By PAT BORZI
Published: February 27, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS — Two sticky notes dangle from the bottom of a flat-screen monitor in Joel Bauman’s off-campus apartment. In large printed handwriting, one reads, “I Will Inspire,” the other, “I Will Impact.”
“I have them all over the place,” said Bauman, a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore wrestler at the University of Minnesota. “In my car. In my notebook. It’s something I remind myself every day to live my life by.”
Bauman aspires to inspire through his music, mainly hip-hop and rap. His most recent song video, “Ones in the Sky,” which has a positive message and urges people to pursue their dreams, has drawn more than 47,000 hits on YouTube. It can also be downloaded for 99 cents on iTunes. That is a problem for the N.C.A.A.
Because Bauman performed under his own name and identified himself as a Minnesota wrestler, the N.C.A.A. ruled him ineligible for the remainder of the season. J. T. Bruett, Minnesota’s compliance director, said Bauman violated an N.C.A.A. bylaw prohibiting student-athletes from using their name, image or status as an athlete to promote the sale of a commercial product.
The university asked Bauman to remove his name and likeness from videos on YouTube and Tunecore.com. Bauman refused. Told by Bruett that he could regain his eligibility if he used an alias instead of his real name, Bauman again refused.
“I think a lot of artists and rappers today hide behind their aliases,” Bauman said. “They don’t want to take responsibility for what they’re actually saying. I’m Joel Bauman. My message is: I will inspire, and I will impact. I am not going to hide behind an alias to do that, because that’s my message. I can own up to that message.”
That may be true, but it leaves Bauman in athletic limbo. He remains on partial athletic scholarship (10 percent tuition, he said), a stipend he will lose next year if he remains ineligible.
His predicament has not affected the Golden Gophers, who regained a No. 1 national ranking after winning the national duals championship last weekend.
Bauman has never been a starter — he backs up another redshirt sophomore, Scott Schiller. at 197 pounds — and has not competed since sustaining a concussion three months ago. Coach J Robinson believes Bauman could be a starter next year and has urged him to forget about music until he graduates.
“I don’t think Joel is dealing with this the right way,” Robinson said. “He came here to be a wrestler, not a singer. He’s got to decide what he wants to do. You can’t do three or four things well.”
Bauman’s on-again, off-again fascination with rap and hip-hop began in grade school. Adopted by white parents as a baby, Bauman grew up as one of the few African-Americans in tiny Kerkhoven, Minn., population 759, about 100 miles west of the Twin Cities. Through Internet sites and message boards, Bauman interacted with fledgling rappers.
The online rap community encouraged competition, texting first, then advancing to audio battles. Bauman said he spent hours in his room, learning how to write music and lyrics.
“I always wanted to do something with my life, make a big impact,” he said. “I would watch professional wrestling all the time, and I would always see Hulk Hogan. He would make little kids — and I was one of them — stand up and shout at the TV. I always wanted to give a kid hope like that. I didn’t know how.”
Bauman, who won two state championships at 189 pounds, was also a talented running back, gaining more than 7,400 yards at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School. He said he chose wrestling at Minnesota for two reasons: to prepare for an Ultimate Fighting Championship career and to find a larger audience for his music.
He put music aside until last November, when he produced and posted “Ones in the Sky.” People liked it, and word spread.
“I was thinking, ‘This is cool, but this might turn into a problem,’ ” Bauman said. “Because I knew I was kind of doing music in the shadows, and I didn’t necessarily want compliance to know. But I didn’t necessarily think it would be a big deal.”
It became one, he said, after Minnesota showed the video at a Gophers-Iowa dual meet Jan. 26, with the approval of the compliance office. About two weeks later, Bauman said Bruett told him the university should not have played the video, and he was ineligible.
The N.C.A.A. spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the university could seek a waiver to allow Bauman to wrestle, but Bruett said that was not an option.
“The N.C.A.A. requires extenuating circumstances or mitigation in order to request a waiver of their rules,” Bruett wrote in an e-mail. “At this time, we are not aware of any extenuating circumstances or mitigation.”
Seeking a compromise, Bauman said he offered to legally change his name to his birth name, Tre’Vaun Rashaad Stevenson, and make Joel Bauman his stage name. He said the N.C.A.A. rejected that proposal.
Bauman said Tuesday that he had another idea that he declined to reveal, though it may be related to his soon-to-be-released song “Wonder That.” He burns to keep wrestling, though, to prove he can compete for a national championship.
“I have a plan to figure this whole thing out, to be able to do both,” he said. “But my message is more important than my eligibility in the long run. So if I can’t, then so be it.”