July 7th, 2020


The King (James) And I: Newsom Sacks The NCAA, Gets Flagged For Targeting Trump

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published Oct. 4, 2019

Breaking news out of California: lawmakers have discovered a convenient nemesis other than President Trump — namely, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 206, the so-called Fair Pay To Play Act, making California the first state in the nation to allow student athletes to receive compensation for the use of their names, images, or likenesses.

Before we see California students tooling around campuses in Teslas and Range Rovers (at some schools, you may not notice the difference), a few details about how California has power-rushed the NCAA:

The new law doesn't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023.

It applies to student athletes enrolled in public and private universities (California has 58 such NCAA institutions).

Student athletes can hire sports agents and not lose their college scholarships.

California colleges will be legally prohibited from enforcing NCAA rules preventing student athletes from earning compensation.

All of which raises some questions, including:

While all sports count the same as far as NCAA titles go, football and basketball are the indisputable cash cows of college sports  — players from those two sports are likely to profit most from this change (actually, college golfers might also make out nicely). Will this cause a rift between colleges' men's and women's programs?

Second, what limits if any will there be to endorsements? An example: at the same time Newsom dropped the hammer on the NCAA, the nation's first-ever cannabis cafĂ© officially opened in Los Angeles. The product's legal in California (thanks to a ballot measure that Newsom championed in 2016), but is it the right message to be sending to impressionable youth? Ditto any college athlete offered a chance to be the front man (or woman) for tobacco, alcohol, firearms, fossil fuels, Facebook, etc.

Or, for that matter, Ukranian natural gas concerns.

We'll see how the California law shakes out. The NCAA has three years to figure what to do next. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting against the college rules-decider to update its playbook — Florida, New York and South Carolina have introduced legislation to do the same as California.

In the meantime, the bill offers a telling window into the world of Gavin Newsom and the difference between California governors present and most recently past (that would be the venerable Jerry Brown, who served for two eight-year stretches in this decade and way back in the 1970's-1980's).

The first tell: for Newsom, there's always a desire for California to be seen at the head of the pack, be it suing the Trump Administration or now sacking the NCAA (California's filed an average of two lawsuits a month dating back to January 2017).

Second, this governor far more relishes the national spotlight than did Brown, who only waded into the national and international debates after the emergence of Trump —  climate change being the Brown Administration's hobby horse in its final two years.

Almost nine months into his new job, Newsom is no stranger to CNN (most recently, trashing Trump regarding emissions standards) — and quite fancies MSNBC: endorsing Kamala Harris' presidential campaignwhy he suspended California's death penalty, bemoaning the lack of federal movement on gun violence and why he signed a law requiring presidential candidate to release their tax returns in order to appear on California's ballot.

About that latter measure: yesterday, a federal judge blocked SB 27, which requires president candidates to file their tax returns for the five most recent taxable years with California's Secretary of State in order to qualify for the Golden State's primary election ballot (California's chief elections officer said he'll appeal the decision).

It doesn't take a political scientist to see that the intended target was Trump, who maintains that he won't release his returns because he's the subject of an IRS audit (a topic now being bandied about in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives).

But it does take a little advanced thinking to better appreciate the nuanced relationship between the American president and the California governor.

Each finds the other a convenient political foil. And there's a weird, telenovela dynamic: Newsom's ex-wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle, dates Donald Trump Jr.

But perhaps the oddest angle of all: while Newsom rarely misses a chance to lace into Trump, and vice versa, a Trump 2020 victory is every bit in Newsom's long-term political interests.


Because, should a Democrat prevail next November, Newsom would have to wait until 2028 to seek his party's nomination. Having just waited out eight years of Jerry Brown's reign in Sacramento, one doubts he wants to relive that experience with Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren.

A final note about California's new student-athlete law: Newsom signed the measure while appearing on LeBron James' HBO show "The Shop" (it's set in a barber shop — and if you've seen Newsom decidedly metrosexual coif, I don't think he stuck around for a high skin fade with twists).

LeBron James is a basketball talent with few equals, but not so successful as a player who likes to meddle in his teams' personnel choices.

And, as a presidential king-maker, "King James" needs to work on his game.

Two days before the November 2016 election, James introduced "our next president, Mrs. Hillary Clinton" at a Cleveland rally. Two days later, she lost Ohio by nearly 447,000 votes (four years earlier, Barack Obama received 433,000 more votes than did Hillary).

Judging by their social media, we have a bromance underway in California — "King James" and "Governor Gav."

Newsom should enjoy the relationship to its fullest. Nothing quite says you've arrived in California like courtside Lakers tickets.

But should Newsom run for president: we'll see if King James suits up for Team Gav — and proves to be any better of a political king-maker than he was in 2016.

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