The debate over how college athletes are treated may become a feature film. Several former college stars -- including Aaron Rodgers, Ray Lewis and Desmond Howard -- have joined former LSU football player Abram Booty’s efforts to make a movie portraying college athlete exploitation in the NCAA.
The movie would be called “Work Horses” and is scheduled to start production in March 2016. The movie’s website (workhorsesmovie.com) lays out some of the plans for the film and includes testimonials from prominent players.
Booty has created a Kickstarter campaign with an initial goal of raising $250,000 by Jan. 17. Booty claims the script is completed and would be produced by George Folsey Jr., who produced “Coming to America,” “The Three Amigos” and Michael Jackson’s Thriller” video.
The movie marks a new effort in the athletes’ rights movement -- propaganda through Hollywood. The NCAA and its schools have changed some facts on the ground regarding how they treat players, such as through cost of attendance, unlimited food, concussion safety guidelines (but not rules) and transitional health insurance required by the Pac-12. There continue to be legal fights over whether college athletes should be allowed to get paid.
“People may see it as a message movie, but the message is whatever people take out of it,” Booty said. “The whole goal is let’s take an average football player and let’s see what happens when the lights go out and the game is over and people aren’t buying jerseys and the media doesn’t have microphones in their face. I want the average fan to see what real-life players go through. I think this will be the most realistic football movie ever made. I saw it for years as a player.”
Booty played wide receiver at LSU and is the brother of former All-SEC LSU quarterback Josh Booty and former All-American USC quarterback John David Booty. Abram Booty said the trigger for him to write “Work Horses” came after the 2007 Rose Bowl, when wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett was the MVP with a dominating performance. Booty said his family later saw Jarrett walking to a McDonald’s for a cheap dinner a mile from where he had won the game in front of millions of people.
The fictional script is about a low-income football player from a Louisiana farm community whose eyes are opened to the injustices of major college sports, Booty said. A female student reporter becomes a love interest and enlightens the player and his teammates to take a stand.
“We don’t want to give away the end because I think the end of the story is the answer for change,” Booty said. “The players have the power and that’s really the answer.”
About 50 to 70 major sports names are backing the project and lending their support for free while promoting the movie on Twitter, Booty said. Some of them plan to be on the set during production in Shreveport, La., to make the film be realistic.
Prominent pro athletes provide testimonials in a promotional video on the “Work Horses” website. Lewis, the former Baltimore Ravens and University of Miami star, says in the video that players “don’t have a clue” of the value they bring to universities without reaping the rewards. Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner, calls for the movie to be made “because it’s really going to open up a lot of people’s eyes about big-time sports.”
Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst, says on the video that athletes have never been properly compensated for the value they bring to the university. Current Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett says that when college coaches come to your house to recruit, "They tell you [that] you can do engineering, but what they don’t tell you is that you won’t have enough time to be an engineer.”
Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and National College Players Association executive director Ramogi Huma, who unsuccessfully tried to form a players union at Northwestern, also appear in the promotional video. Booty said the movie is not connected to any legal efforts against the NCAA.
The movie’s website lays out rewards for people who pledge donations. A $10,000 pledge gets you a day on the set with Rodgers, the star Green Bay Packers quarterback “who will be joining us on set and possibly making a cameo in the film.” You can also get a speaking role in the film with a $10,000 pledge.
For $7,500, you can get plane tickets for two to a college football game of your choice and a visit with Howard, who is now an ESPN analyst. The movie’s website says the experience with Howard is not affiliated with ESPN. Lewis will deliver to you an exclusive “pump up” speech in a GoPro Hero camera if you donate $1,000.
Booty said “Work Horses” is still debating whether to use the NCAA name in the film or apply fictitious initials for college sports’ governing body. The movie has a commitment from a major actor to play the fictitious role of the president of college sports’ governing body but, depending on available money, hasn’t decided yet whether to sign the actor, Booty said.
In the Kickstarter campaign, Booty cautioned potential donors that “Work Horses” faces similar risks to other movies that are being funded on Kickstarter. Booty said he believes once the movie is made it will get help from larger studios that have been interested in purchasing the script.
“A lot of studios and people we’ve talked to love the story but kind of want to make it less of a message or to take some things out,” Booty said. “The reality is once you sell or turn it over, we know the powers-that-be, so to speak, are going to get involved at some point, and if we don’t have control of it, then the governing body of college sports has a lot of money and a lot of power to change messages.”
Booty said the project has funding beyond the Kickstarter project but declined to say how much. “This has started and it's not going to slow down,” he said. “This movie is going to get made.”