By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
September 30, 2013
As MLB’s post season comes into sharper focus and the first place Red Sox strive for home field advantage, their former skipper is focused on the classroom.
Bobby Valentine has never been one to shy away from a challenge, or not speak what is on his mind. On the baseball field he always did things his way, helping turn around the fortunes of such teams as the Texas Rangers and the New York Mets, and becoming the only non-Japanese manager ever to win the championship of Japanese baseball, with the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Valentine has always been a man who is not afraid to throw himself into a newfound business passion, whether that is running a popular restaurant in his native Connecticut, serving as an analyst for ESPN, MLB Network, or NBC Sports Radio, or now, as Director of Athletics at Sacred Heart University.
Agree with him or not, most admire Valentine’s passion, and few can argue with his ability to commit wholeheartedly to a task at hand.
One relatively new area into which Valentine has delved is the film business. Along with partner Andrew Muscato, he has produced a series of films, starting with "The Zen of Bobby V,” about his time in Japan, and including the just-released film “Branca’s Pitch,” the life story of longtime MLB pitcher Ralph Branca, the man best known for giving up the legendary home run to Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants during a one-game playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
However, the film that will draw the most attention in the coming weeks is “Schooled: The Price of College Sports,” airing on EPIX HD on October 16. The documentary examines the provocative issues surrounding the business of college sports and the NCAA’s treatment of its athletes. Narrated by actor Sam Rockwell, it weaves interviews and archival and behind-the-scenes footage to tell the story of how college sports has become a billion dollar industry built on athletes who are robbed of monetary privileges.
Those interviewed include: former college and NFL player and president of the NFL Players Association Domonique Foxworth, UCLA star and NBA player Ed O’Bannon, former University of Tennessee All-American and star running back for the Houston Texans Arian Foster, former UCLA standout now Green Bay Packers running back Johnathan Franklin, and former UCLA punter now member of the Minnesota Vikings Jeff Locke. Also interviewed for the film are Emmy-winning sportscaster Bob Costas, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, New York Times reporter Joe Nocera, and Dave Zirin of The Nation.
Sports Illustrated reporters Frank Deford, George Dohrmann, BJ Schecter, and Michael Rosenberg join them; and longtime college sports marketing innovator Sonny Vaccaro is also featured in the film.
“Schooled” created major news late last week when Sports Illustrated broke the story that Foster, while at the University of Tennessee, received money during his senior year…so that he could buy food. It is that type of inequity, Valentine said, that needs to be addressed through open dialogue. Creating that dialogue was the real impetus for the film.
“The topic is not about should athletes be paid at this point,” Valentine said this week. “The topic is that right now the NCAA system is out of control because not everyone has a seat at the table. It is about the rights of these student-athletes to at least be heard in a fair and equitable way, and that is what we bring out in the film, the inequities that exist in the process right now.”
Ironically Valentine, in his current fulltime position, is part of that system, albeit at a mid-major school nestled in Connecticut. Even in that role, he is quick to point out that being around young people has inspired him to speak up even more.
“The NCAA, as we point out in the film, was built over 50 years ago and its core structure has changed little over the years, while great balanced social change has gone on almost everywhere else,” he added. “It is time to make all the voices heard and bring that system into the 21st Century. It certainly won’t be easy, and we don’t know what the outcome will be or how it may work, but as long as those involved have a fair voice, whatever the outcome should be an acceptable one in the future.”
As a player representative, Valentine was involved in much of the change that came about in MLB’s collective bargaining system. The changes in free agency that were brought about under MLBPA head Marvin Miller were predicted by many to be the end of the game of baseball, Valentine added, and as we can see today, the opposite was actually true.
“Every change that rocks the status quo is viewed skeptically, especially when those who have all the power have to cede some of it to others,” Valentine emphasized. “Here we are not even talking about massive change, we are talking about rights, not revenue, and how the system can best work for all involved. Our goal as educators should be not that kids just leave school with a diploma. They need to leave with an education that helps them succeed away from sports going forward, and unless the system allows them a voice that is very difficult to do in many cases.”
“Schooled,” soon to be advance screened in New York and Washington, is meant to invoke discussion and debate and tell a story that many people don’t really understand. Valentine hopes to work with Muscato to tell these kinds of stories in future projects, ones that showcase the human spirit and inspire debate.
Are topics on the table? “We are toying with some new projects yes,” Valentine says, “but right now our goal is to get ‘Schooled’ and “Branca’s Pitch’ exposed and then we will go from there, one step at a time.”