“I can handle my enemies,” the proverb goes. “But God save me from my friends.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of the recent article by Emory University journalism student David Michaels, posted on the website Atlanta Unfiltered. The piece detailed the early career of state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, as a pitchman for a sports pick operation throughout the 1990s.
Michaels unearthed videos of a fresh-faced Will ‘the Winner’ Rogers pushing would-be football game bettors to a $10-a-call 900 line, guaranteeing 80 percent accuracy. He found the name of Will ‘the Winner’ Rogers on a 2001 NCAA blacklist of tout services.
“Tout services provide information about specific teams and games on which to place wagers…Tout services have implied in the past that they receive information from individuals close to collegiate athletic programs,” the NCAA warned team staffers, emphasizing that contact with those involved in organized gambling violated collegiate athletic bylaws.
(The NCAA stopped publishing the list in 2005, a spokeswoman said.)
The Michaels article found no evidence that the No. 2 ranking member of the state Senate, who faces a July primary challenge, placed or accepted bets. Rogers says he was merely “the talent” for an entertainment vehicle. Indeed, he speaks with the deep, melodious tones of a radio veteran – and provided the official voiceover for Gov. Nathan Deal’s inauguration last year.
“I was hired to play a part on the TV show,” Rogers said in an interview with Channel 2 Action News. “The company who hired me gave me a script, and I would read from the script – or I would use the script as a kind of basic outline of what I’m supposed to say.”
Rogers contended that he did nothing that viewers don’t see every day on ESPN. He provided talking points for the water-cooler gang.
But the majority leader’s self-defense wasn’t good enough for some. In recent days, Joe Duffy of Alpharetta posted on YouTube his own defense of Rogers.
Duffy is the CEO of Offshoreinsiders.com, a sports pick firm. He’s been in the business since his college days with Rogers – but he’s not necessarily the advocate that the senator would have chosen for himself.
Duffy starts well enough. “Sit down, shut your pie holes, and take note,” he begins. The game picker declares the talk about Rogers’ past to be a “non-story.” Mostly.
“The hard sell, the fact that he was kind of on the seedy end of the sports handicapping industry, okay, that’s a fairly legitimate story,” Duffy concedes. “Except it was at the turn of the century. That’s more than 10 years ago. If that’s the biggest skeleton he has in his closet, I say elect him president of the United States.”
Then there’s that part about Rogers being a mere scripted actor. “That’s stretching the truth. But I know where he’s been as far as not having total editorial control of your content,” Duffy said.
The most significant aspect of the Atlanta Unfiltered piece is that it links two narratives, both involving Rogers. In 2009, Rogers and fellow state Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who would soon become a member of Congress, took out a $2.2 million loan to purchase and renovate the run-down Oglethorpe Inn in Calhoun, off I-75.
The two public officials defaulted on the loan, later settling with the bank that took it over for $1.2 million. The ownership of the hotel they transferred to a man named John Edens.
The Michaels piece clearly shows Edens – a.k.a. Johnny DeMarco – to be an associate from Rogers’ days pushing sport picks. Duffy knows Edens and doesn’t like him.
“He’s your Jeremiah Wright,” the sports picker chides Rogers, adding that it was “bad, bad, bad judgment not getting that creature in your review mirror.”
In a follow-up interview, Duffy said he hasn’t had any personal contact with Rogers in a dozen years. The senator says the gulf is even wider.
“As I remember him, [Duffy] is a very nice guy. I have had no interaction with him since I was in college and am not sure how he would have any knowledge of my business arrangements in the late 1990s,” Rogers said via email.
The senator drew a firm line when it came to Edens. “Let me be crystal clear. I have no business relationship with him in any respect. The last time I have seen him is almost a year ago,” Rogers wrote. “Yes, I knew him when I was in college and a few years afterwards. There have been a number of years when I did not see him or talk to him at all. Right now I could not tell you where he lives, because I don’t know.”
Rogers expressed skepticism that a period in his life 14 years gone — “and completely legal” – constitutes a legitimate topic of discussion. No doubt the point will be settled by voters in north Fulton and Cherokee counties.
If nothing else, think of Rogers as a cultural marker. Republican attitudes toward gaming are in flux. On Tuesday, at a debate in Paulding County, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, declared that he not only opposes casino gambling – an issue that will be on the GOP primary ballot – but would vote to end the state lottery if given a chance.
Rogers is on the other side of that divide, a man who thinks there’s nothing wrong with generating a little ammunition for those about to buy into the office pool.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider