Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Marcus Lattimore should take NFL to court

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The gruesome injury to South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore last Saturday was hard to stomach on so many levels.

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South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore is comforted by a trainer after dislocating his right knee against Tennessee on Saturday.  being injured during an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore is comforted by a trainer after dislocating his right knee against Tennessee on Saturday. being injured during an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

The video of Lattimore’s dislocated right leg flopping unnaturally and the obvious agony it caused him was hard enough to watch.

The understanding of the torturous rehabilitation that Lattimore will have to go through once again just to have a chance to make it back onto the football field is tough to comprehend.

Those physical and mental tolls exerted on such a gifted and well-respected young man are significant. But if doctors’ assessments of his recovery chances are accurate, those costs might only be temporary.

But there’s another cost that Lattimore might never recover – his value to the NFL. Whether or not he ever gets strong enough to play again for the Gamecocks, his once can’t-miss professional career and the riches that come with it might never materialize.

For that reason, Lattimore seems to have a legitimate case to sue the NFL and the NCAA for lost wages as they conspired to deny him that career opportunity with a grossly unfair and un-American rule requiring players to be out of high school at least three years before being eligible for the NFL Draft.

The NFL has the most restrictive eligibility requirement in the world. It requires adults to serve three-year, unpaid collegiate apprenticeships before being allowed to pursue their careers. It doesn’t matter whether an 18-year-old freshman like Lattimore proves immediately that he has the strength and the durability to excel in college football’s toughest conference, he is required to put his health at risk for two more years before having the chance to capitalize on his unique gifts.

The NFL and NCAA say this rule is in place for the well-being of the young athletes whose bodies and training might not be ready for the physical demands of the NFL. In most cases, they are absolutely right.

But this rule is just a matter of convenience for everyone but the athlete. The college teams and their fans are secure in knowing they will get to exploit the unpaid services of its most talented players for at least three seasons. The NFL, in return, gets a no-cost farm system and eliminates the risk of making draft mistakes on players prematurely.

That doesn’t do guys like Lattimore a whole lot of good. As a heralded true freshman, he averaged nearly 124 total yards on 22 touches per game as he led the Gamecocks to their first appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game. He even received Heisman Trophy consideration as one of the top running backs in the nation.

Had he been eligible, there is little doubt that an NFL team would have taken a chance with at least a second-round pick on a fresh-bodied running back like Lattimore with no history of significant injury. Former Gamecocks wide receiver Alshon Jeffery – the 45th overall pick by Chicago last year – signed a four-year, $4.52 million contract including a $1.75 million signing bonus.

With a rebuilt ACL last season in one knee and last week’s horrifying dislocation of the other, Lattimore might never see that kind of contract now.

I asked several Georgia Bulldogs players whether they thought the three-year rule was unfair, and they all surprisingly sided with the powers that be looking out for their own best interests.

“Everybody’s not ready and I feel like some people would probably make that leap wouldn’t be able to handle it too well,” receiver Tavarres King said.

But King and his teammates also agreed that a few special players like Lattimore don’t fit the average mold. One recent example was Georgia receiver A.J. Green.

“A.J. was ready out of the womb,” King said.

Running backs in particular take the greatest risk by waiting. There’s only a finite number of hits any running back can take in his career before the body breaks down, and it’s not a position with significant longevity in the NFL.

“A running back takes beatings every game,” Georgia defensive back Damian Swann said. “Taking three or four years of beatings before they get to the next level where it’s going to get worse is pretty hard on them.”

“That is a tough position to play,” King said. “You’re hitting somebody every single play. Maybe the rule should be a little skewed for running backs or guys who are banging every play.”

Here’s an idea – let the system decide whether a player is capable of being the next LeBron James or former GreenJacket Pablo Sandoval of the NFL. Turning professional as teenagers didn’t ruin James’ and Sandoval’s MVP/championship careers.

