When Pete Davis questions the Washington, DC elementary school students who he regularly tutors what they want to be when they grow up, the often say a professional athlete. When he tells them the odds are 1 in 1,000 that will happen, and that they should have a Plan B, it falls on deaf ears. They have very narrow ambitions.
Unfortunately, college sports are exploiting these ambitions in a fashion that comes close to slavery. Young minority players are recruited into schools at which they are totally unprepared to succeed academically and at which they aren’t paid for their labors, let alone their high risk of career ending injury, and they are cast off as completely expendable after they fail to WIN! We even throw in tax-exempt status for the colleges and universities on their multi-billion dollar incomes from exploitation of these athletes.
Leaving aside the unnecessary slavery analogy, Davis makes a very strong argument… about affirmative action. In the 1960s Yale Law Professor Clyde Summers wrote about the “pervasive mismatching” of minority students and institutions in which they would not succeed. Students that could succeed in a local state school might well fail miserably in an MIT or University of Chicago. This is why athletes, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, have high dropout rates. They are put into a school for reasons other than academic merits. If the bar is not lowered, they fail. If it is lowered, they succeed. Potential employers know such “success” was not really earned. Furthermore, if academically soft classes – as opposed to hard sciences, rigorous history and rhetoric, etc. – were the means to graduation, they will still be left without the skills needed for success – sans quotation marks – in a competitive world.
This is not to say that sports don’t offer important life lessons for young people. They do, and among them are the values of hard work, team work, investment, sacrifice, and the devotion to the mastery of a craft. It is to say that such a pervasive mismatching of students and schools has downsides, and unforgivingly bad ones when they are subsidized by the government which bears no costs for such decisions.