By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The "CAUSE thing" is Christian Athletes United for Spiritual Empowerment, a ministry to professional athletes. The ministry, founded by former Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White and a handful of other NFL players known for proclaiming their religious beliefs on prime time, is run by the Rev. Keith Johnson, the Minnesota Vikings' high-profile chaplain. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, CAUSE boasts hundreds of professional athletes as members and aims to provide not only spiritual, but also financial counseling to its flock.
Because she was so impressed with Johnson, the former employee turned down a job offer with the Carleson Marketing Group, a large travel concern. On June 21, she started her job with Signature at an annual salary of $60,000, plus bonuses virtually guaranteed to put her at "at least six figures."
"[Johnson] told me we'd all be driving Porsches," she recalls. Right away, she found, Math and Basketball took a back seat. "Because she was so busy with CAUSE, [Johnson] gave me a 'to do' list," she says. "Calling speakers, calling vendors, finding out what they'd been paid and what they were owed, finding photographers."
About a week after the woman started, the deal changed. She wouldn't be getting paid until after the summit, on July 12, and she wouldn't be getting the $4,000 she expected. The woman decided to "suck it up" and take the $2,000 she was offered to show how gung ho she was about her new position.
Her enthusiasm didn't last. Her $2,000 check was returned marked "insufficient funds." The check was written on a Charles Schwab account. "I called [a Schawb broker], who told me the check-writing features had been taken off the account in May," says the woman.
Meanwhile, Brockette was impressed. Based on what Brockette saw at the summit, and on what he says were Johnson's instructions, he began aggressively marketing a new "partnership" between Johnson's company and DISD.
"I was out there selling $50,000 sponsorships to Fortune 500 companies," Brockette says. Brockette is referring to "Math Can Be Fun," a program he marketed to companies such as Frito Lay, Apple Computer, and Intel on behalf of Johnson's company. According to marketing materials Brockette worked up and sent out on Signature's behalf, Math Can Be Fun was to be a five-year partnership with DISD. In exchange for $50,000, $75,000, or $100,000 sponsorships, the companies would "have a clear association with high-profile, clean image professional athletes" who would explain to students in 158 DISD schools "how mathematics is relevant in their daily lives."
According to two DISD spokespersons, however, the program was never approved. And it appears that Signature Sports Marketing never had firm commitments from any professional athletes -- much less the four high-profile basketball players whose names were mentioned to corporations to help sell the program.
DISD's Peterson says Johnson mentioned the program in passing some time ago, but it was never actually approved by the DISD.
"She told me she was going to get A.C. Green, Michael Finley, David Robinson, and Cynthia Cooper," says Brockette. "And that's what I told the corporations, based on her representation." Unfortunately, nobody checked with the athletes. Agents for three of the four say they have never heard of Carmen Johnson. The fourth could not be contacted by press time.
According to a letter from Johnson's attorney, "Ms. Johnson is unaware of any representations made to potential sponsors that professional athletes had already committed to be a part of the program." Johnson's attorney writes that his client "instructed" Brockette "to represent that professional athletes were targeted for the program," but that "Signature had not yet determined" who they would be.
In any event, no sponsorship money was ever collected. Brockette's first paycheck, also written on the Charles Schwab account, also bounced.
For the last month, he's been trying to collect his $3,000, not to mention looking for that great job.
"You know, I kinda knew better," he concedes. "I mean, first of all, to get Shaquille O'Neal to even, like, fart in your general direction is gonna cost you $250,000. And I asked her. I was like, 'Carmen, where are we gonna get the money for all this?' And she was like, 'I can't believe you just asked me that.'" He shakes his head. "I know I should have checked her out," he says, between sending out résumés, still hoping for that six-figure "sports marketing" gig.