I hold this truth to be self evident: if a second party offers you cash for nothing more than your personal signature, you have the unalienable right to sell that chicken-scratch for whatever the free market will bear.
Johnny, it’s time. Time for your boy Nate Fitch to work his phone and dial up a cannonball splash of a press conference. To hell with ESPN, to hell with CNN, to hell with Fox, go out and blast this game-changing statement on QVC. No mixed bouquet of microphones – grab your Sharpie and stand Heisman proud in front of great glass shelves of helmets, hats, and jerseys, bring along the Hooters girls and stack piles of paraphernalia from every university, pro franchise, and barbecue joint in Texas.
Show, don’t tell. Sign.
Sign every randomly proffered Horned Frogs lid, every Cotton Bowl pennant, every tee-shirt from Smokey’s and Mavericks and Stubbs. Sign until the pad of your thumb cramps and a permanent ink divot digs deep into your middle finger, sign until your entire wrist feels like it’s going to detach, melt down, burst into flames. Call it weakness leaving your body or no pain no gain or whatever cliché keeps you in motion, but sign, sign, sign. Sign. Operators are standing by. Se habla Español.
Johnny, sell every last autographed scrap because some stern-faced columnists are very upset and TV types are getting paid hundreds of dollars an hour to install their “Ma’am-I’m-afraid-we-have-some-terrible-news” faces, biting their made-up lips and slowly shaking shellacked heads as they lay out the serious allegations facing Johnny Manziel. Those faces: the drug bust face, the sexual assault face, the untimely death face, they’re making that exact same face because maybe – just maybe – you dared take ownership of your own name.
Johnny, those anchors and experts are breathing through their teeth, and with each pained inhalation they cite the damning evidence provided by some hustler who gets paid seven bucks a pop to confirm your hand-written signatures are in fact your hand-written signatures. What a country, Johnny, this country where not one of those anchors and experts has the heart to leap off their padded seat and holler: WHY CAN’T THE KID SIGNING THE SHIT MAKE A FRIGGIN’ CENT!!!
Johnny, you can be the one. The one who makes a difference, the kind of difference that may outlast everything you ever do inside the lines. You can lead the way great leaders do: by following a calling you never thought would be yours, by taking a stand you never anticipated, by finding yourself on the right side of history rather than chasing a longstanding agenda or a cynical plan. Or maybe don’t think of it that way. Maybe think of it as: fuck ‘em.
Don’t skulk, don’t hide, don’t rely on backroom deals and middlemen. Stand smiling firm and sell every damn autograph you can. Stand firm and force the NCAA pay a $500 p/hr suit to pace before a judge or arbitrator, force them to make a clear legal argument that the right to sell your signature extends to every man, woman, and child in the free world – or everyone except you and your immediate family.
And Johnny, while those scolds clock hour after hour deciding your fate, you can load up all those helmets, hats, and Stubbs tee-shirts, you can just set up shop right outside the damn hearing. Maybe don’t bring the great glass shelves this time – those will be heavy and breakable and you don’t need the excess overhead. Regular folding tables will do, you stand in front of those tables with your QVC cameras rolling and your operators standing by, and then you go on and sign and sell every damn thing in arm’s reach.
Then, when the lawyers come out and hand over the written decision, go run off reams of copies and sign those too.
They’ll suspend you, of course. So? How do you slip a bullrushing lineman? Let that fat bastard’s momentum take him where you used to be. They can’t suspend you if you’re already gone. And what can they physically bar you from? Another season in College Station only promises the hollowed-out, bitter alienation of knowing that every set you lift, every sprint you run, every hit you take, every droplet of sweat is cash in someone else’s pocket. Washingtons, Lincolns, and Jacksons, fat stacks of founding fathers changing hands, while the overlords (fat sacks in their own right) huff smug and make sure you know they own your ass.
Stuff the suspension and show up to the next day’s practice. Make Coach Sumlin call in state troopers to physically escort you off the field. Offer to sign the troopers’ hats. Have your boy Fitch on hand with his camera, have all those QVC operators standing by, then autograph the hell out pictures of you getting booted off the A&M field. Sell, sell, sell.
With the money you stand to make just by being Johnny Manziel, you can pay Vinny Testaverde and Chris Herren to split overnights on your pull-out sofa. Footwork first thing in the morning, motivational speeches after breakfast. No matter how you spend the next 18 months you’re never going to grow another four inches, so whether you work out with personal coaches or strap it on in the SEC, the same critical questions will hang over your 5-11 head come draft day.
Yes, of course, 18 months is a lifetime for a young guy with a potentially limitless income and no set responsibilities, so consider doing what millions of late adolescents do to avoid a permanent weekend: keep showing up to class. Mix it up – take a few courses that are practical, a few that are challenging, and then a few just for kicks. Get decent grades and then sign copies of your report card. Keep those operators standing by.
Johnny, do it for Eric Crouch and Ken Simonton, do it for Ian Johnson and Vai Taua, do it for all the athletes who happened to play the very biggest of their big money games on an NCAA stage. Do it to double the earning span of all those NFL players who won’t last beyond the proverbial 3.2 years.
Do it for Ed O’Bannon’s bum knees and his long overdue lawsuit. Do it because the greedheads in the NCAA wouldn’t think twice about kicking the most exciting player out of the game to preserve their source of free labor.
Do it to end your love/hate relationship with Twitter. Sign, sign, sign, and Tweeting will no longer be the sole medium where you have personal control of your voice. Sign, sign, sign and Twitter will just be one more tool for reaching potential customers.
Do it because you know damn well no one should prohibit you from profiting off your name and likeness. Do it because reclaiming your signature will be as freeing as breaking containment and seeing a field of wide open green.
Johnny, this is your chance to go down among the legends. Trust me – I’m not making shit by saying this. Matter of fact, not only do I not want to make money off you, Fitch can go ahead and put me down for a Horned Frogs hat, the full array of state trooper action shots, and if you keep at least a 3.0, a baker’s dozen of the autographed report cards. No need to spell my last name right or add any personal message – just sign everything Johnny Fucking Football. I’ll take it. It will be a bargain, for both of us.