Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The must-read story of the week in college sports involves Florida's best player, and is well worth your time and consideration.
Sharrif Floyd is adopted.
Rachel George, formerly the Orlando Sentinel's Gators beat writer, breaks this news about the Florida defensive tackle in a sprawling piece about Floyd, his adoptive father, Kevin Lahn, the benefits Floyd received before and after his adoption, a birthday party in Miami involving fellow Gators Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell, and the loophole in NCAA by-laws that makes this situation "unprecedented."
This is the crux of the matter: After Floyd was suspended for two games in 2011 and forced to pay $2,700 to a charity of his choice as restitution for improper benefits provided by Lahn, the decision was made for Lahn to adopt Floyd.
After his suspension, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was adopted, at age 20, by the man who provided those benefits.
Floyd, a junior for the seventh-ranked Gators and a possible first-round pick in the NFL draft, now receives far more from his adoptive father, Kevin Lahn, than he was punished for taking last year. Under NCAA rules, there are virtually no limits to what a parent can provide to an athlete but a slew of restrictions on what a player can receive from anyone else.
"(The adoption) was not something we planned, but it's been a natural fit," Lahn said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports.
Lahn, a South Carolina graduate and booster, was previously disassociated from that school in 2011 during a major NCAA investigation into the Gamecocks' athletics program that wrapped up this April. There's apparently no evidence that Lahn is a Florida booster, and there's no suggestion in the story that anything Lahn has done for Floyd since that 2011 suspension is an NCAA violation, both between that time and his adoption and since.
The NCAA basically doesn't care what a college athlete's parents can give him or her, for obvious reasons: by no stretch of the imagination should it be against NCAA rules for a parent to buy things for a child. But what Floyd has gotten since his adoption is certainly well beyond what is in his capacity to buy for himself as a scholarship athlete.
Lahn, a vice president of a commercial real estate company, leased an apartment and a vehicle — a 2012 Ford Explorer XLT — for Floyd shortly after the adoption in December, according to Lahn and documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports. The couple gave Floyd a credit card, which he uses mostly for food, and took him on a trip to Disney World, Gordon says.
For what it's worth: Ford of Gainesville has four 2013 Ford Explorer XLTs on its website, none cheaper than $34,000. Leasing would make a car less expensive, but that plus an apartment is certainly not pocket change. The Gordon referenced there is Steve Gordon, the president of the Student Athlete Mentoring (S.A.M.) Foundation, which was at the heart of Floyd's NCAA violation.
They met in summer of 2009 through the Student Athlete Mentoring (S.A.M.) Foundation, a Delaware-based non-profit group whose stated mission is to help high school athletes with SAT and ACT preparation and organize visits to colleges and camps. Floyd, a Philadelphia native, was one of the first athletes mentored by Gordon before he started the foundation. Lahn was the foundation's treasurer.
According to Gordon, the foundation's president, Lahn assisted Floyd with living expenses when he came to Florida. For accepting $2,500 and other benefits, Floyd was suspended for games against Florida Atlantic and Alabama at Birmingham and forced to pay $2,700 to a charity of his choice.
And there's also the matter of whether benefits Lahn provides to Floyd — benefits a father provides to his son — are also ones that other Gators — Floyd's friends — can enjoy. For example: A Miami birthday party on a boat.
And for his 21st birthday in May, he met them in Miami for a trip that coincided with the couple's fifth wedding anniversary, Lahn says. That included a stay at the Mandarin Oriental, a luxury hotel, and a trip on the Jody Lee, a chartered 80-foot, $3 million yacht, according to photos and updates on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by Tiffany Lahn and others.
Posts to social media from a current teammate and former teammate of Floyd show he was joined by three other football players. Florida defensive linemen Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley were photographed with Western Kentucky safety Jonathan Dowling and Floyd in front of the yacht. Easley posted five photos to Instagram and Twitter along with photos of Floyd and Dowling in the Mandarin Oriental. Dowling also tweeted about the trip.
I saw some of those photos at the time, and I'll have more on them tomorrow. But the idea of friends spending a birthday weekend in Miami on someone's parents' dime sounds a lot more reasonable when relayed generically like that instead of written as "Three Florida players were photographed in front of a yacht."
For what it's worth, Florida doesn't seem particularly concerned about the idea that this could constitute an NCAA violation.
Florida senior associate athletics director Jamie McCloskey says Powell and Easley "were already in South Florida. They joined Sharrif and his family for an evening."