Unlike doctors or lawyers, playing football doesn’t require a college degree, as illustrated by the fact that many players in the NFL never completed their college degree requirements.

Shouldn’t South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins or Georgia running back Todd Gurley have the right to explore their chances to get paid now rather than later for their talents? Let the system decide if they’re ready and not some arbitrary and convenient deadline.

More than stipends for collegiate players, the NCAA could do what’s right for student-athletes by giving them more options to pursue their pro potential without penalty. Let kids be drafted, and if they don’t get picked or fail to make an NFL roster allow them to return as eligible athletes to their college teams to keep working on their education and that professional degree for which they’re all aspiring.

In short, be a real farm system instead of a phony one where everyone benefits except the athletes themselves.

So what if a few guys make a little money trying out for NFL teams before getting dumped back in the system if they didn’t make the pro cut? At least they would have had the chance to pursue their American dream like every other gifted adult in any chosen field.

Lattimore could do himself and every other college football player a favor by suing the NCAA and NFL and forcing them to change a rule that couldn’t possibly hold up in the courtroom.

He might not have been interested in turning pro so soon, but he and every other college player deserve to have the right to make that decision for themselves.

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Dr. Yeager
5
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Dr. Yeager 11/02/12 - 12:28 am
3
1
Bravo Scott!

College football players are not abused-but they may be the most economically exploited population in the U.S.

kcbay
2
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kcbay 11/02/12 - 02:34 am
0
1
Couldn't agree more, however....

Perhaps a possible solution to help ensure that only the 'NFL Ready' NCAA/high school players are selected is to limit NFL teams to 1 draft pick that falls under the category of less than three year NCAA experience.

Would this not limit NFL teams from taking risks on players who have the talent/potential but aren't 'there' yet?

Riverman1
81323
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Riverman1 11/02/12 - 04:49 am
4
0
Complex Situation

You would damage college football by decimating high ranking teams taking their sophomore and junior players. Plus, if a player leaves that early he's not likely to complete his education. With three years of college he is much more likely to finish. Keep in mind, a player with enormous potential doesn't have to play football. Marcus could have sat out after his freshman year and waited a couple of years to be drafted. Many also take out a big insurance policy against injury after a super freshman year. That way if they are injured they get something substantial. I wouldn't be surprised if Marcus' family didn't do that.

I'm reminded of the words of Barry Sanders' father. He said if he went back to play his senior year at Ok State, he would personally break his son's leg. I also remember Vince Dooley talking about Hershel Walker leaving for the USFL after his junior year as if he had made the biggest mistake there was. Hardly.

csrareader
1283
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csrareader 11/02/12 - 05:17 am
4
0
"It doesn’t matter whether an

"It doesn’t matter whether an 18-year-old freshman like Lattimore proves immediately that he has the strength and the durability to excel in college football’s toughest conference"

It's hard to make that argument when he has had two severe injuries in two years.

csrareader
1283
Points
csrareader 11/02/12 - 08:27 am
3
0
Silly argument

If a player has the talent and wants to play for pay before the NFL comes calling, they can play Canadian Football after one year of college. If that doesn't work, they can try to get on the payroll at Auburn or Alabama.

pwren46
187
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pwren46 11/02/12 - 09:06 am
6
2
I totally disagree that these

I totally disagree that these high level college players are being exploited. Most of the "high level" players are getting a full-ride scholarship to play football for the college of their choice. Additionally, they are gaining valuable on the job experience to be even be able to move to the next level in their football career...if they even choose football as their career. I actually believe that when a player deserts his college without finishing out his scholarship, it is the fans and taxpayers who are shortchanged. Lattimore got hurt playing football. What if he had been injured crossing the street. Is that the NFL's fault?

noway
201
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noway 11/02/12 - 09:28 am
4
2
Horrible

So you stated "The NFL and NCAA say this rule is in place for the well-being of the young athletes whose bodies and training might not be ready for the physical demands of the NFL. In most cases, they are absolutely right. Obviously, and very unfortunately, Lattimore wasn't physically ready for the physical demands of college. Which is why he's been hurt three times. I think it's horrible, but sueing for "lost wages"? That's ridiculous.

