By Kate Hairopoulos The Dallas Morning News
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel continued to practice with the Aggies on Tuesday even as another accusation, perhaps the most damaging yet, surfaced that he’d been paid by an autograph broker to sign memorabilia.
It came amid a reported NCAA investigation into whether Manziel has signed for profit, which could put Manziel’s eligibility at risk as A&M prepares for one of its most anticipated seasons ever.
The latest ESPN report cited an East Coast broker who claimed he’d paid the Heisman Trophy winner $7,500 to sign about 300 helmets Jan. 11-12 while Manziel was in New Haven, Conn., to attend functions for the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The broker showed an ESPN reporter two cellphone videos he’d surreptitiously taken of Manziel signing the merchandise in a hotel room. The video, ESPN reported, does not show an exchange of payment. But it does include Manziel, telling the broker that “you never did a signing with me” and that if he told anyone, Manziel would not deal with him again. Manziel, ESPN reported, also said that if questions arose, he would say he had been approached by a range of autograph seekers.
In the video, ESPN said that Manziel declined an offer to take additional payment to sign with special inscriptions, indicating he’d done it before and that it had led to questions. The broker told ESPN that Manziel said he wanted to buy new rims for his vehicle.
ESPN said the broker initially tried to sell the network the video, an offer the network said it declined.
The latest report was the third of its kind in three days, beginning with Sunday’s revelation by ESPN’s Outside the Lines that the NCAA was investigating if Manziel had been paid thousands of dollars to sign hundreds of items in early January while in Miami for the BCS championship game. The report cited sources who witnessed the signings but none that saw any payments.
A second ESPN report Monday claimed that Nathan Fitch, Manziel’s friend and assistant, had told a broker in the Southeast that Manziel would no longer do signings for free. The broker had claimed that Manziel had signed for free the night before A&M beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in November and again at a later date.
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has said that the school is doing its due diligence to gather facts and that Manziel would continue to practice with the team unless facts warranted a change. Manziel has not been made available to the media.
The university has hired the same Birmingham law firm that helped keep Auburn’s Cam Newton eligible after accusations concerning Newton’s father arose in 2010.
In order to punish Manziel, the NCAA would likely need to find proof that he was paid for his signature. Both autograph dealers who made their claims to ESPN said they did not plan to cooperate with the NCAA.