Unfiltered Josh Rosen speaks out about 'indentured servitude' of college football
The Bruins' signal caller just wants to save the sport and eventually 'own the world'
LOS ANGELES -- You're ready to put down the pen. Interview done. The words of a bright, refreshing UCLA quarterback already stashed away in the notebook.
But Josh Rosen won't let that pen rest.
"I really want you to write this," the Bruins sophomore quarterback said. "I feel very strongly."
Rosen then leaps over a philosophical cliff. A 19-year-old child of privilege who grew up nearby in upscale Manhattan Beach doesn't want to make it about football.
Rosen has done that a lot lately. He is the offspring of Ivy-League educated parents whose marriage was announced in the New York Times. Charles Rosen is a noted orthopedic surgeon. Liz Lippincott is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Wharton, who founded the Wharton School at Penn.
No wonder their son has world views shaped beyond a practice field.
"It's absolutely too much to be considered an amateur [sport]," Rosen said of college football last month in a sit-down interview at Pauley Pavilion. "I love coach Mora to death, but if they want to call it an amateur sport, hire amateur coaches, don't have TV deals. Don't have 100,000 people in the stands and don't sell tickets."
Rosen's views are not exactly unique. The surprise is they are so informed and shared by those who have critiqued the system for decades.
As that child of privilege, Rosen wants to use his advantages to change the system ... after football. For now, all he can do is talk. And, boy, can he talk.
"I want to ultimately own the world," Rosen said.
He's getting there. Following a freshman All-American season in 2015, Rosen -- perhaps UCLA's biggest talent to arrive on campus since Troy Aikman -- did an internship at a wealth management firm. His dream one day is to be head of a venture capital company in New York City.
But first he has to win because -- like it or not -- his off-field platform shrinks with every loss. The Bruins head to BYU this week at 1-1.
The irony is obvious. An outspoken Left Coast kid going to buttoned-up Provo, Utah, trying to own the world. A win over the Cougars would suffice for the moment.
"You've got to dream big," Rosen said plainly. "In order to do that, you need to win."
He frankly doesn't care about those who criticize a mere 19-year-old for having such deep thoughts. Rosen speaks out about teammates who can't afford rent (even with cost of attendance stipends). He says absolutely too much time is spent on football and not enough is left "to take care of our studies."
"I have connections that will do me well in life," Rosen said. "I will be OK without football. I want to fight for the people who won't be OK. They're the ones who are going to be screwed in life because they're the ones who are living in [a] team room because they can't make a security deposit.
"I'm going to actively fight for players' rights. Not while I'm in college. I'm always going to keep a consistent track record of what I believe in. But I don't have the clout or the means.
"I have the voice. I want to win a national championship, and I want to incite change."
UCLA and Mora may not fully embrace it, but don't you want strong convictions out of your quarterback? The Bruins were picked by some to win the Pac-12 South (at least) in 2016. If that happens, Rosen is going to have to be a transformative player on the field, too.
Can you imagine the platform if Rosen gets to the Pac-12 title game and a New Year's Six Bowl?
He could regale the media about meeting author Michael Lewis ("Moneyball," "The Blind Side," "The Big Short") at his mother's 30th college reunion. He could explain why such an articulate student-athlete isn't exactly a fan of the written word.
"I'm actually not that big a fan of reading," Rosen said. "I'm just trying to force myself."
He could explain how superstar satirists Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart "are geniuses." Like his parents, he could have gone to an Ivy League school, but "I wouldn't be able to go from UCLA to Harvard."
The lights are too bright. The crowds are too large. The attention is ... just right. Here, in this media market that listens, he can get his point across.
"People say, 'You're just being an ignorant rich kid,'" Rosen explained. "I understand I come from affluence and a privileged family, but no one who is at risk is going to speak out.
"I don't give a s--- if I'm going to be taken care of with money that comes into college football. The whole idea [is] leaving a place better than you found it."
A large part of those prognostications were based on Rosen taking the next step. So far this season, he is average. Rosen is the 10th-rated passer in the Pac-12. He's ninth in yards per attempt.
He threw three interceptions in the opener at Texas A&M. Rosen's dream of a national championship this year may already be over. The offense is missing seven players who were drafted by the NFL. The leading rusher is gone along with almost all the receiver depth.
While Rosen's career looks promising on all fronts, UCLA is only 9-6 since he arrived. And if his coach disapproves of his quarterback's views, hyperbole cuts both ways. In July, Mora said Rosen would have been the best quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft.
No pressure there.
"I'm exactly what the NCAA sees in a student-athlete, someone who understands what they're getting," Rosen said.
And yet, in the same sentence, he can make NCAA president Mark Emmert wince.
"We're not going to say 'slave labor,' but it's almost like indentured servitude," Rosen added. "I'm going to be OK. I want to fight for those who won't be OK. I see it every day with these kids who are underprivileged."
Rosen can see through a system that labels itself non-profit for tax purposes. He criticized UCLA in May after it signed what was reported to be the biggest apparel deal in college history ($280 million) with Under Armour.
"I get called on the phone -- I don't want to say who. [The person said], 'Do you have any idea what we're doing for you?'" Rosen said.
"OK, then take .1 percent of that money and give to the families who are on food stamps on our team."
Rosen believes the inequities will eventually lead to a semi-pro league that "affiliates" with university. Are we that far away from UCLA brought to you by Toyota?
"You are an employee of a team," he theorized. "You are a professional football player who goes to the university."
That's not an original idea either, but it is a bold one from a teenager who must be heard. In this system, with every touchdown pass, his voice gets louder.
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