“How did Jordan’s apology tweet come about?”
That was the text message Zach Bohannon received Monday morning from Jay Bilas. The ESPN college basketball commentator and noted NCAA critic was inquiring about a tweet Bohannon’s younger brother, Jordan, had sent the day before.
Jordan Bohannon, a junior guard at Iowa, went viral Sunday after the Wall Street Journal published a story about players at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament hoping to take March Madness rugs from their locker rooms as keepsakes. According to the Journal’s story, NCAA officials were stopping teams from leaving with the rugs.
Jordan Bohannon, whose 10th-seeded Hawkeyes were eliminated in the second round by Tennessee, responded to a tweet about the story with an image of one of the rugs he and his teammates had nabbed from a locker room and a message: “Give us the ability to make money off our own name and we’ll give you your rug back.”
The tweet was a shot across the bow at the NCAA’s amateurism rules, and it ricocheted across the Internet. But by late that evening, Jordan Bohannon had issued something of an apology.
“After much deliberation, the @NCAA has agreed with the @uiowa the rug can stay in Iowa City as long as I issue a mea culpa,” he wrote. “With that, I am sorry for my actions. No one is denying the incredible opportunities the NCAA provides for athletes like myself. I am forever grateful.”
Bilas wanted to know what caused the change of heart.
In a phone conversation with The Washington Post, Zach Bohannon relayed what he told Bilas after conversations with his brother all day Sunday. The apology was not simply a rambunctious college kid coming to his senses. It came after Iowa’s athletic department discussed the tweet with NCAA officials, and it was made clear to Jordan Bohannon that he should address the tweet and say that it was all a joke.
Iowa’s athletic staff consulted with Jordan Bohannon on his options Sunday, suggesting a number of tweets that he could write, along the lines of, “This was all in good fun. I’m very grateful to play in the tournament that the NCAA provided.” Jordan turned to his brother for help editing the final version of the tweet.
“I tried to go with something that sounded a little more sarcastic,” Jordan Bohannon said in a phone interview.
Said Zach Bohannon: “The university deemed it necessary that he send a follow-up tweet. They said he couldn’t leave the tweet hanging there.”
Matt Weitzel, Iowa’s associate director of athletic communications, wrote in an email: “We consulted Jordan and gave him some suggestions on another tweet to bring this to closure, not to ‘walk-back.’ . . . We were never told by the NCAA that they were going to look into the incident if he didn’t address it. . . . Ultimately, it was his decision on the context of his last tweet. It is possible Jordan may have been confused and thought the NCAA was giving him direction.”
The issue was reminiscent of an incident from Zach Bohannon’s college career. During Wisconsin’s run to the Final Four in 2014, Bohannon was stopped by a security guard before a practice and told he couldn’t take a water bottle into the gym because it wasn’t the brand of the NCAA’s sponsor. He tweeted about the encounter, igniting his own news cycle about the dichotomy of commercialism and amateurism at the NCAA tournament.
“That’s when I became really outspoken against the NCAA,” Zach Bohannon said.
For several years, his younger brother has asked him how he could be more outspoken about his own belief that the structure of college sports is unfair to players. If the NCAA wanted Jordan Bohannon’s original tweet to be a joke, it was anything but.
“It’s a slippery slope going down the road of paying athletes, but you should have control of your name, image and likeness,” Jordan Bohannon said. “I can’t take money if I talk to a camp of little kids playing basketball. Or [if] there are people wearing my jersey around campus, I don’t have the right to profit off of it. It’s crazy.”
He added: “Social media is a powerful tool. I feel like I kind of used the platform and I have opinions and definitely I raised the conversation. Just look at how many people wrote about it.”
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