Should College Student-Athletes Be Paid?

Here in the northwest, there is recent conversation in regards to a couple of our local universities, University of Washington and Washington State University (my alma mater) as to if their respective star players (UW’s Isaiah Thomas and WSU’s Klay Thompson) should return for their senior years of go Pro.

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I admit to being a little bit “old school” when it comes to implementing success strategies to keep our young people on track for success. As the author of a just completed book “Standing above the Crowd: “Execute Your Game Plan to Become the Best You Can Be”, that keeps the focus on the tried-and-true traditions of hard work, goal setting, dedication and positive attitude, I feel that those things along with my own personal life experience of being a collegiate student- athlete help me to have a perspective from the many different points of view pertaining to this conversation F95zone .

My Beginning as a Student Athlete:

Athletes are the prized and celebrated few of our society. From the time that most top-level athletes are in the fourth or fifth grade, they have already been identified as those that have a great opportunity in the world of sports. At that point they become coddled, pampered, and “taken care of” in ways that the average individual can only imagine. Many times athletes who are full of athletic potential don’t have the same scholastic expectations placed upon them from the time they’re in middle school and all the way through college. Is that fair? I guess I’d say it’s fair only if it works out well for the athlete, his family and the university of their choice before heading on to the pros. Unfortunately, that is where we as a society place our values, instead of on the student who gets straight “A’s”. But, many times it doesn’t work out that way for the “hot-shot” athlete, and you only hear about the perhaps 10% of athletes who actually ascend to the top of the pyramid of the hundreds of thousands of scholar athletes throughout this country (middle school through collegiate sports). The vast majority of student-athletes will perhaps play on their high school varsity team, their collegiate athletic teams, and far fewer in the professional ranks. It’s been said it’s easier to become a brain surgeon that it is a professional athlete.

I was a late starter as a student-athlete, so I wasn’t one of the pampered ones that were targeted for athletic success from middle school on. Matter of fact I didn’t play my first organized basketball game until I was a senior in high school. So, I missed out on all the “wining and dining”, “coddling and pampering”, and, “wooing and recruitment” that goes on in trying to get the attention of our young athletes. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t witness to those kinds of things as they went on around me having watched many of my peers go through all of those dynamics. I do remember even back in high school (mid 70’s) in seeing some of the star football, basketball, baseball, track/field athletes being given special treatment as the recruiting wars heated up.

Coming from a family that emphasizes academics over athletics, I had the mindset from the beginning that my first reward from becoming a student-athlete would be my scholarship on to college. I was so excited about receiving my athletic scholarship to Washington State University, because I would be the very first person in my immediate family to be able to attend an institution of higher learning and earn a college degree. I know that my family is probably not “the norm” when it comes to having a student-athlete that is full of potential and can possibly make it onto the pros. Most families “want it” (the athlete to make it to the pros) even more than the athlete him/herself. My family wasn’t like that, and I was really blessed in the fact that they did place academics ahead of athletics.

The Social Impact of Athletes not Graduating:

My major at Washington State University was in the areas of sociology/psychology. It was there that I begin to understand some of the social issues of the day (both historically and current) plus challenges that pertain to ethnic groups (such as African-Americans like myself) in particular. I learned that so many African-American men fall through the cracks (become involved with the criminal justice system, drop out of school, become teen-aged fathers, suffer higher unemployment rates, become involved with substance abuse such as alcohol, drugs, etc.) and we have the society and community need to do a better job of helping our young people along that precarious pathway that can lead them to success. Success that is not only measured on the athletic fields, but more importantly in the classroom, and then once they embark upon their respective career paths.

If you take a look at any collegiate or professional football/basketball team, you’ll readily see that the vast majority of the young players are of African-American descent. At times it’s been up to perhaps 90% in basketball and at the 70 to 80 percentile in football. Most of those players come from families that are single female-headed households (over 70% of African-American homes are single female-headed households in the United States), and the student-athlete themselves are the majority of the time, the very first generation in their families who have the opportunity to go on to college. We don’t have to go too far back in history to realize the reasons why a lot of African-Americans were not allowed to attend school and become educated. So this is a relatively recent development in the fact that so many African-American student-athletes are now being given the opportunity to obtain degrees at every university across the United States. The shame of it all is the fact that very few of our African-American student-athletes actually walk away from a university after their athletic eligibility is up with a degree/diploma stating that he or she has completed the curriculum work and has earned a degree. That’s the shame of it all and that has to be fixed!

Our student-athletes (no matter what ethnic background and culture they are from) cannot compete on a “level playing field” without a university degree with their student peers who are on campus at the same time with them. Even when a student-athlete does obtain his or her degree, they’re still somewhat behind the rest of their graduating class because while the “regular” student has been attending classes everyday and gaining experience in implementing some of the skills they’re learning, more often than not, the student-athlete is missing a large percentage of classes (even if it was made up by “study/tutor sessions”) and is missing out on the opportunity to implement some of the skills of their learning along the way as do “regular” students. Also, “regular” students have an opportunity to form a social network that many times becomes a pathway onto their business network that they will utilize in launching their careers. Student-athletes many times are isolated on campus from everyday campus life because of the demands of the sport that they’re playing, and trying to balance their academic load at the same time. Plus, when you’re celebrated student-athlete on campus, it’s difficult to be accepted as a normal everyday person and there’s always someone who’s willing to step up and “befriend you” for their own personal agenda such as “tickets, being a part of your inner circle, hoping to tag along with you on “the ride” to the professional ranks should you make it). The student-athlete has to be “extra careful” in who their friends are and that takes away from the campus experience too.

The small percentage of student-athletes who actually navigate their way successfully through this whole maze of “hangers ons”, “friends and so-called friends”, “groupies and posse'”, “educators who want to be your friend” and the like are to be congratulated for making it through in the first place. Most likely they made it through because of their athletic talents, but also they had the good fortune of not going too far off track and ruining their opportunities for success. If you’re a “lottery pick” or a “first-round pick “, more power to you, but keep in mind “to those whom much is given, much is expected “. I applaud them also, but that’s not what this article is about. This article is about those “regular student-athletes” (like myself, who actually took going to school seriously and received my degree) who have the odds stacked against them to make it to the pros in first place.

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