When asked by e-mail who paid for the Floyd's teammates to be on the trip, Lahn replied: "Sharrif drove down by himself. Sharrif's friends came down in their car to Miami for the Hip Hop Festival in Miami that weekend. Sharrif stayed in the hotel room I paid for."
According to NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168, athletes and their family and friends can receive benefits as long as they are generally available to other students at the school and their family and friends. Generally, athletes would be allowed to receive benefits from the parent of a friend.
If Lahn paid for the other players on the trip, it could be a violation under bylaw 22.214.171.124 if Lahn is considered a representative of Florida's athletic interests. McCloskey says Lahn has not been given that distinction and declined to say whether the school has checked with the NCAA.
McCloskey is Florida's director of compliance, and well-regarded as one of the best NCAA compliance minds working today. (He also teaches a class in the College of Health and Human Performance, Ethical Issues in Sport, that is highly recommended for UF undergrads. It's SPM 3204. Thank me later.) If McCloskey says something, I am inclined to believe it is the truth, and would therefore suspect that this trip was either cleared with UF beforehand or investigated internally and cleared afterward.
It is worth noting that Florida's dedication to compliance has been virtually peerless in the NCAA after the ruinous TV ban of the 1980s; the Wall Street Journal article from October that called Gainesville "college football's perfect biosphere" noted that "Since Florida won its first national title in 1996 and went on to win two more in 2006 and 2008, the program hasn't had a major NCAA violation." Under Jeremy Foley, Florida has aimed for winning championships and winning them clean, and built an apparatus with McCloskey and others to do just that.
More than one person who would know has told me that Will Muschamp is also a big believer in doing things cleanly, which is part of why he was so vehement in defending Floyd last year, and I would suspect that he will have similar things to say about this situation. And he probably should, especially when it comes to Floyd, because Steve and Tiffany Lahn may be the best family he has had in his young life.
Floyd's sometimes tumultuous upbringing included being raised in part by his great grandmother, moving several times in high school and not knowing his father, who died when Floyd was young. By his own accounts, he lived in a neighborhood where selling drugs was common.
Efforts to locate Floyd's mother, Tonya Scott, were unsuccessful.
That's really rough stuff, details from the sort of life I firmly believe no one should have to live. If the Lahns were willing to open their home (and, yes, their bank account) to Floyd, and Floyd and his great-grandmother consented to the adoption, as Lahn says they did, that definitely does give Floyd a significant amount of comfort — comfort he deserves at least as much as any other person.
But it also obvious provides a loophole that is ripe for exploitation, and a less sympathetic reading of this situation would suggest that Lahn and Floyd are both doing so: Lahn gets a son to live vicariously through and can benefit from his reflected glory, while Floyd gets money in his pocket that he never would have otherwise had. Lahn also did himself no favors by writing "I would never have the opportunity to give birth to kids who play football or basketball in college at such a high level. Sharrif and Hendrix" — referring to Hendrix Emu, a Nigerian immigrant who the Lahns are legal guardians for — "have given me that opportunity" to USA TODAY Sports.
However, that's the two-sentence pull quote made for virality. The context of the statement reveals a lot more nuance.
Lahn says his non-traditional family was born of circumstance. He and Tiffany, 36, have full-time jobs and enjoy traveling so they have not started a family of their own.
"It is also difficult to bring new kids into this world when you have perfectly good kids like Sharrif and Hendrix who had such tough lives growing up," Lahn wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. "The boys have someone to lean on for counseling, guidance and support, and Tiffany and I have the opportunity to enrich our lives by being parents, helping them with their classwork, following their games in person and on TV and looking forward to someday being grandparents.
"None of my family members are good athletes, me included," Lahn continued, "so with my genes I would never have the opportunity to give birth to kids who play football or basketball in college at such a high level. Sharrif and Hendrix have given me that opportunity."
Lahn still sounds like a guy who gets a kick out of seeing people who look up to him play big-time sports there — but he sounds like a dad. And I certainly think a father, adoptive or biological, can take pride in his son's work. I'll bet Floyd appreciates having someone cheering for him, too.
There's a lot to disentangle from this story, and we'll have a lot more on it in the coming days, but you should really, really read the story in full — it's a great piece of journalism and storytelling by George — before you make your own judgments. And you should know that I'll be happy to discuss any and all of it with you all in the comments.
Sharrif Floyd is adopted. And he seems to be happier and better off for it. I'm not sure I can make myself see any wrong in that, no matter how hard I try.