No. 489
One time I heard a story about this old Texan who was bragging about how much land he owned. He said, "I can get in my pickup truck at daylight and drive all day and I still won't get to the other side of my property." The fellow he was talking with said, "Yeah, we used to have a pickup truck like that." To me this says the old Texan's pickup needed an overhaul. In another realm, this is exactly what professional sports needs, because in many cases the players have become terrible role models for our young people. Millions of Americans who follow sports were shocked back in November 2004 when a near riot took place between players and fans during a Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers basketball game. The consequences of this event will be felt for a long time to come.
In many respects, college sports also needs a serious attitude adjustment. The day following the near riot in Detroit, a football game between the University of South Carolina and Clemson University was marred by an on-field brawl between rival players. While both of these events were tragic, the saddest thing of all is that no one was really surprised. The reason is because over the past couple of decades we, the American people, have allowed those in big-time sports to create a culture that diminishes the fine art of basketball to rewarding the biggest, the meanest and the fastest players still standing at the end of the game. The way we reward them is going to the games, watching them on television, soaking up the sponsors' commercials and paying $500 for a pair of sneakers.
Do not think for a moment that I am condemning everyone who plays professional sports, because that is certainly not the case. There are many fine human beings who can be found playing professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey and all the rest. We are only talking about a small percentage of people here, but the real culprit is the sudden wealth that comes to an athlete who never had anything when growing up and was never taught social graces, respect, manners and courtesy. This lack of training comes from the home environment, but sadly many colleges also give their athletes a "bye" when it comes to getting a quality education. Many colleges in our country have graduation rates for athletes that are deplorable.
In short, big money in the hands of uneducated people can often have tragic consequences. This is really the heart of what I am trying to get across here and I know that many people will disagree with me. My real purpose is to talk with parents and grandparents who have students in school who are spending all or most of their time playing or practicing sports. At this point, allow me to get something else out of the way. The public and private schools of the United States of America were never intended to be training or recruiting grounds for professional or college sports. The purpose of our nation's school system is to prepare young people for a productive and successful life and a rewarding career.
This being the case, if you or your children are wrapped up in sports, does it not make sense to change your focus more to academics and less to sports? Personally, I believe you can do both. A young person involved in high school sports can be a great student and a great athlete. I've seen countless young people who prove this is true and you know them as well. Here are a couple of reasons to support what I am saying. First, the odds of a young athlete making it in professional sports are off the chart, and there is also the real possibility of a career-ending injury. However, the greatest reason of all for a young person putting academics first is life after sports. In most cases, the young athlete who leaves either high school or college is going to have 40 years of their life before them with a great education, or with the one he acquired while he was just sliding by, while playing or practicing sports.
For parents and grandparents, here is the real question. When you see or read about a riot or brawl that takes place between professional athletes, fans or other players, or even unacceptable on- or off-field behavior on the part of college athletes, is this the future you want for the people you love most? Like most of my readers, I grew up in a day before "big money" was the biggest part of the equation. We competed and we competed hard, just for the thrill that came with victory.
Unfortunately, that day and time is gone. Parents who have children wrapped up in sports should decide which road to take. They can insist on their children getting a quality education as their top priority, or allow them to pursue the goal of professional sports, although in the vast majority of cases, it won't come true. Sadly, most great high school athletes think they are going to be the exception to the rule.
(Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)