Last week, I read one of the best pieces of journalism that I have been able to find on ESPN.com in quite some time. The title of the piece is, The curious case of Deion Sanders. Be warned, it is not one of the short fact-based pieces you are accustomed to finding on ESPN. I find it quite interesting based on my limited coverage of Deion Sanders on this site in the past.
My coverage of Sanders started with a Facebook post made by soon-to-be first round pick, Dez Bryant, when Bryant revealed that he was being suspended by the NCAA because he went to Deion Sanders’ house, the NCAA found out, and Bryant lied to them because he thought that telling the truth would be a violation of NCAA rules. Rumors started that Deion’s relation to agent Eugene Parker would lead Bryant to Parker. Whether those rumors were true or not, Bryant did in fact eventually select Parker to be his agent. I looked into that a little further in a piece titled, Dez Bryant Speaks About Deion Sanders And Eugene Parker.
So now we have this new piece by Seth Wickersham of ESPN the Magazine. Here is a portion of that story that adds some thought to my previous discussion of the Bryant, Sanders, Parker matter.
When Bryant returned to Oklahoma State, he started asking his coaches questions about agents and his pro career — the kind of questions the sophomore had never asked before. His coaches wondered, Why now? Was Sanders helping Bryant out of kindness? Or was he steering a first-round talent to his friend, agent Eugene Parker?
Suspecting the worst, OSU receivers coach Gunter Brewer and then-compliance director Scott Williams ordered Bryant to limit his interactions with Sanders to texts and phone calls. Bryant agreed, but there was still cause for concern; he was notoriously unreliable, and getting him to focus on even simple tasks like attending class was a daily struggle.
OSU officials say they tried to set up a conference call with Sanders, hoping to guard against any rules violations, but they never connected — although they did exchange several text messages with him. Over the summer, Williams got the call he feared, when the NCAA asked to interview Bryant. On July 24, the wideout answered questions about Sanders and Parker for two hours. Bryant told investigators the same thing he says now: “Deion never talked about Parker.”
The NCAA didn’t buy it. Bryant was interviewed again in August and once more in September. “I answered all the questions the best way I could,” he says. “But they’d say, ‘I’m going to ask you one more time’ … making me think I’d done something wrong.” So Bryant lied about visiting Sanders at Prime U and dining at his mansion. Neither of those things was a violation. The trouble came when the NCAA interviewed Sanders, who repeatedly denied being a runner for Parker but who also told the investigators that he had hosted Bryant at his house. Bryant’s lie — not anything Sanders did — ultimately resulted in a suspension that caused the receiver to miss all but the first three games of the 2009 season. “I don’t feel like Dez’s suspension was Deion’s fault,” Williams says, adding that Sanders was “extremely cooperative and open” throughout the process.
The NCAA has closed its investigation, but suspicion lingers, especially after Bryant, the top-rated receiver heading into April’s NFL draft, signed with Parker in January. “Why does Sanders want to mentor only the star players?” asks a college assistant coach. “I’ve got a backup guard who could use guidance. It can’t all be innocent.”
Then again, Parker represents only a few of Sanders’ Kids. The agent didn’t need Sanders to land star clients like Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald and Packers counterpart Greg Jennings, guys who barely know Sanders. “It doesn’t make sense for him to recruit guys to an agent,” says Hegamin, a friend of Sanders’ since 1995. “He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t ask anyone for anything. He doesn’t need to work for anybody.”
Sanders can only shake his head and laugh as he says, “Being accused of working for an agent? You’ve got to be kidding me!” He rolls his eyes when he hears Colt McCoy, the former Texas quarterback, talk about working at the Manning family camp and texting Peyton and Eli all the time. The NCAA doesn’t investigate those relationships, Sanders points out. Yes, he admits that if a player asks for advice while picking an agent, he happily vouches for Parker — even if that endorsement is a gotcha moment in the eyes of his critics. But should it be? Is it wrong for an adviser to recommend a trusted friend and successful professional? After all, the NCAA and the NFL Players Association do zero to protect a player who gets swindled by a bad agent. In any other field, Sanders’ advice would be seen as a matter of course. In sports, it’s seen as another reason to shake your disbelieving head.