“Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently.“I never will forget it.” Friday, who founded and co-chaired two of the three Knight Foundation sports initiatives over the past 20 years, called Vaccaro “the worst of all” the witnesses ever to come before the panel.
Vaccaro had sought a law firm for O’Bannon with pockets deep enough to withstand an expensive war of attrition, fearing that NCAA officials would fight discovery to the end. Late in 2008, someone who heard his stump speech at Howard University mentioned it to Michael Hausfeld, a prominent antitrust and human-rights lawyer, whose firm had won suits against Exxon for Native Alaskans and against Union Bank of Switzerland for Holocaust victims’ families.
Then the Sherman Antitrust Act would provide for thorough discovery to break down exactly what the NCAA receives on everything from video clips to jerseys, contract by contract. The recommendation was based on the worthy truism that sunlight is a proven disinfectant. Conferences, coaches, and other stakeholders resisted disclosure; college players still have no way of determining their value to the university.
“And we want to know what they’re carrying on their books as the value of their archival footage,” he concluded. “Money surrounds college sports,” says Domonique Foxworth, who is a cornerback for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and an executive-committee member for the NFL Players Association, and played for the University of Maryland.
But while amateurism—and the free labor it provides—may be necessary to the preservation of the NCAA, and perhaps to the profit margins of various interested corporations and educational institutions, what if it doesn’t benefit the athletes? “Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes,” Sonny Vaccaro says. “Ninety percent African Americans.” The NCAA made its money off those kids, and so did he.
They were not all bad people, the NCAA officials, but they were blind, Vaccaro believes. I’m probably closer to the kids than anyone else, and I’m 71 years old.” Vaccaro is officially an unpaid consultant to the plaintiffs in O’Bannon v. He connected Ed O’Bannon with the attorneys who now represent him, and he talked to some of the additional co-plaintiffs who have joined the suit, among them Oscar Robertson, a basketball Hall of Famer who was incensed that the NCAA was still selling his image on playing cards 50 years after he left the University of Cincinnati.