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Skullcandy gets the better end of Simeon sponsorship deal

Simebasketball player Jabari Parker.  | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Simeon basketball player Jabari Parker. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 4, 2013 2:13AM

Jabari Parker is a senior in high school, months shy of starting college, but corporations already view the Simeon Career Academy basketball player as a hot commodity.

Parker is a 6-foot-8-inch man among boys who will play at Duke next season and could be earning millions as an NBA player within two years.

Parker also is articulate and charming, qualities that help make him an ideal pitchman for trendy and pricey Skullcandy headphones.

Skullcandy hooked him by signing a contract with his school that calls for Parker and his teammates to appear in advertising material for the company. They are amateur athletes and cannot be paid, though they expect to keep the headphones customized with their jersey numbers, a player told me.

The agreement and details were reported last week by Grid, a publication of Wrapports — which also owns the Sun-Times — that obtained the information through a Freedom of Information request.

Nike and Gatorade also have sponsorship deals with Simeon. Agreements between successful basketball teams and athletic apparel companies have existed for decades.

The athletes become walking billboards for the companies but receive shoes and clothing that otherwise could be unaffordable. In return, cash-strapped schools can eliminate costly uniforms from their budgets.

Yet the benefits always have been uneven. According to the Grid article, Nike has donated gear worth about $26,000 a year to Simeon but has gained more than $1 million in exposure because of Parker’s popularity, which skyrocketed after Sports Illustrated featured him on the cover last year.

The agreement with Skullcandy is startling because the terms essentially call for Parker and his teammates to be unofficial spokesmen for the company.

Grid notes, using a quotation from the contract, that Simeon staff must encourage players to “make positive references to the Skullcandy brand particularly during interviews and public appearances.”

Additionally, Skullcandy required two days of access to the team for photograph sessions for advertising material.

The terms are nervy and galling. It’s exploitation, even if the athletes don’t see it that way — yet.

Jaylon Tate, a senior on the team, said he was excited about the deal because former Simeon star and current Bulls star Derrick Rose endorses Skullcandy. Rose gets paid, of course.

Simeon is getting something in return: headphones for its media lab and $1,000 a year through its five-year contract. Additionally, the girls basketball team, which is without stars, has received headphones.

Supplies for the lab clinched the deal, Simeon coach Robert Smith said.

“We’re an inner-city school,” he said. “We have to be thankful for whatever we can get.”

Therein lies a reason Simeon should not be judged harshly, Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist said. “We’ve got an education model that isn’t adequate and is forcing [schools] to accept these deals.”

Parker and his teammates are being used and manipulated, he added.

By appearing in advertisements for headphones that cost as much as $350, they’re prodding kids to extend themselves for hip accessories.

Simeon is not the only school selling players’ soles and souls to get by. It’s happening all over the country, Simeon’s coach reminded me.

Yet a sponsorship deal reaches a new low when a company airs a promotional video — a commercial — on its website featuring Parker, who extols the virtues of his school before getting to the nitty gritty: He says Simeon is blessed to have those Skullcandy headphones in its lab.

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