Midway through United States of America v. Lamont Evans, et al., the authoring FBI investigator writes that Evans, while working as an assistant coach for the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, acted as a middleman in a bribery scheme to funnel NBA prospects to professional agents.
“All in violation,” it said, “of, among other things, NCAA rules and Evans’s duty to his employer [Oklahoma State].”
The indictment didn’t mention what Evans did that was so injurious to the players and their families he was alleged to have enriched, as well.
Evans was one of four assistant college basketball coaches, and six other men connected to the college game, charged last September with breaking one or more statutes of federal anti-corruption codes. Evans and the other assistants, including longtime NBA star Chuck Person, who was charged in another filing while at his alma mater, Auburn, are black. All were relieved temporarily or permanently of their jobs.
Four of the other six men charged are black, too. So are the 10 current players, according to the indictments, targeted by the coaches and other men. Most were scheduled to play with their teams starting Thursday in the $860 million windfall to the government of college basketball, the NCAA, we affectionately call March Madness. Other former players identified included last year’s top NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz from DeMatha, who played collegiately at Washington and was said to have received $10,000 via the agency ASM from which Christian Dawkins, one of the charged, was subsequently fired.
It isn’t unusual for black men to be centralized in a scandal involving college sports, whether it’s academic scandals at North Carolina or these recruiting violations at myriad schools. They make up more than half of the athletes who fill out the rosters of the sports that generate all that loot.
They are often the assistant coaches tasked with luring black males to those teams. As one of the indictments stated, the path to securing commitments from college athletes was through assistant coaches such as Evans because, according to a quote from Dawkins, via a wiretap: “The head coach … ain’t willing to [take bribes] ‘cause they’re making too much money. And it’s too risky.”
It also isn’t new for a crackdown to be leveled on their class for having dared to circumvent the structure in which they’ve been enlisted that mostly benefits others despite their toil being the source of the gains.
As Reconstruction was dismantled, the first star black athletes in this country, jockeys, along with a few black horse owners and trainers, organized their own networks off the track to take greater advantage of the revenues they were generating, most of which went to line the pockets of white horsemen. Isaac Murphy was the superstar jockey at that time. Edward Brown was one of the first black owners. The two cut a deal in the 1870s for Murphy to ride Brown’s horses for $1,000. It was said then to be the largest payment from a black owner to a black jockey, and it set the horse racing business, then this country’s main pastime, on edge.
It led to suspicion that black jockeys, trainers and owners were trading insider information and sharing it with friends who put the knowledge to use to beat gamblers at their game. LSU researcher Matthew Saul Perreault noted in a recent study, “Jockeying for Position: Horse Racing in New Orleans, 1865-1920,” that white bookmakers became so concerned that they complained openly at the 1875 Belmont Stakes: “Old Ansel [Williamson], [Oliver] Lewis, and the western ‘colored capitalists’ in general came down, like the wolf on the fold, with heavy investments,” that cost the bookmakers any profit.
Perreault further noted that a black jockey William Walker, who won the the 1877 Kentucky Derby, was threatened by the Louisville Jockey Club president, M. Lewis Clark, with the ultimate penalty if Walker did anything against the rules to influence a race’s outcome. “You will be watched the whole way,” Perreault found Clark warned, “and if you do not ride to win, a rope will be put about your neck, and you will be hung to that tree yonder, and I will help to do it.”
None of the 10 men centralized in this new scandal in college athletics face a potential death penalty like William Walker. One already had charges against him dropped.
But for one of the first times in history, these men as a group face the criminalization of what heretofore were just violations of NCAA rules designed to keep the riches out of the hands of those who produce it, black athletes. Now, instead of facing permanent unemployment in college sports at worst, they face maximum penalties of decades in prison for behaving mostly like Robin Hoods. They were taking care of themselves, no doubt, but also making up to the greatly underpaid laborers what those laborers should have shared in far more greatly from the very start.
The charged haven’t been without fault, of course. The indictment against Person noted that he lied to the mother of a player, misrepresented the role of one of his co-conspirators and was not at all forthcoming about his profiting from the arrangement, which the government said amounted to $91,500.
Person’s attorneys filed a defense motion last Friday to dismiss the charges. “In this case, the government has singled out certain alleged NCAA rules violations as ‘corrupt’ and decided to prosecute them as federal crimes,” Theresa Trzaskoma wrote in the motion. “It is hard to fathom what federal interest is at stake in enforcing the NCAA’s amateurism rules.”
Evans and the other defendants in his indictment were asked to file their motions by July 30. Their arguments should be the same.
After all, the people they eventually served in this arrangement weren’t hurt by their actions. They were laborers and parents who benefited, and rightfully so.