Thursday, December 6, 2012

RG III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson

Every year a study comes out that grades the big athletic universities’ ability to graduate their “student athletes.” And every year, the schools that get terrible grades make excuses. The “student athlete” model is broken, they say. Schools make so much money on their star players, they should be paid, they say. The fact that they get only free tuition, room and board, and an opportunity for a life changing education is insulting, they say. Big time college sports are nothing more than a training ground for the pros, they say. We should get over our insistence that a guy who represents a university should be required to actually attend, and complete his class work, we are told.

There are three rookie quarterbacks in the NFL this year who beg to differ. First, there’s the local kid, Russell Wilson, who incidentally once beaned my son in a Tuckahoe little league game. Russell graduated from N.C. State with a 4.0 GPA in business administration while juggling football AND baseball responsibilities. Then there’s Robert Griffin III who completed his degree work in Political Science at Baylor in only three years while competing in big time college football. His GPA? 3.67. Last but not least, Andrew Luck graduated on time with a 3.48 GPA in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

The fact that these three gentlemen are experiencing great success in the NFL should come as no surprise. They have a proven track record of accomplishment. They have proven that they possess discipline. They understand time management. They understand the importance of study. Does anyone doubt that if these young men were to suffer some career-ending injury, that all three would go on to be successes in some other endeavor?

Without hesitation, I would point out to you that two of the three men I just named are African-American. I bring this up because one of the implicit, if unstated, arguments against the student athlete model is that it expects too much from the overwhelming number of African-American athletes who excel in college sports. As a famous man once said, this is the soft bigotry of low expectations. I submit that we expect too little of our athletes, not too much. The assumption that black athletes aren’t smart enough to make it through college is an outrageous lie. Yes, many of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds, many without fathers. While it may be unreasonable to expect every athlete to be on the Dean’s list, it is not unreasonable to expect a good faith attempt to learn, improve, and to better oneself as a student. If I were an African American student athlete, it would infuriate me that most people assume me to be too stupid to pass an English Literature exam, while my dumb-as-a-post white teammate is assumed to be a scholar.

I’m sure I will get a lecture from some of you about what a money-grabbing institution the NCAA is and how much of a crime it is that they exist to exploit the athlete. It’s true. But I personally believe in the redemptive power of an education, and the fact that it’s value is so undervalued in this calculation is the real crime. The fact that the average football, or basketball career, if it happens at all, is less than four years, should illustrate the importance of a degree. Instead, one and done coaches flatter themselves as “dream facilitators”. The only thing they are really facilitating is their next obscene contract extension.