Black Market: My Life in the Seedy Underbelly of College Basketball | college basketball

When the FBI shocked the college basketball world with its 2017 announcement of charges in a corruption scandal, I was caught in the crossfire.

That morning I was in bed. It was a Tuesday. September 26. Early, around 6:15 a.m. My wife, Candance, who has a doctorate in occupational therapy and was pregnant with my son August at the time, and I had just returned from a surprise trip to Canada for his birthday. She was in the bathroom, getting ready to go to work. I heard someone knock on the door. It was still dark outside. No one in their right mind would strike so early in the morning. I jumped out of bed, still half asleep, and rushed downstairs to see what the fuss was about.

Aggravated, wearing only a T-shirt and underwear, I opened the door and was greeted by the shocking sight of nearly 20 FBI agents on my porch, lawn, driveway and adjacent street. About 12 of them were equipped with tactical gear, assault rifles raised and ready, the rest in civilian clothes with handguns drawn. You would have thought I was an international drug lord and murderous fugitive from justice. It was a bizarre scenario that sounded more like a horrible dream.

The lead agent barked, “Are you Merl Code? You are under arrest!”


“I’ll tell you when you get in a car.”

“Nah. Tell me why I’m under arrest now.

“No, I’ll tell you when you get in the car.”

“Look, man, I know enough about the law to know you need to tell me why I’m under arrest.”

“Money laundering.”

“Who? What are you talking about?”

Next thing I knew, one of the officers was playing a recording of me talking to Christian Dawkins, a promising young sports agent I had mentored in the past. “It’s not a decision I can make – it’s an adidas decision and I will definitely ask Gatto and see what they want to do.”

It was the first and last time I would hear evidence of this appeal.

“You were involved in money laundering,” the officer said.

Then he started talking about wire fraud and everything.

Damn, okay, whatever.

A Yahoo! Sports column said the federal charges had me facing a maximum of 80 years in prison.

“Adidas executives Merl Code and Jim Gatto were widely known in the basketball industry as benevolent negotiators, behind-the-scenes shakers and confidants of the sport’s bold names,” the column read. “That changed when Code and Gatto became two of 10 basketball industry figures arrested in a federal investigation that shook the sport to its core.”

Wait what? Shaken the sport to the core?

This is where it started, the nightmare. Stupidity.

The NCAA, the governing body for college sports, has sold the myth of “amateurism” for decades. If you go to the NCAA website, they expose the myth to everyone:

Here are some situations that can impact the amateur status of a potential student-athlete…

  1. Receive payment from a sports team for participating.

  2. Receive funds or money to offset training expenses.

  3. Accept cash prizes based on performance/finishing in a competition.

  4. Be represented or marketed by a professional sports agent.

  5. Promotion or endorsement of a commercial product or service.

A lucrative scheme to raise billions of dollars, while the workers making the product are not allowed to profit from it themselves? Students of American history, or world history for that matter, will be tempted to say that they have heard of this type of arrangement before. Servitude under contract is a nice way to call it what it really is: a form of slavery.

So was I involved in breaking the rules of the absurd NCAA system? Man, we were all tiptoeing and, at times, trampling on those rules — players, families, coaches, agents, sneaker reps. It’s all in the game – a dirty game, some would say.

But answer me: who is really dirty?

Is this the guy who goes out and helps a child’s family cover their rent by charging them under the table for their work and talents? Or is it the coaches, universities, and so-called non-profit organizations that collectively rake in billions of dollars off the backs of penniless kids and then tell them to shut up and dribble because they’re getting an “education.” »?

I know where I am taking this argument, but I will also concede that it is not black and white. I have lived all my professional life in the greyness.

But a criminal? A criminal who required an entire tactical team of federal agents to arrest me at dawn? Go on!

And it’s a window into why this judge might call me a “very decent human being” before sentencing me to jail for doing things he admitted to be “prevalent in basketball- varsity ball and other varsity sports”.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the famous, mostly white head coaches and university administrators, were shielded from the legal implications, and even public scrutiny, that stemmed from the FBI investigation. .

But should paying talented athletes anything approaching a living wage be a crime? Is it really that bad for NCAA student-athletes to get a small chunk of the wealth they generate for their schools and outfitters? Judge Edgardo Ramos, who sentenced me, didn’t seem to think so.

“It seems that all of this type of conduct is prevalent in college basketball and other college sports,” the judge said during my sentencing. “The money is there. There’s a lot of it and it’s so easy to take. That doesn’t make it fair, but it explains how an individual like Mr. Code ends up in this courtroom today. .

That’s why I only received a three-month sentence for charges that otherwise warrant much longer sentences under federal guidelines.

Not even the NCAA itself seems to think so anymore, as the organization that controls amateur college athletics is now letting athletes explore sponsorship deals for their name, image and likeness. We’ll see how it goes, but even sound sponsorship deals are only a fraction of the money athletes earn for the athletic departments they play for.

The overwhelming majority of major players in Division I basketball and football are African Americans from underprivileged backgrounds. I sat in their living rooms and heard their stories. I have comforted single mothers who cried as they struggled to provide for their children. I’ve seen the look in a 16 year old’s eyes when he receives the first really new, un-passed down set of clothes he’s ever worn. And I’ve seen the amount of money everyone is making as these families struggle to get by. I don’t regret a single thing I did to help these children and families.

It is these children and families who are often overlooked in all of this. It is a profound injustice that billions of dollars are taken from the talents of young men, usually disadvantaged young black men, who are barred from participating in the revenue they generate.

My story will shed light on one of the most compelling social justice issues in modern American life: the systematic manipulation of young black men and their loved ones for the sake of money.

I should know. I have been part of this pattern of abuse for most of my career.

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