32 going on 52: On the Ohio State football scandal

June 2, 2011

The first time I felt old was when NHL draft prospects started being younger than me.

Since then, there have been many times when I could literally feel the gray hairs growing: being in a bar with a bunch of early 20-somethings in popped-collar polo shirts, the 10-year reunion of the Ravens Super Bowl XXXV championship team, the upcoming 20-year anniversary of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album (the first record I ever bought with my own money) and now, the Ohio State football scandal.

For those that don’t know, the scandal at The Ohio State University goes like this: players had been trading signed memorabilia – autographs, jerseys, etc. – for tattoos and cash, a violation of NCAA rules.

Making the matter worse, the tattoo parlor owner has been under investigation by the feds for running marijuana. Sweater-vested coach Jim Tressel lied about his knowledge of the tats-for-memorabilia scheme and was forced out of his job on Monday. According to a Sports Illustrated article, the scheme has been going on for years under Tressel’s watch.

Unlike most people who write about sports, especially college sports, I have no real outrage at this scandal. People cheat in college sports, happens all the time in a culture where only two things count: winning and money. It happened at Kentucky and CCNY in the 1950s, it happened at Tulane and SMU in the 1980s and it’s happened at OSU and USC now.

My reaction to all this is: God, do I feel old. Let me explain.

College players breaking rules and winning-obsessed coaches covering up for them is nothing new. But tattoos? The great OSU football program is going to get hammered by sanctions over tattoos?

If I may turn into Dana Carvey’s “Grumpy Old Man” character for a second, “In my day, when college players cheated they shaved points, accepted cars from boosters or took briefcases full of cash. Nobody ever cheated just to get a tattoo. Only sailors and convicts had tattoos. We had to walk to school in the snow and we liked it!”

How many tats could these guys get anyway? Having never been tatted up, I can’t relate. Tats used to be a sign of rebellion, but these days, everybody has one. You’re almost being more rebellious if you DON’T have a tattoo. My 57-year-old aunt has three tattoos for crying out loud.

Mind you, I have nothing personal against tattoos. If you want it that’s your choice, and if it’s meant to honor someone that’s fine. For example, a friend of mine has tats on both arms to honor his late mother and father.

The tattoo thing started to come in vogue in the late 1990s. I was playing football at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., at the time and a few guys on the team had started to get inked up. A couple of guys had gotten bear paws – our team nickname was the Golden Bears – on their legs with their numbers on it. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t partake, mostly because the tats themselves were extraordinarily lame, and also because I left the school after two years.

I personally knew I wasn’t ever going to get a tattoo just around the time I graduated college. I was working at a restaurant in Tilghman, Md., in the summer. One of our regular bar customers was a guy, he had to have been in his 80s at the time, that had been in the Navy back in the day and had a big tattoo of a senorita on his chest. Needless to say, old tattoos on old skin are not exactly attractive. Like the guy in the movie “8MM” said, “There are some things that you see, and you can’t unsee see them.”

I guess the whole point of this rambling diatribe is that the idea of young men trading autographed jerseys for tattoos is something very new, very unusual and makes me feel like one of these stodgy, old geezers that doesn’t understand younger people.

Like the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer (to use another dated 1990s SNL reference, yet another thing making me feel old), a world of trading your shoulder pads (as SI alleged quarterback Terrelle Pryor did) for tattoos confuses the living hell out of me. As if guys like Pryor, a likely NFL prospect, weren’t going to have enough money for tats once they sign their first pro contract?

And that’s to say nothing of Tressel, the coach dubbed “the Senator,” who stupidly covered-up what is, truth be told, a nothing story as far as NCAA violations go.

After all, this wasn’t SMU boosters paying half the roster, or basketball guys from Boston College taking money from mobsters to shave points in the 1970s. This was a bunch of kids being dumb. Kids do dumb things; it’s part of life.

But instead of being forthcoming about his knowledge of his players being dumb, Tressel, befitting a man nicknamed “the Senator,” went all Nixon on us, attempting to cover up his players’ petty crimes. Only in Tressel’s case, there was no Haldeman, Mitchell or Ehrlichman around to take the fall for him. Now, Tressel’s out of a job, OSU will likely feel the wrath of the NCAA, and the players involved will be persona non grata in Buckeye-crazed Columbus, especially players who talked to the media like ex-wide receiver Ray Small.

Which just goes to show that big-time athletics at the college level is, for the most part, a shady, awful and corrupt business on all levels, and I’m truly glad I don’t follow it. Things like what has happened at OSU make me almost glad my alma mater, Towson University, is mostly a nonfactor in athletics. Better to lose and be clean than win and get caught up in a ridiculous scandal over tattoos.

Now get off my lawn!


  • Ryan Mavity has been a reporter with the Cape Gazette since February 2007. He covers the city of Rehoboth Beach, Baltimore Ravens football and Delaware State University football. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Rachel and their son, Alex.

    Contact Ryan at