The Federal government won convictions on three of its cases against the sneaker pimps working behalf of the apparel company Adidas. The case is a strange one in that the FBI invested a lot of time into surveying and wiretapping some famous basketball coaches, as well as some senior company executives. Yet, they have narrowed their focus to some small fish and two executives. It’s one of those cases that probably reveals things about our age for what is not happening, than for what is actually happening in the courtroom.
For those unfamiliar with American college basketball, here’s some background.
Men’s college basketball is probably the most corrupt sport in America. It used to be that boxing was the dirtiest sport, but interest in it has collapsed to the point where it is probably no longer worth the trouble for the criminally inclined. Basketball, on the other hand, is a big money sport with lots of public interest. Like boxing, the talent tends to be unsophisticated and dull-witted, so they are easy to corrupt. There’s also a culture in the sport that tolerates hustlers and conmen. In fact, they are often celebrated.
Strangely, the corruption is not driven by the money coming in the front door, from ticket sales and player contracts. The corruption is driven by the money that comes through the back door, in the form of sneaker agents, apparel companies and the youth development leagues. The business model for sneaker companies is simple. They want black kids buying their sneakers. Since Americans worship black people and youth culture, whatever black kids like, gets bought by Americans and then the people of the provinces.
To that end, the sneaker companies are always looking to sign young basketball stars to represent their brand. They also want college programs, where many of the stars start to become famous, wearing their shoes. The result is the sneaker companies operate complex webs of street agents who bribe kids and their families to sign off-the-books contracts, so they can be guided to the college programs on the payroll of the sneaker company paying the street agent. It’s institutional bribery that has been normalized.
With that as background, it is a mystery as to why the Feds decided to go after these guys, when they have been turning a blind eye to it for decades. The corruption in college basketball is so well known that some of the notorious street agents, who bribe players on behalf of sneaker companies have become institutions. The agent for LeBron James has become very rich just because he got lucky and signed the biggest star in the sport when he was in high school. There are lots of guys hoping to win that lottery.
In other words, the Feds could have been arresting people for decades, but they didn’t and then all of a sudden they went after Adidas. Now, maybe that is just bureaucratic inertia, but what makes this strange is the limited scope thus far. The company executives involved were handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Given the nature of the sport, that means they probably had a budget of millions to use to bribe players and coaches. That money did not fall from the sky. It came from the company.
Everyone familiar with corporate accounting knows there is no account for bribery in the G&A expenses. Adidas is a publicly traded company, which means they have to follow strict accounting standards. That means there are people in their finance department who have been involved in fraud for a long time. It certainly means C-level managers were aware of the activities and approved it. The FBI could easily take down the whole company if they started to dig around in the books. They certainly have probable cause.
Then there is the strange fact that there have been no plea discussions. The people have not been offered a plea deal and no one has offered to talk. Again, the Adidas executives were not operating alone. They have bigger fish to trade for their freedom. The assistant coaches that have been charged can easily hand over their bosses, who are all famous people. The Feds love putting famous people in jail, because it gets them on TV, but in this case the Feds are strangely uninterested in leveraging what they have to get big fish.
Now, like most people reading this, I have limited interest in basketball. What’s intrigued me about this case is all of the dogs not barking. I can accept that the Feds just ignored the issue for years, because their political bosses put things like terrorism and the drug war as top priorities. Still, the Feds have time to hassle citizens for all sorts of stupid and petty things. It’s not like they are actually doing anything about drug crime and terrorism, other than putting on a show for the public. They could have been on this years ago.
Putting that aside, the real mystery is why they have not bothered to expand this case to the most obvious places. If we’re going to assume that the Feds are lazy so they go after low hanging fruit, then why are they not picking these big juicy plumbs that are right in front of them? Similarly, if sloth is the reason behind their lack of action for decades, why did they bother going to trial, when they could have offered these guys a deal? It’s one of those times where the answer to one question contradicts the answer to something else.
The reason this intrigues me is I think it reveals something about the entire system that most people just suspect. That is, the level of incompetence is much worse that even the harshest critics assert. We’ve seen glimpses of this in the FBI scandal. These people are supposed to be the elite, yet they bungled the simplest of tasks. That means down the line, the quality of personnel is even lower. The reason this sneaker case does not make a lot of sense is because the people running it just time-serving hacks.
Another angle to this is that this case reveals the cultural rot of the American empire. The appeal of professional sport is to see men compete in mock battles on a level playing field, abiding by transparent rules. The governing bodies are supposed to make sure the field remains level and the rules transparent. That’s sportsmanship. The state is supposed to step in clean up the business if the governing body is corrupt or simply needs help policing their sport. It’s why casinos have a strong relationship with law enforcement.
Yet, we have a sport that is flagrantly and openly corrupt and no one says anything about it or tries to do anything about it. As we see with this Adidas case, it would be very easy to pop dozens of coaches and even more sneaker company executives. A handful of high profile people going to prison is the sort of thing that reminds everyone else of the need to maintain high standards. As the Chinese say, sometimes you kill some chickens to scare the monkeys. Imprison a few sneaker executive to keep the rest of them motivated.
One final thought, as I have gone on too long about this. The political class is now moaning about the fact that the public has lost faith in institutions. They never think that maybe their unwillingness to enforce the people’s laws could be the reason. They never mention the flagrant disregard for the spirit of the law throughout the elite. Most Americans are sports fans and every day they are reminded that the Cloud People have no respect for the rules. Eventually, the message does sink in and the Dirt People follow suit.