Little League World Series star Mo’ne Davis told The Fields of Green that she has employed a team of advisers to help her capitalize monetarily on her overnight fame, while ensuring that she doesn’t jeopardize her amateur status with the NCAA.
World Series viewers are getting a glimpse of her latest business opportunity, a Spike Lee-directed TV ad for Chevrolet entitled, “Throw Like a Girl,” that holds up Mo’ne as a role model for female athletes. She also is scheduled to throw out the first pitch in Game 4.
The Fields of Green interviewed Mo’ne and her mother, Lakeisha McLean, at the recent espnW summit in Dana Point, Calif., about how life has changed since the Little League World Series. McLean said she is working to make the most of the opportunities presented to the 13-year-old. She has hired a Philadelphia lawyer and accountant to handle finances, as well as Los Angeles-based agent Delores Robinson to procure and manage business opportunities. Mo’ne’s longtime coach in several sports, Steve Bandura, rounds out her team.
In Williamsport, Pa., at the height of the Little League World Series fervor surrounding Mo’ne, the business opportunities came early and often, according to McLean.
“I got offers to do endorsements,” McLean said. “I got offers to do a book deal; to do a documentary; a commercial. . . . Before I could approve anything or before I could ask Mo’ne, ‘Is this what you want to do,’ I had to make sure it was approved by the NCAA.”
While the spotlight was overwhelming, McLean and Mo’ne weren’t blindsided by the requests. Bandura, Mo’ne’s baseball, basketball and soccer travel coach and a trusted figure since she was 7 years old, prepared the two with what to expect as the Taney Dragons approached the Little League World Series behind Mo’ne’s right arm.
“Before this all happened, he knew we were going to make it this far. He had a feeling,” Mo’ne said. “He had to go to the NCAA to see if the interviews and commercials and anything that has to go through them, or else I might not be able to go to college for a certain thing. And so it’s kind of a lot going on, but when you have people around you that you know will help you out, that’s how I am right now.
The opportunities have yet to dry up in the aftermath of the Little League World Series. According to McLean, Mo’ne’s schedule is booked with business opportunities through February 2015. But foremost on the minds of everyone in her inner circle is where the NCAA stands on all of this because Mo’ne’s dream is to play basketball at Connecticut. Lakeisha and her advisers work in lock step with the NCAA to ensure that any potential business opportunities or public engagements fall within the organization’s rules for potential student-athletes.
A well-publicized mix-up in Williamsport involving a congratulatory call from Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma resulted in a secondary NCAA violation for the Huskies, and the type of bad press that situations with marketable amateur athletes often breed. It also served as a learning lesson for McLean. She now requires written approval from the NCAA in order to avoid jeopardizing Mo’ne’s future eligibility.
“Everything she does I have to get in writing from the NCAA,” McLean said. “I can’t take their word due to the fact that what happened with Geno Auriemma. Little League called him, and got it approved from the NCAA, but since he didn’t have it in writing, the NCAA said they didn’t approve that, when they did approve it. . . . It’s not like he wanted to call Mo’ne. Little League said, ‘Let’s do something nice for Mo’ne,’ and they said ‘Let’s contact Geno.’ And he didn’t call her directly, he called her through Little League’s phone and it’s all on speakerphone and everybody heard it. So everything we do, I need it in writing.”
All of this hoopla over a 13-year-old athlete, who while clearly gifted, has no guarantee of playing Division I athletics. Her chances of reaching the professional level are even slimmer. If she had no plans of participating in NCAA sports, she could accept every moneymaking opportunity presented to her — commercials, product endorsements, event appearances and autograph signings would all be fair game.
Mo’ne is aware of role the NCAA plays in curtailing many of the opportunities presented to her. “Well, I can’t take money so it all has to go through NCAA, and if they say that’s good, I usually put that towards college,” she said. “But otherwise, usually I’ll be doing a lot of these events and meeting a lot of good people who give you good advice and help keep you on track.”
Spike Lee said on WFAN radio in New York City that Mo’ne’s payment for the Chevrolet ad goes into a trust fund.
Given the historically strict NCAA amateurism rules, the Chevrolet ad sparked public conversation of how such an appearance was allowed. It appears based on the NCAA’s official response Tuesday night that the organization is willing to play ball with Mo’ne.
Every few years a young sports prodigy comes along and ascends to eventual Olympic fame or professional success. But there are just as many that don’t pan out, and in Mo’ne’s situation, it’s already apparent she has no baseball future. In fact, after this year, her baseball career likely will be over, and yet her mother and her team must still walk a fine line with the NCAA. The fact that a collegiate organization looms as a factor in this conversation, without being challenged, is a valid point of contention.
“It crossed my mind a lot,” McLean said. “I feel like if my daughter is achieving all of this and, you know, somebody’s willing to give her this and she’s willing to work for it, I don’t understand what [that has] to do with her playing in school. She’s working for the money she receives.”