If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are aware that Curtis K. Jackson is a frequent contributor. He has a lot to say and he says a lot. But who is Curtis K. Jackson and why are we devoting an entire blog to defining him?
Jackson is a 1983 graduate of South Shore High School in Chicago. He played basketball, dropped out of Iowa Wesleyan after a year-and-a-half, attended a junior college for a year, then decided to get involved in journalism.
"I loved basketball but I loved the issue of basketball, the opportunity that basketball gave a person, to give him exposure and to use it meaningfully for a college education," he said. "I like to cover a game and see a kid who could play at a small college and do a story on him."
Jackson, 44, who lives in Wicker Park, is in the process of working on a manuscript and screen play on a story based in Chicago about a fictional experience of what he has seen in basketball, in his dealings with college coaches and shoe companies, the good, the bad and the ugly of high school and college basketball.
"I want to give parents and kids an idea of what is going on in high school sports," he said. "I want to wake people up to what is going on in reality, what the state of basketball is in high school and college, the business of basketball off the court and how it influences what is going on on the court."
Jackson is a basketball scout. He attends games and reviews film and make recommendations about prospects. Along the way, especially during the AAU season, he observed how the game had turned into a business. Three years ago, he decided he wanted to confront it. Recently, when we wrote about high school coaches who didn't have degrees, it only served to confirm his resolve.
"In the summer of 1989, I was coaching Team Tampa in Florida. What did I see?," Jackson said. "During the course of a sectional tournament, I would see high school coaches on the sideline to support their players on the AAU circuit. But when it came time for college coaches to establish inroads with the kid, instead of dealing with his parents or his high school coach, they dealt with AAU coaches. AAU coaches aren't held to the same criteria as high school coaches. I saw how the game had turned into a business.
"I noticed there was something not right with the affiliation of the shoe companies and AAU and club coaches, how they impacted on kids' lives, more than parents and high school coaches. I wanted to point out why it is important for coaches to have degrees, the influence they have on other people's lives, how they present themselves professionally, the way they dress and carry themselves, the impact it has on a kid, the tone a coach has. Is it positive or negative?"
This isn't a Chicago thing. It could be Atlanta or New York or Detroit or Boston or Philadelphia or Miami or Dallas or Denver or Houston or Los Angeles, even Marietta or Anchorage or Albuquerque or East St. Louis or Peoria or Ocala or Flint or Compton. The trick is for the AAU or club coach to establish ties with a kid with the sole purpose to find the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Kobe Bryant and land an endorsement contract. Shoe companies prefer that an AAU coach doesn't have anything to do with a high school coach.
"You aren't supposed to look at athletes in AAU basketball with the idea of getting exposure," Jackson said. "The people who benefit the most aren't the kids but the AAU coaches who use them for scouting or coaching jobs or to sell their programs. Shoe companies go straight to the people who have the most influence with a kid and that has nothing to do with education. He is influenced into thinking that if he plays with a certain AAU coach, he will help him to get to college and the level he aspires to, that he can help him more than his high school coach."
But Jackson said he hasn't given up on the education process. He is close to getting his degree in social work. His son is ready to go to college. His screenplay, entitled "The Shoe Pusher," is completed. He believes former coaches and athletes will resonate with his story.
"You are going to get an inside view of how these relationships develop, how the relationship between a shoe company's marketing director develops with AAU and club coaches and to the local godfathers of basketball in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and how they influence high school coaches and where kids go to school," Jackson said.
"Why is it bad? Because it influences on the recruiting of colleges and their coaches. There is a direct correlation between college coaches, colleges and AAU coaches. The players are inside that triangle. Now AAU coaches are cult figures or godfathers. They have nothing to do with fundamentals of the game or the relationship with a parent. They only represent a free ticket to a kid. They say: 'If you want to be seen, you have to be seen through me.' Kids buy into it. And college coaches have to deal with them."
Jackson said a college coach once said to him: "In order to make it in this business, you have to understand the importance of paying your dues." He meant a coach has to bend without breaking the rules. He can't afford to get caught. But he has to play the game in order to be a part of it.
"The trend has been going on for the last seven years," Jackson said. "Colleges, AAU coaches and shoe companies are linked. They recruit kids through their AAU coaches, the one who has the most influence.
"I am willing to bet that if you look at the three most powerful shoe companies, you would find that they have an average of 10-15 people working in the New York/New Jersey area alone, three in Florida and four or five in Illinois.
"If parents and high school coaches want to get rid of this negative influence, they have to get together and sit down with administrators. It has to start at the grass roots level, on a parental, YMCA and high school level. Or kids will continue to get hurt."
In future blogs, we'll reveal more of Jackson's thoughts.