Tawanda and Jessie
4
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Tawanda and Jessie 11/02/12 - 10:03 am
2
0
Check The Facts:

Marcus is in his junior year at USC.

Jake
32144
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Jake 11/02/12 - 10:05 am
4
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Exchange

In exchange for playing college football an athlete is GIVEN an opportunity for a college education. Do you know how much a college education costs? Also, a college education will get you a lot farther than playing football will (in most cases). Sueing the NCAA and the NFL? Ridiculous.

J.Landry
6
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J.Landry 11/02/12 - 10:49 am
4
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Where have you been?

This has been happening forever and the minute it happens to a USC student athlete you turn into Ken Nugent. What if he never saw the field should the University be able to sue the student athlete? Go chase some ambulances.

Dudeness
1543
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Dudeness 11/02/12 - 01:09 pm
5
2
I checked the USC website and

I checked the USC website and the tuition/fees for in-state residents can easily exceed $20,000 annually (It is a LOT higher for out-of-state students) and I am sure that he is there on a scholarship. That is a lot of money for someone straight out of high school. The argument that these players are exploited and "not paid" for their skills is garbage.

Beachgal
357
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Beachgal 11/02/12 - 03:23 pm
0
0
Fact check?

"It doesn’t matter whether an 18-year-old freshman like Lattimore proves immediately that he has the strength and the durability to excel in college football’s toughest conference"

Isn't Marcus a 21 year old junior?

etlinks
19895
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etlinks 11/02/12 - 03:46 pm
1
0
Sue the NFL ?

I don't think Lattimore is concerned with such BS thoughts.Today was his first surgery and I am sure he is hoping for the best results. And silly comments about him not being physically able to handle college football are a bigger joke.Any player that took those hits would be in the same boat.

etlinks
19895
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etlinks 11/02/12 - 04:19 pm
1
0
Tuff man!

Citadel’s Rickey Anderson has overcome three knee surgeries and a twice-broken leg and is still playing football. Did he sue the NFL? No. Is he physically able to play college football? Yes.

KSL
124747
Points
KSL 11/02/12 - 05:46 pm
1
1
My son had knee surgery for a

My son had knee surgery for a football injury in the 10th grade. He worked hard at rehab. His knee tested stronger than before he was injured. A lot has to do with desire and dedication.

rmwhitley
5532
Points
rmwhitley 11/02/12 - 06:33 pm
0
0
Lowyers will love
Unpublished

this article. They sue if someone catces a cold after being warned it's cold in Antarctica. I think the world of Mr. Lattimore, by the way.

WiscoTroy
5
Points
WiscoTroy 11/02/12 - 06:52 pm
3
1
Mr Michaux- You should be

Mr Michaux- You should be ashamed of yourself for writing such absolute nonsense. Typical American arrogance, and yes, I'm an American. The rules exist so these young men do not get hurt WORSE if they go to the NFL too soon. It's a great rule and also helps keep the competitive balance of college football in tact.

The yeah, let's sue someone attitude is plain wrong and your credibility as a writer is GONE. Marcus Lattimore has had a history of injuries, and while this injury was especially gruesome, he's always been hurt and had he been in the NFL it could have been worse. Do you even realize the jump in the level of competition from college to the NFL? Or are you just that ignorant?

Oh, I guess Lattimore will just have to FINISH HIS DEGREE and get a real job like 99.9% of the rest of America!

GET A CLUE DUDE!

KSL
124747
Points
KSL 11/02/12 - 07:39 pm
2
1
Wisco

I won't rule out his coming back from this injury.

KSL
124747
Points
KSL 11/02/12 - 07:46 pm
2
1
Red shirt year

He still has that.

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