Ask Babe: More dots being connected in Johnny Manziel autograph picture

Aug 12 2013 - 3:09pm

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Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel

The dots might not yet be connected, but an image is emerging in regard to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and items allegedly signed by the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner that have flooded the online marketplace, especially eBay, since early this year.

It's not a pretty picture.

In March, this reporter wrote a news story for Scripps Howard News Service discussing the glut of autographs for sale.

Now ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and its college football expert, Joe Schad, are reporting that the NCAA is looking into the possibility that Manziel may have signed for a Florida memorabilia dealer and possibly others.

The ESPN investigation began around the time the Scripps article appeared.

ESPN reports that three dealers in three states are saying that Manziel signed hundreds of items. The reports say that two dealers -- one in Florida and one on Connecticut -- claim paying Manziel. A third dealer said Manziel signed for free right after Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last November.

Even if he signed for free as the dealer claims, it's still an NCAA violation, since rules prevent student athletes from signing items if they know they are going to be sold.

In one case, there is a picture of Manziel signing. In his reporting, Schad says he was shown two lengthy phone videos of Manziel signing items in Connecticut in January when he was in town for the Walter Camp Foundation dinner.

(It should be noted that a favorite trick of some dealers who offer forged items is to show buyers a picture of the athlete signing a similar item, intimating that's what the buyer is getting the real deal.)

The other signings supposedly took place in Florida around the time of the BCS title game in Miami in January and in Alabama right after Texas A&M upset No. 1-rated Alabama in November 2012.

As attention to Manziel has intensified, The Associated Press reported the Manziel family has retained Jim Darnell, an El Paso, Texas, attorney, while USA Today has reported that Texas A&M hired Lightfoot, Franklin, and White of Birmingham, a law firm that represented Cam Newton and Auburn in a 2010 NCAA probe.

The vast majority of Manziel items being offered on eBay - 238 listings were active as of Friday afternoon -- have been authenticated by either PSA (Professional Sport Authenticator) or JSA (James Spence Authentication).

The number and types of signatures may indicate the items came from sit-down signings rather than just items signed for friends or fans, industry insiders say.

And the numbers being bandied about may be on the low side.

''I believe we have authenticated in the neighborhood of 2,000 Manziel items," said Joe Orlando, PSA's president. "We completely stand behind the authenticity of the Johnny Manziel autographs that we have authenticated."

Orlando also said PSA has not been contacted by the NCAA.

There are many in the hobby/memorabilia industry that think PSA and/or JSA representatives may have been present at one or more of the alleged signings.

Authenticators such as PSA and JSA are often paid to be at signings to witness them firsthand for the authentication process. Otherwise authenticators are left to compare the signature on an item with exemplars they have amassed for comparison purposes.

Theo Chen, owner of www.autographsfor sale.com, and Mike Heffner, president of www.Lelands.com auction house in New York, agreed that items with inscriptions such as the Aggie cheer, "Gig 'em," and "Heisman 12," which appear on many of the items purportedly signed by Manziel, probably would be generated at sit-down signings for a dealer or at a hobby show.

''Those signatures are significantly better than what he would sign in a public situation. Obviously he took the time to use the correct pen for the item too, an indication that this was all set up by an autograph dealer who knew exactly what he was doing," Chen said.

''When a lengthy inscription is added by the player it is almost always done at a private signing or for a good friend. Depending on the length and content of the inscription, it can add 25 percent or more on to the value," Heffner said.

Also in March, Leaf trading cards announced it would issue cards with artists' renderings of Manziel's likenesses with "cut" signatures (autographs trimmed from signed photos) attached. It appears that the cards do not show a uniform number or any Texas A&M logos.

In response to an inquiry about the origin of the signatures Leaf used, Brian Gray, president and CEO, responded by email that, "Leaf, nor Brian Gray, nor any of its employees have ever had any contact, nor met, nor seen in person, nor communicated with, nor done business with Johnny Manziel." He wrote that Leaf did not do business with the dealer mentioned in the ESPN "Outside the Lines" report. Further, "All signatures used by Leaf were authenticated by PSA/DNA already at the time of purchase."

In March, David Batson, director of compliance at Texas A&M, issued a statement in response to this reporter's inquiries and apparently issued the same statement at that time to ESPN about the suggestion that Manziel might have been compensated for signing cards or signed for someone he knew was going to sell the items.

The statement read in part:

''Johnny has indicated on numerous occasions and once again earlier today that he has never (and, to his knowledge, his parents, other relatives, and friends have never) been compensated through cash or other benefits or promises of deferred compensation for providing his autograph. Furthermore, other than to charitable and nonprofit fundraisers, Johnny has indicated that he has never knowingly provided an autograph to someone who had indicated a plan to sell his autograph."

Texas A&M did not respond to new requests for an update on that statement.

Emily Potter, an associate director of public and media relations for the NCCA, said again this week that the association's policy is not to comment on ongoing investigations or even say if there is an investigation.

NCAA bylaws require member schools to act if they receive information of violations made by their student athletes. Obviously, Texas A&M knew in March there were questions about Manziel items being offered for sale. While Manziel will have problems if the allegations prove to be true, the university itself will have to answer to the NCAA if it did nothing after the questions were raised in March.

(Contact Ask Babe columnist Bill Wagner at babewaxpak@charter.net. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

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