- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Jeremy Bloom is an Olympic skier at ease bouncing off moguls and flying through air at breakneck speed. The veteran of the Salt Lake City Games also is comfortable darting around football defenders as a receiver and kick returner at the University of Colorado.

The skiing receiver recently added another role, one that he would just as soon not have: political activist.

Bloom’s latest challenge has nothing do with his fleet feet, honed instincts and reckless abandon. The two-sport athlete became an accidental activist after the NCAA told him he could not earn money from ski endorsements if he wanted to play college football. Bloom has paid a steep price — well into six figures — to play for the Buffaloes.

“Right now, money is not my first priority,” Bloom said. “I just want to play football. I never thought I could play at the college level. I hope the [financial] opportunities are there when I graduate. But I have no way of knowing that.”

Bloom is now attacking the NCAA with the vigor he usually reserves for bumps on the mountains and would-be tacklers. The 21-year-old sophomore has given the movement to change the definition of amateurism a fresh, young face, along with a cool personality of the new generation.

He would like to see the NCAA’s definition of amateurism change, similar to how the Olympics allow professionals. Bloom is in the midst of an extensive lobbying effort to convince state legislatures to sponsor his “Student Athletes’ Bill of Rights,” a document designed to allow athletes to earn money outside their college sport and to change many NCAA rules he feels hurt athletes.

Bloom’s one-man quest has become a perfect complement to others with similar agendas that until now lacked a high-profile spokesman to generate interest.

“It is reaching a point where there is really a groundswell of support,” said California state Sen. Kevin Murray, who introduced a bill that passed the Senate with many of the same provisions as Bloom’s. “Jeremy Bloom has a lot to do with that.”

Bloom became a pop culture icon after skiing in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He has won a world championship in his freestyle event, shot a pilot television show for MTV and has been approached by modeling agencies. Though an established world class skier, he is still trying to carve a niche for himself in football, where his highlight last season was a 94-yard touchdown reception — a school record — in a 35-31 victory over Kansas State.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound speedster doesn’t harbor NFL dreams because of his size, but he does thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of college football.

“I had some success with it, and wanted to continue,” said Bloom, whose family helps pay his bills for skiing in events around the world.

The NCAA does allow college players from one sport to earn money as professionals in another. For instance, Clemson football player Roscoe Crosby signed a $1.75million contract with the Kansas City Royals out of high school. However, the receiver cannot gain income from outside sources, such as endorsements, from his baseball fame.

Originally, Bloom sued the NCAA to be able to earn money from his skiing celebrity. After losing that lawsuit, he’s championing an effort to radically alter the NCAA’s treatment of athletes, from providing year-round health insurance to instituting stipends and increasing scholarships.

The most controversial of his ideas is to permit top college players to earn royalties off sales they generate for their schools — including the sale of replica jerseys and their likeness being used on products like video games.

“The growth of college sports has changed dramatically in the last 10 or 15 years with so much money coming in,” said Bloom, citing CBS’ $6billion contract for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. “Everyone is enjoying the money and capitalizing on the income — except the employees. I call us ‘the employees’ because we are bringing in the money.”

Bloom realizes he won’t benefit from any possible new rules because his college career will be over by the time they take effect. He will decide after this season whether to keep playing football or devote his attention to the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. Nonetheless, he is passionate about changing the future climate of college sports.

He hopes to use his celebrity from the Olympics and World Cup successes to promote the cause. He has been approached for stints as a host on MTV and for endorsement deals from companies including Nike, Gatorade and Chevrolet but couldn’t accept because doing so would violate NCAA laws.

“Student-athletes should have the ability to earn unlimited income if it is not related to his or her college sport,” said Bloom, who is from Loveland, Colo. “It’s not asking for pay-for-play.”

He would like to see athletes have insurance year-round; currently, out-of-season “voluntary” workouts are not covered. Other proposals include giving athletes from lower-income families travel expenses to go home on holidays and cover costs for parents to attend postseason games.

“The number one thing is to help inner-city kids who have limited financial resources and can’t do some of the things I can,” said Bloom, whose father is a clinical psychologist and whose mother is a skiing and fly fishing instructor. “It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to be a student-athlete and how little you get back unless you get to the next level.”

Bloom would like to see big states like Florida and Texas follow California’s lead and pursue legislation and apply further pressure on the NCAA. Several states passing similar laws would force the NCAA to change its ways or risk losing a sizable number of schools — as well as its clout — to competing college organizations.

Bloom could have taken a slalom run by giving up football and cashing in on his popularity as an Olympian and MTV generation star. Instead, he chose a bitter fight with the NCAA.

“I just wasn’t ready to give up football,” he said. “I love the atmosphere of college football. But there are some things around it that need to change.”

And Jeremy Bloom plans to be at the forefront of that.

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