Commentary: Should college athletes be held to higher standards than politicians?

The Miami HeraldAugust 24, 2011 

They should have known better than to allow themselves to be lured to the waterfront mansion of an ingratiating, puffed up, money-flashing Ponzi schemer or to the wild nights he orchestrated on his yacht or on South Beach.

They should never have taken his money. We expect 18-, 19-, 20-year-old college athletes, some from the poorest ZIP codes in Florida, to exercise better judgment. And if allegations are proven that University of Miami students were lured into untoward behavior by football-booster-turned-federal-convict Nevin Shapiro, there’ll be hell to pay.

Yet we hold governors, police chiefs, mayors, sheriffs, senators, state cabinet officers, presidential candidates and other civic leaders to a lesser standard.

They partied hard with an even more extravagant South Florida Ponzi artist, on South Beach or at Scott Rothstein’s waterfront mansion (except, unlike the piddling Shapiro, he had five waterfront mansions, including one featuring a gold-plated toilet seat). Along with wallowing in his ostentatious hospitality, they accepted $2.8 million from Rothstein in campaign contributions. College football players would pocket as much as a thousand bucks, according to the vengeful Shapiro. The Florida Republican Party took $237,000 from Rothstein.

Athletes, in their upcoming discussions with NCAA investigators, might note the similarities between their alleged benefactor and Rothstein, who preferred to lavish his stolen money on pols. Both were born in New York and moved to South Florida in the 1970s. Both devised outrageous Ponzi schemes that worked, in part, because their extravagant lifestyles and famous friends signaled to investors that they must be legitimate.

Both wallowed in tasteless totems of wealth, though Shapiro’s excesses hardly compared to those of Rothstein, who spent $13 million just on cars. Rothstein’s outlandish billionaire lifestyle, based on selling shares of lawsuit settlements like futures, hardly computed. Yet political operatives were careful not to ask tough questions when Rothstein hosted fundraisers for the likes of Charlie Crist, Alex Sink, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Both these loud and vainglorious crooks liked to hunker down with the police brass and hire cops as security guards. Yet their law-enforcement buddies never demonstrated professional curiosity about the origins of such unbelievable wealth.

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