Football Fantasies and Education Essentials
by Ak'Bar A. Shabazz (bio)
As the year ends, so will the seasons of most high school football teams. Both the victorious and vanquished will move on to other things.
For many senior players, it is likely to be the last time they play organized sports. According to the NCAA, just over five percent of high school football players will play in college, and even fewer will end up playing professionally.
What happens to those kids who didn't prepare for this reality? What is the fate of the countless young men and women who will never play sports again? How can they be kept from making the wrong decisions?
For many former student-athletes, it will be a less-than-graceful fall to earth. For better or worse, they will are headed for the status quo of their families and community. With proper direction, they'll be fine. If not, they'll be lucky to settle into mediocrity.
As a volunteer assistant football coach, it pains me to see other coaches exploit players' success only to drop them after they've played their final game. To them, it seems yesterday's players are yesterday's news. While those coaches dream about next season, the kids fall from prince to pauper.
There needs to be something to give at-risk kids proper direction and prevent them from ending up on the streets. It doesn't need to come from government. Community-based organizations such as churches, fraternities and sororities and charities are there and want to enhance their neighborhoods.
In this troubled economy, it is also more important than ever that kids get a good education. There are plenty of opportunities for gifted student-athletes to get a higher education, but many lack the guidance and instruction to make the right choices. Concerned adults can help.
Today's coaches and administrators have a great responsibility. It's more than about sports these days - it's about kids' futures. A college scholarship can earn them a good education and the possibility of playing sports for a few more years. Upon graduation, when going pro is only a remote possibility, they still have an education that can launch them on a career and provide an example for younger kids to emulate.
I'm familiar, however, with the different extremes facing student-athletes.
In Georgia, where football is king and where I currently live, many high school coaches have relationships with colleges. They can get even marginal yet motivated players some sort of scholarship. The kids can lace it up for a few more years and get that important education.
On the other end of the spectrum is Indiana, where I grew up. It is not unusual to see former high school superstars there selling drugs, in jail or simply hanging out on street corners.
Compared to Georgia, coaches in Indiana are less willing to actively promote the advancement of their players' education. The Indiana Football Coaches Association seems to rely more on team histories and league politics than individuals' skills. It prevents many smart and capable rural and inner-city players from obtaining the exposure that will help them earn a scholarship.
Athletics has grown beyond being a simple pastime. It is now a vehicle that can help a kid go farther than his current conditions dictate. But it can also set kids up for a tremendous fall.
Communities can't rely on self-interested coaches and administrators to look out for kids. Concerned parents and community leaders need to be actively involved to make sure student-athletes have an opportunity to make the most of their playing days. If they cannot, they need to be there to make sure they are not cast aside and forgotten.
Having skills on the field or the court can be both a blessing and a curse. It is up to those with the means and the power - the adults - to promote those student-athletes with the talent and ambition as well as ensure those who cannot advance are not left to fend for themselves in a world far less glamorous that before.
It's not just for them, but for all of society.
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Ak'Bar A. Shabazz is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network and president of Shabazz Enterprises. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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