Florida Atlantic's Folly: Why GEO Group Should Not Have Naming Rights

Sometimes the sports world doesn’t just reflect the real world. It mocks our world with a vicious veracity. Recently, we learned that Florida Atlantic University had sold the naming rights to its football field. This isn’t unusual at all, but the company the school chose amongst many suitors certainly was. The stadium will be known as GEO Group Stadium.

For those who have never heard about—or protested—GEO Group, it is a highly profitable private prison corporation. Governments across the world, from South Africa to the United Kingdom to Australia, pay the GEO Group to take over their jails and run them as privatized, for-profit enterprises.

In the United States, where the prison population has more than doubled since 1992 and is now the highest in the world, this is known as a growth industry. In many communities, where people of color are victimized by callously punitive laws (promoted by the lobbying arms of for-profit prisons), it’s known as the New Jim Crow. The GEO group is the second largest for-profit prison company in the United States, behind only the Correctional Corporation of America.

Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunder gushed over the GEO Group payment of $6 million over the next 12 years for stadium naming rights. She called the GEO Group a “wonderful company” and said the university was “very proud to partner” with it. “This gift is a true representation of the GEO Group’s incredible generosity to FAU and the community it serves,” she said. Given how cash-strapped most universities are, and given how university presidents have increasingly become glorified fundraisers, her joy is unsurprising.

But fortunately, her acceptance of this money is sparking anger and protest on campus and beyond.

“It’s startling to see a stadium will be named after [the GEO Group],” Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leaders, told The New York Times. “ It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium. This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.”

Getting the naming rights is part and parcel of an effort by GEO Group CEO (and Florida Atlantic alum) George Zoley to rebrand the corporation as beneficent, as it undergoes a high-profile effort to take over a significant section of Florida’s prison system, the third largest in the United States. The company needs this makeover after being dogged with protests and lawsuits throughout the state on charges that it, as the Palm Beach Post reported, pads its “profits by cutting worker wages, skimping on inmate health care and ignoring safety and sanitation.”

Undeterred, the GEO Group is looking longingly at Florida’s more than three million undocumented workers, fourth highest in the nation. The future of private prisons may lie in warehousing many of these immigrants. It’s a potential windfall worth billions of dollars to a company that already counts its earning with nine zeroes. And it already has been cashing in on this bonanza, running the Broward Transitional Center for immigrants jailed minor nonviolent offenses or for not having their papers in order.

Its record at Broward has been scandalous, according to the Sun Sentinel, which reported on an undercover investigation by immigrants that revealed “incidents of substandard or callous medical care, including a woman taken for ovarian surgery and returned the same day, still bleeding, to her cell, and a man who urinated blood for days but wasn't taken to see a doctor.”

In Mississippi, the GEO Group also was embroiled in scandal for the way it ran the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi. The Justice Department found that prison personnel engaged in "systemic, egregious and dangerous practices,” including participating in gang fights. Guards and even the warden were allegedly engaging in sex with inmates, the report said, saying such practices were “among the worst that we've seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.” A federal judge also called the prison “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.”

Six million dollars is a small price to pay for the kind of public relations that would whisk these scandals under the sand. The GEO Group aims to be as Florida as a roseate spoonbill and a glass of orange juice—or make that an orange jumpsuit.

Students understand this reality and aren’t going to just let it happen without putting up a fight. “The fact that they are locking up people of color and immigrants like my parents is shameful,” says Noor Fawzy, a twenty-two-year-old member of the student government whose parents are Palestinian immigrants. “We don’t want our university to be associated with an entity that is being investigated for human rights abuses.” Other students who have had relatives locked away in GEO facilities, only to emerge with horror stories of mistreatment, are also speaking out.

It’s long been said that for too many people of color in the state of Florida, your future is confined to either playing football or ending up in the penitentiary. Universities like Florida Atlantic are supposed to represent an alternative to that kind of dystopic state of affairs. Florida Atlantic may go down in history as the school that dropped all pretense and brought the gridiron and the prison together.

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Crime Pays

I am not surprised that this occured. But I want to know what are the athletes on FAU campus are saying about this...

A very telling quote. . .

. . .from noted fussbudget and philosopher Lucy Van Pelt in a early 60s Peanuts strip that I think says it all, and much more:

"Greed makes people do very strange things."

GEO in Ohio

Along with GEO's terrible record in Mississippi and elsewhere, which of course they are trying to whitewash, their corruption extends to funding political campaigns.

According to campaign contribution data from the Ohio Secretary of State offices, the GEO Group donated $10,000 to Kasich and $52,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which helped fund Kasichís gubernatorial campaign, in 2010. Between 2003 and 2006, CCA gave $7,000 to Ohio Republicans and former Gov. Bob Taft. In 2010, CCA gave $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association. There were also reports that CCA gave $10,000 to Kasichís transition fund on December 2010. Between 2007 and 2010, MTC donated a total of $99,000 to state policymakers. Of that money, $22,500 went to Democrats and $76,500 went to Republicans. Of the money that went to Republicans, $4,000 went to Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, who represents Cincinnati in the Ohio Senate.

That money might not seem like much in comparison to federal campaigns that raise millions of dollars a month from private supporters. But in state terms, thatís a lot of money. In 2010, Ohio broke its own records when the governor race cost approximately $33 million. Thatís spending from both gubernatorial campaigns, which received money from hundreds of donors. Three contributors giving a few hundred thousand dollars is a decent amount of cash in that context, and thatís only what can be found in public records.

http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-26206-liberty_for_sale.html

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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