Lesa worked with the men’s soccer team which, even though she knew it shouldn’t, gave her confidence. Being a woman, she didn’t expect the opportunity to work a men’s sport. Being young, she had no idea how important it would be to work any men’s sport, other than soccer, to advance her career. But working with this team, single handedly keeping stats for a fast-paced sport and hearing no complaints, disappointment or questions about her judgement, it was a boost. Plus, she had an easy time promoting the team – they were winning and 10 of the 11 starters were from Finland. She didn’t know why and she didn’t care. She knew she could pitch a story to the media about the Finnish success and it worked. First the student newspaper, then the local sponsorship publication that was predominantly about football wrote a piece. She had success with the Sentinel so she pitched the story to Soccer America and it landed, earning her a taste of working with national media, which was exactly like working with all other media covering smaller sports: “You write it, we’ll edit it and give a byline to someone else.”
The players were polite and mature, treating her with respect, as far as she knew. Most of them spoke English well but like most people, if they were in the majority they spoke their language and Lesa did not know Finnish, or Swedish, whichever they were speaking. When she coordinated the team’s individual photos she learned who each of them were and quickly learned who was shy and who was outgoing and she learned how to pronounce all of their names.
When she got the photos back she was surprised and happy that the players smiled in their head shots. Most male players felt a need to look tough, scowling or posing with a neutral expression to display their sincerity for whatever sport they played. As she examined the photos closely she noticed one player with a huge smile and what looked like a tiny tootsie roll lodged in the top of his lip. She took the photo over to Brian and said, “Look at this photo. Does it look like he is chewing snuff on his top lip?”
Brian, always willing to help and generous with language to express his emotions said, “Hmm. Nah.”
Lesa used that photo in the media guide, game notes and provided it for all of the media outlets that ran a story on the soccer team. He turned out to have the best smile and be the top scorer on the team so she was thrilled his photo appeared as enthusiastic as his play.
After the team won a game on the road and returned to campus early evening, Lesa was invited by the athletic trainer to join the team at a local bar. Lesa was only a few years older than the players and hadn’t really made any friends yet so she agreed, hoping her decision wouldn’t change how the players treated her.
There was a big mystery in her role as to whether or not she could spend time with the players outside of work. In part of Lesa’s mind it was totally acceptable, she wasn’t dating them, she wasn’t buying them anything, it was just an extension of the job. The other part of her mind said this is wrong, you are a grown-up now, act like it. But one night after many nights at home watching Saturday Night Live for entertainment couldn’t be the end of the world, as long as no one found out.
She rode with the trainer to the bar, which was directly across the street from campus. As she stepped out of his car she looked down and found a 10 dollar bill, clearly a positive sign. The bar was dark and dingy, like most college bars, only it was mostly empty. The players were there already, dressed in jeans and collared shirts, their hair brushed neatly. None of them looked like athletes, at least to her. As she stepped closer to the guys she said to Janik, “Great game today.”
He thanked her and asked her a little bit about her job trying to understand what it was she exactly did. She began to explain and when she realized he had lost interest she asked, “Are you guys old enough to be drinking?”
Janik assured her, “Yes, we are all 21.”
“You are all freshman though. How are you 21?”
“Oh we are freshman here. In America. But we aren’t traditional,” he said with a smile. “Oliver and Nikolas,” he said, pointing their direction, “they were in the military. So was Oscar and Liam.”
“Oh, wow. Were you in the military?”
“Me? No. I played soccer out of high school, as did Philip, Onni, Leo, Elias and Siro.”
“What do you mean, you played soccer out of high school?”
“We played professionally. It was our job.”
Lesa was shocked on many levels but did her best to hide it and keep her jaw from hitting the floor. These kids, or so she thought, that she was promoting as the reason for the team’s success, were adults. Adults who had already been paid to play the sport they were dominating in the United States. How did she not know this? As she smiled timidly, she remembered all the red ink on the bios she wrote for each of these guys. Red ink used to strike through detail she unknowingly provided to better explain each person’s background that the head coach didn’t want written, so he marked through and didn’t allow to be printed.
She decided to not let this major revelation ruin her evening, stepping up to the bar with Onni to order a drink.
“What are you drinking tonight, Onni?”
“Budweiser,” he said with a smile, proud of his pronunciation. “What are you having?”
“Oh I think I’ll see if the bartender can make me a drink with raspberries. Something sweet.”
“Raspberry? That is new to me. I only know two berries. Mixed and blue.” With that quip, Onni popped his collar like it was 1988, grabbed his Budweiser and headed over to the table with the rest of the team.
Lesa waited patiently for her fruity drink and headed over to the table to join the guys. As she arrived she heard them talking about a fight, arguing over who would win.
“Tyson will win! He always wins. There’s no way Holyfield has a chance.”
She leaned close to the trainer and asked quietly, “Is there a fight?”
“Yes. Tonight is the Tyson-Holyfield rematch. We came here so the guys could watch it. It should start here any minute.”
