As charges and counter-charges continued to swirl around the Reggie Bush case Friday, the head of the NFL Players Assn. spoke out on what he characterized as the "severe" challenge of policing agents, financial advisors and marketing representatives intent on wooing college football players.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, made his statements by e-mail in response to questions from The Times. At about the same time, Bush's attorney released a statement claiming that a Yahoo Sports reporter misrepresented himself while gathering information for last week's article that reported the former USC star accepted money and other inducements from prospective marketing representatives.
Upshaw said the union has been working on a solution since he was contacted last year by USC Coach Pete Carroll, even before allegations were made against Bush.
"He was the first coach to bring this to my attention and how bad the problem has become," Upshaw said of Carroll. "He said he was in charge but had no control. He was reaching out for help."
Upshaw said his work on the topic has nothing to do with Bush, the former USC running back whose connections to prospective marketing representatives and agents while playing for the Trojans are being investigated by the Pacific-10 Conference and the NCAA.
"Pete has a great program with lots of success, and he is being overrun by agents, marketing people and financial advisors," Upshaw said.
"He cannot control what goes on in the dorm or anyplace else. He is reaching out for help. He is powerless on this issue.
"Pete is also a former NFL coach that understands the NFLPA is the only gatekeeper."
At a USC practice Friday in Tucson, where the Trojans were preparing for today's game against Arizona, Carroll said of the union chief: "He knows the severity of the issue. He's clear on it. He doesn't feel it's right.
"He's the only guy that can curtail what they're doing."
Under current union and NCAA rules, agents can contact NFL hopefuls at any point. However, union regulations prohibit agents from any act that could jeopardize a player's college eligibility.
Upshaw said he wants to strengthen those rules and restrict agents from having any contact with players who have yet to declare themselves eligible for the draft. He also wants to close loopholes that allow marketing representatives to go unregulated.
"Options would be to bind the marketing agents, financial advisors or anyone that can be tied to the agent in question," he said. "The marketing rep is not operating as a 'lone ranger.' We will find out about these deals in time."
The proposal could be put to a vote of player representatives at the union's annual meeting next March. However, Upshaw can ask the union's executive committee to consider the matter before that meeting.
"Since we are allowing the agents to represent [NFLPA] we have to be concerned," he said. "It is a direct reflection on us."
Also on Friday, Bush attorney David Cornwell fired back at last week's Yahoo Sports report about his client, disputing a key element of the article and alleging that a Yahoo reporter had impersonated an employee of Bush's marketing agency while gathering information.
The story alleged that Bush and his family received more than $100,000 in benefits from two marketing agents while the tailback was playing for USC.
Among the gifts were airfare and limousine service for Bush's family when they traveled to watch a game at California last season, the report said. Yahoo Sports claimed to have seen a document showing that an employee of the SportsLink, owned by Bush's marketing agent Mike Ornstein, charged the bill to a company credit card.
Attorney Cornwell said that Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel used a false identity while investigating the trip.
In a statement first reported by the SportsBusiness Journal, Cornwell said, "On Sept. 13, 2006, a person posing as an employee of Mr. Bush's marketing agency, the SportsLink, makes repeated calls to a Northern California hotel seeking credit card information relating to such employee. In one call, the impersonator left a contact number that connects a caller directly to Yahoo."
Wetzel's byline did not appear on the Sept. 14 article written by Jason Cole and Charles Robinson, but he wrote an accompanying column.
"We stand by both the accuracy and veracity of the reporting by Jason Cole and Charles Robinson in the investigation of Reggie Bush and his family," a statement from Yahoo said. "No information from Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel was used in the investigative stories by Cole and Robinson."
Cornwell claimed Bush's parents "either paid or prepaid, in cash, for airline tickets, travel expenses, lodging and service charges relating to the trip from San Diego to Oakland."
The attorney also disputed earlier reports that Bush's family owed rent from living in a San Diego-area house owned by a founder of New Era Sports & Entertainment, a fledgling sports marketing company that tried to sign Bush as its first client.
Brian Watkins, an attorney for New Era's founders, called Cornwell's denial "crazy."
"They still owe rent and they never paid rent and they were evicted on that basis," Watkins said Friday.
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.