One could make the point that Johns' pharmaceutical operation was not exactly a state secret--there has been chatter about it on message boards for quite a while now--but, I do make it a point not to blog unless I have a point to bring up that hasn't been covered elsewhere. Since I didn't have much to add that hasn't been in the Big Media stories already (and the arrest has already been lampooned by Orson Spencer Mellencamp better than I would have managed), I didn't see the point.
And then I heard about Jimmy Johns Pitbulls, the Home of the Linebacker Bullies. Go ahead, have a look for yourself, it's at the carefully-disguised URL of jimmyjohnspitbulls.com (I'll post up saved screen shots later in case it suddenly disappears).
The page is not very old, at least in its current form. According to WHOIS, the URL was created on March 6, 2008 (incidentally just before Alabama's spring practice sessions began), and it only has a few hundred hits as of this afternoon.
Even if we set aside the multiple unsavory connections one might draw regarding an accused cocaine dealer who raises pit bulls on the side, the website itself raises questions about Johns' activities as a breeder, and especially as a breeder who used pictures of himself in an Alabama uniform as well as specific references to his status as an Alabama player in his advertising.
While college atheletes are allowed to have jobs (under highly-regulated circumstances) and are also allowed to be self-employed, NCAA Bylaw 12.4.4 states,
A student-athlete may establish his or her own business, provided the student-athlete's name, photograph, appearance or athletics reputation are not used to promote the business.
In addition, Bylaw 220.127.116.11 states,
After becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual:
(a) Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind; or
(b) Receives remuneration for endorsing a commercial product or service through the individual's use of such product or service.
If it's correct that the website ("Home Of The Linebacker Bullies") is only a few months old, eligibility is not really an issue here. The site was created last March, and Johns hasn't participated in a football game between then and today, when he was kicked off the Alabama team. However, it's worth asking how long Johns had been acting as a pitbull breeder, and whether he actually did the breeding himself, or simply hired out his name and (relative) fame to somebody else in return for renumeration. Between playing football, going to college, and allegedly being a one-man pharmaceutical entrepreneur on Alabama's famously coke-laden campus, I do have to wonder where the guy found the time to "take care of [dogs] better than most do their children."
It's also worth asking what the Alabama compliance and coaching staffs knew about Johns' numerous extracurricular activities. As I said earlier, it was not exactly a surprise to hear that Johns had been arrested on drug charges. If Joe Fan, based on nothing more than internet chatter, had a pretty good idea what Johns was up to in his spare time, what about his coaches and teammates, and the support staff in Tuscaloosa?
I doubt anybody in the Alabama media is going to go around asking those questions; the purpose of most of the sports departments in the state is to blow smoke up the collective hindquarters of the "Tide Nation." Other than the obligatory editorial tut-tutting over the tenth player arrest in Nick Saban's 18 months in Tuscaloosa, this story will be over by Saturday as far as the in-state press is concerned.
But there's clearly more to the Johns story than just a 'kid who went wrong.' It'll be interesting to see who else chooses to dig deeper after today's big headlines die down.
UPDATE: Ian Rapoport of the Birmingham News reports on Wednesday that the Jimmy Johns Pitbulls website is for real, and that Johns does indeed have a side business selling dogs.