As she looked around, watching the guys interact and argue, she noticed Janik fiddling with something in his lap, under the table. She purposely looked over at him, making sure he noticed her effort.
“What are you doing, Janik?”
He smiled his big smile and said, “Snuff.”
She got out of her chair and moved closer to him, kneeling down to watch his foreign procedure to put a pouch of chaw in his mouth. He had a syringe and a can of Copenhagen.
“What is that for,” she asked, pointing to the syringe.
“American snuff is too juicy. I use this to pack the snuff tightly in the barrel. Then I push the snuff through the plunger into the top of my mouth.”
As he explained, he followed the motions, finishing his explanation with a small bulb of snuff on his top lip. “Finnish snuff is flavored and dry. It packs a strong punch, a good buzz. Doing this makes it more like what I am used to, more like home, until I get more from home.”
As Lesa returned to her seat she beamed with pride, correctly identifying the snuff in his head shot. At the same time, she now knew another issue with the players, who were openly violating a no-tobacco policy.
Moments later the televisions in the bar all flipped to the same channel and the players were screaming and cheering for the opponent they wanted to win. Holyfield dominated the first two rounds causing discomfort for Leo, who clearly wanted Tyson to win. As the third round began Leo was standing, cursing and yelling at Tyson to continue his attack. With seconds left in the round, Tyson bit off a piece of Holyfield’s ear causing a significant delay. The fight continued until Tyson again bit a piece of Holyfield’s ear, effectively ending the fight and sending Leo into despair.
“I just lost 500 dollars,” Leo said.
Lesa couldn’t believe what she was hearing, again. Where in the world did a student-athlete come up with $500 to bet on a boxing match? How do these players not knowing that gambling is an NCAA violation?
With Leo so riled up, the players decided it was time to leave and Lesa walked back out to the trainer’s car, finding a 20 dollar bill on the ground. She picked it up with a smile and thought maybe all the money she was finding was some sort of trick. She certainly knew it was not her lucky night. She would have to do something about the violations she learned, but how could she without admitting she was out drinking with players?
On Monday, Lesa was perplexed with all the damning information she obtained over the weekend. She had no idea who to ask or what to do, or how much damage it would cause to her career path if she brought it up. When she went to the copy room to grab the football game notes off the copy machine – a task she was given because everyone hated the sports information office on Monday, tying up the entire department’s copier for hours on end, unattended, just for game notes – she ran into the compliance director, Chris.
“Hey Chris. How’s it going?”
Chris was standing by the copy machine, somehow unaware the machine would not be available for use until at least 11 a.m. “Not great. I just found out that our coaches are using the copy machine to create flyers for their summer camps.”
“So, what’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that? The summer camps are their business. They are using our equipment to create promotional flyers for their personal businesses. On top of that, they are stuffing the flyers they inappropriately print on our equipment into envelopes paid for by our department and mailing them to potential campers using the same mail code used to send mail to recruits. It’s a direct conflict of interest and I have to stop it now.”
“Oh. That sounds bad.”
“Bad? It’s awful. Really bad. I’ve got to get a handle on this quick but the copier has been tied up all morning.”
“Yeah, that’s football game notes. Happens every Monday,” Lesa said, grabbing a stack off the copier. “Hey, do our student-athletes get material on gambling? Like, the dos and do nots of gambling with the NCAA?”
“What? Yes, of course. It’s part of the onboarding at the beginning of every season. Honestly, our players aren’t the ones we have to worry about gambling. The best time of the year to deal with gambling is in March, during March Madness. And the people I have to watch are coaches and staff, who always seem to think filling out a bracket and betting five bucks is no big deal. I’m sorry, Lesa. I’ve got to find a copier so I can get this memo out today.”
Lesa dropped the notes off in the sports information office and headed down the hall, taking the long way past the ticket office to say hi and good morning to everyone. As she neared Rhett’s office she knocked lightly on the door and Rhett motioned her in, clutching a black coffee mug as if her hands were cold and only the cup would warm them up.
“Hi, Lesa. How are you today? Did you have a good weekend?”
“I did, thank you. How was yours?”
“Oh you know, a little shopping, some light reading. That sort of thing,” Rhett said, smiling mischievously.
“Rhett, have you ever been in a position where you think you know something important, but you can’t decide if you are just full of yourself? Like maybe it seems important, but it’s really only important because you think it is?”
“I’m sure I have. I can’t think of a specific situation at the moment. But I imagine at some point in my life I thought what I knew was the most important thing in the world. It was only when I shared it with someone and they didn’t care that I realized it wasn’t that important.”
Rhett took a large gulp from her coffee cup, making Lesa wonder how she was able to swig hot coffee with such ease. “I think it was C.S. Lewis that said ‘Being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.’ If what you know is likely only important to you, it likely doesn’t need to be shared.”
Rhett took another sip of her drink when her phone rang, startling her. Lesa took the hint and left her office, confused by the coffee and the comment from Rhett. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed like Rhett’s advice was to keep what she knew to herself. That, and Chris’ lack of concern about student-athlete gambling, helped Lesa decide what she knew would be best kept with her.