When Bob DeMars arrived at USC in 1997 as a freshman defensive lineman from Westlake (Calif.), he had eyes on being involved with the prestigious USC cinema school.
Instead, DeMars found out the film-school classes he needed were held in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which would have conflicted with football practice. DeMars soon became a business major, but he never was able to get cinema out of his system.
"I ended up crashing a lot of cinema classes," DeMars said. "I would finish training table after practice, and there was always a nighttime cinema class on Hitchcock or something like that. It was always a passion of mine."
DeMars also spent five years in the trenches as a member of the Trojans defensive line. He was never a star -- he ended his career with seven tackles, one tackle for loss and a blocked kick -- but he was known as a hard-nosed player who battled through injuries to his knee, groin and neck during his time at USC.
"I'm still living with my injuries right now," DeMars said. "I'm missing ligaments in both of my knees, and my knees are like a barometer with the weather, they get achy when it's about to rain."
With a background as an NCAA student-athlete and a career in documentary film production, it's no surprise DeMars is looking to combine those in his next project -- a documentary titled, “The Business of Amateurs” that will look at athletes' rights.
Athletes' rights within the NCAA and amateur sports has been a hot topic since Jim Thorpe had his Olympic medals stripped and continues today with the lawsuit filed by Ed O'Bannon over use of a collegiate athlete's likeness. The DeMars documentary will include those examples, but where he hopes to strike a chord is on the specific topic of health reform, an element of the discussion that has not received as much attention.
"I've been studying this topic for two years now, and I think the time is right to do this," DeMars said. "The NCAA system has changed so much in terms of how they value an athlete's rights, and it's time to change how they handle the health issues of their athletes. It's not just my story that will be told, it's the story of athletes past and present who have gone through it."
DeMars brings up the stories of a former USC linebacker now in his 40s and dealing with early onset dementia and Louisville basketball star Kevin Ware, who suffered a gruesome leg injury during the recent NCAA basketball tournament.
"It makes me worry about my future," DeMars said. "I did my share of head banging while playing football; what type of concussion issues are waiting for me?
"When Kevin Ware got hurt, my first thought was to wonder what the future is going to be for a 60-year old guy who is 6-foot-10 with screws in his leg. We need to find a way to help take care of current and former athletes' medical needs."
There are steps being taken in those areas, including a recent Pac-12 Conference initiative to research the topic and limit contact in practices to help reduce the possibility of injury.
"I'm not saying this initiative is a bad thing, but none of the money is going to the injured athletes from the school," DeMars said. "They are going to spend money on research and injury prevention, minimizing contact, etc. The preventive nature stuff, it helps in the long term, but what is being done right now? Look at the NFL, they have made a lot of reforms in terms of what they are doing for their former players."
Other areas to be covered in the documentary will include NCAA investigations, educational priorities and spending, along with the use of player likenesses.
In recent years, there have been numerous questions about how the NCAA conducts investigations, ranging from USC to Miami (Fla.) and Penn State. The issue of increased stipends also was discussed recently, with no resulting increase in the amount given to athletes, while DeMars notes that in 43 of 50 states a college football or basketball coach is the highest paid state employee.
It is the O'Bannon case, however, that really strikes a chord with DeMars.
"The O'Bannon case is fascinating to me," DeMars said. "The video games are using the player's likeness -- it's beyond obvious -- but the players don't have the ability to manage their own likeness or rights. Let's use some perspective here. If a dog appears on a billboard, someone is getting paid. Maybe not the dog, but the owner of the dog; a check is getting cut somewhere.
"When Matt Barkley announced that he was coming back for his senior season at USC, I got an e-mail within two minutes saying, 'Matt is recommitted, are you?' and it was a sales pitch. That is part of marketing for a corporation like USC, and when the revenue stakes are this high, it needs to be recognized as such. People need to recognize that this part of college sports has changed.”
DeMars has put together a trailer for his documentary and is currently listing it through Kickstarter in the hope of raising the necessary funds to complete the project. His goal is to get the film in theaters because of the wide net of college sports fans who would have access to see it. Other distribution options would include HBO or PBS.
"There needs to be a lot of discussion on this topic, and I think I have the credibility both as a former player and as a filmmaker to tell the story," DeMars said. There are a lot of stories to tell, and it's a labor of love for me to do it. I want this documentary to have an impact for the positive for future student-athletes, so they don't have to go through what so many former athletes are going through."