And yes, we would give them "special deals," like buy one and get one free, or toss in a matching shirt and tie or pair of shoes. But the truth is, just like Joseph A. Banks is advertising right now, we would do that to anybody.
In the case at Alabama, way before the story was "broken" by wannabe journalists, the University of Alabama got wind that this practice looked bad and letters were sent out local merchants displaying and selling things signed by players.
As you can see in the letter, that was way back in December. Players were questioned and all had said that everything was paid for. Some merchants were questioned and all explained that, yes, they had given "deals" to the players, but no more "deal" than they give to other good clients.
Nothing was determined to have taken place that was a violation.
In my role as a credentialed reporter, I am often on the sidelines of the the Alabama games and there are often dozens of people there who are not reporters. Before I was credentialed, I was allowed to be on the sideline for an A-Day Game as a reward for simply being a Red Elephant Club member.
Of course I was there with maybe 30 other Red Elephant Club members that day, and I was by no means "special."
Albetar was photographed on the sideline in one game. That same game, there were maybe 25 other people there who were granted that privilege for being a booster or some other reason. Some were from our school, some were from the visitor's school. It's been that way at every school and always will be.
But uninformed people want to try and connect the dots and get creative.
Albetar was and is a nice fellow I'm sure. Like we used to do, he would know who could and couldn't afford to spend a lot of money but needed to look sharp for certain events and he would discount things to players just like we used to do. We still made money on the transaction, and I'm sure he did too. We just made a little less.
And for that niceness, players would sign things for us, just as they did for Albetar.
But why Albetar was sent a letter of disassociation was that it appeared he was crossing the line by selling some of the memorabilia they players thought they were signing for him as a fan and friend and, yes, just like us all those years ago, the players thought of him a friend because they knew he loved the Crimson Tide and he was giving them "discounts."
He was overly friendly and players would often stop by to chat and hang out when they would go to the mall. They did with us too way back in the day.
They do that at favorite restaurants too, and like Albetar, those restaurants sure have their signed photo displayed prominently on the walls.
But in the end, it was only Albetar who was breaking any rules, not the players or the university. He was not licensed to sell such things, and it cast a bad light on the university.
Yes, the players "got taken care of" there and were given special attention and just like the theme song from "Cheers," you want to go where everybody knows your name and you're treated special.
What the players may not have known, and I know the ones from back in my day seldom knew, was they they were not getting any "deals" that weren't offered to anyone who was willing to buy a lot clothes.
So while some detractors try and point to the Ohio State scandal and say this is the "same thing," the players at Ohio State University were knowingly and willingly trading memorabilia for tattoos and other things while paying nothing.
Even the wildest Alabama hater can see the difference of getting something for a signature and paying no cash to getting a discount on something you're paying for. Especially when, even with the discount, the merchant is still making money.
And maybe now you understand why the whole "Suitgate" story is much to do about nothing and why the university nor the NCAA is concerned over it.
This is something that goes in every college town every day. Only Albetar stepped over the line and only Albetar was punished.
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