Al Jazeera America is investigating the subject of compensating NCAA student-athletes, and the news channel's cameras zoomed in on Clemson for a large chunk of the broadcast airing Saturday night.
An eight-minute segment of a "Fault Lines" production was set entirely on Clemson's campus, specifically since former cornerback Darius Robinson is a plaintiff in the Ed O'Bannon class action antitrust case, which is seeking to allow NCAA athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
Robinson, who graduated this year after 38 games and 25 starts at Clemson, did not field questions about his involvement in the case during his senior season. He opened up for Fault Lines' program, "State of Play: Football Players and the NCAA," at Clemson's spring game April 12.
"We've been working hard our whole lives, since we were 6 or 7 years old," Robinson told Fault Lines. "So for someone to say because you're a student-athlete, you can't even promote yourself and be who you are, I find that very disrespectful."
Fault Lines shot footage from inside a Clemson apparel store on campus, where former All-Americans Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins were signing autographs for money while their Clemson jerseys continued to be sold, not profiting the players.
Boyd and Watkins were not quoted in the story. Neither were any current Clemson football players, though Fault Lines interviewed quarterback Cole Stoudt and defensive end Vic Beasley following the spring game.
One of two quotes from head coach Dabo Swinney used in the piece went as follows: "We try to teach our guys, use football to create the opportunities, take advantage of the platform and the brand and the marketing you have available to you. But as far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that's where you lose me. I'll go do something else, because there's enough entitlement in this world as it is."
Fault Lines then referred to Swinney's eight-year, $27.15 million contract extension signed in January, while reporting 86 percent of college football players live below the federal poverty line.
Clemson officials with knowledge of the Fault Lines piece weren't pleased with Al Jazeera leaving out Swinney's well-documented opinion, which he has routinely expressed in recent years since the pay-for-play topic became a hot-button issue.
Swinney has previously cited his own experience as an Alabama walk-on as reason to not professionalize college athletics, but at the ACC's football media days last July he supported Robinson's right to speak about NCAA reform.
"That's just something (Robinson) believes in. You know, his career's coming to an end, and that (O'Bannon case) may go on for (years)," Swinney said last July. "But that's the way it ought to be: when guys believe in something, you want them to not be afraid to stand up and support something."
In the first 30 seconds of the Fault Lines opening segment, the narrator states, "Players are not paid, other than a scholarship to attend class" without mentioning food, housing, athletic gear, and other need-based aids as part of provisions for college athletes.
Fault Lines followed a Clemson tour group and interviewed a store clerk, but the only Clemson-related source quoted in support of NCAA reform was Robinson.
"We're the marketers. We are the ones marketing Nike here at Clemson, The Paw," Robinson said in an interview inside Memorial Stadium during the spring game. "We're making people go, 'Ooh, Dad, I want those Nike gloves, I want those Nike cleats. Matter of fact, can I get them in orange, can I get them from Clemson?'
"I now understand what I gave away, and that was who I was. In some people's eyes, I became more of Clemson's possession."
Robinson has a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills after not being selected in the NFL Draft.
The other primary figures in "State of Play" include Northwestern players forming a union, and former Eastern Illinois player Adrian Arrington, who filed a suit against the NCAA after his career was cut short because of concussions.
The 30-minute program will air Saturday at 7 p.m.
Al Jazeera America launched in August 2013 and is headquartered in New York City, an American version of the satellite TV network Al Jazeera based in Doha, Qatar. The channel is carried domestically by DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, Verizon and Bright House Networks.
For more information on the network, visit www.aljazeera.com/getajam.
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