Opportunity? Are We Talking About Opportunity?

Student athletes are not paid in cash - get over it.

Student athletes are not paid in cash – get over it. (The cartoon is courtesy of Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The same periodical that gave me my sports nickname – yes, I have one).

I know, everybody loves their college football stars. I totally get it.

I bought my son an Aaron Murray jersey last year and didn’t even think twice whether or not Aaron should get a penny from that. Then I had Mr. Murray sign it at a Georgia Circle of Honor ceremony (this kid was a gentleman and a total class act by the way) and never once have I thought that I would turn around and sell it for money. He signed the ceremony program for the event and I put both items in a shadow box that is now in my son’s room. My son actually thinks it’s a signed Arizona Cardinals jersey of the same number (#11 Mr. Larry Fitzgerald) so there’s that.

I’ve never even thought to pay a student athlete to sign a jersey or a photograph because I believe that a full athletic scholarship is worth more than enough.

See, I’m a former collegiate athlete. I know I’m not a football star or an autograph collector for that matter. I also know they have a lot more nonsense to carry around with them (especially in this day of media and content overload). I would never speak to disrespect my alma mater nor can I imagine what these players have to deal with. I had friends who played football. I know it’s a completely different ball game playing a revenue sport. Their sport pays for a lot of things, but the bottom line is this: these athletes aren’t playing for free. They are not getting robbed of anything. If it wasn’t for the sport that put them there, nobody would be crying about anything. And let’s face it, people are crying over this. We can do better. We need to do better.

Student athletes don’t play for free. They are not “slaves” as some dim wits on social media are inferring to the current brand of collegiate football player. Do I think student athletes should get paid because their jersey is selling for a hundred bucks at the bookstore? Or their autograph might be worth something someday? No, I don’t.

Student athletes (football or otherwise) play for and get paid in opportunity. We play, in part, to provide opportunity to talented young athletes who may not get a college education otherwise. We play, in part, to build facilities for future athletes and pay for the salaries of those coaches, trainers, video team and all the other people who support us every practice, game and all the time in between. They are there for us. The reason these athletes are on the field today is because an athlete played ten, twenty, fifty years ago someone played for their opportunity.

Somebody played to put me on the court twenty years ago and I played to put someone else on the court today.

I know, I am a naive dreamer…but I’m not the only one.

I was inducted into the University of Georgia’s Circle of Honor in 1996. Since Georgia doesn’t have a formal way to retire jersey’s in all sports (say, like, gymnasts and swimmers who don’t wear numbers), they use this format to honor former athletes who have made a mark. The criteria are such that you have to wait ten years post graduation (yes, you have to graduate) to get nominated. Your athletic career – whether you are a player or a coach – goes before a board and a voting process. The year I was inducted, I sat among truly elite athletes. Heather Stepp McCormack (Gymnast), Zeke Bratkowski (Football), Dick Copas (Golf), George Bezecny (Tennis). This is the language from the program:

“The exclusive Circle of Honor recognizes and pays tribute to those student-athletes and coaches who have exhibited extraordinary levels of excellence by their performance and conduct. These individuals have brought honor and glory to the University and themselves, and their actions have significantly contributed to the tradition and legend of the Georgia Bulldogs.”

It was worth the wait.

When you have to wait ten years before you really know your impact, you can truly appreciate it for what it is. See, these young football college superstar celebrities – they don’t know what this tastes like. Ten years give you a chance to settle into life beyond the collegiate athlete bubble. It gives perspective and the opportunity to use what you’ve learned – we either use it or we don’t. There are kids who go through athletic programs and don’t give a rip about the university that put them there. I give a rip.

trophy 2

“It’s just an empty cup” ~ the late, great Doc Hudson

 

When you realize that the very thing you went to college to play sports for is the very thing you are offering someone else, you begin to see the bigger picture. It is the very thing you give another student athlete – opportunity.

Sure, college athletics is big business (especially college football) but remember this: we get paid in opportunity, not cash.

I have had so much opportunity from playing at the University of Georgia. I got more than a college education and four years of playing ridiculously fun volleyball. I got opportunity. I still get opportunity today because of my affiliation with Georgia Athletics.

I’m not trying to be controversial or disrespectful to the establishment that gave me so much more than an athletic scholarship. I realize that haters gonna hate and I’m not going to change anything by writing this but I cannot be the only one who thinks this way…At least, I hope I’m not.

(Yes, I just dropped the word “opportunity” like Allen Iverson dropped the word “practice.” Do yourself a favor and click on this: http://youtu.be/d29VsG35DQM)

 

*Disclaimer because I know y’all gonna be hatin’. I am not comparing myself to a college football player. I am not assessing blame (or not) to anybody who wears the number three (I also wore the number three, it’s a fantastic number). I know the problem is bigger than one university and one sports program and one athlete. I know the issues are layered and squashing one issue just creates two more in its place. I am not an expert in the field of big business revenue sports or NCAA compliance. I am simply saying that as a student athlete, I believe my scholarship was enough. I believe that to be true for all student athletes. I only know my experience and am speaking to that. I have had many a conversation with other student athletes from all different sports on this exact topic, I absolutely know I am not the only one who feels this way. So there.

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Categories: Life Lessons Through Sports

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