Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The High Road is Hard to Find

Today I read an article about former safety for the University of Florida, Myron Rolle. He was recently drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round. The article discussed how Rolle was questioned about his commitment to football after missing his senior season. He left because he was selected to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University this year- an honor only given to 32 of the brightest students in the nation. He missed his senior year so he could work towards a degree in medical anthropology.

The author blasts those who are questioning his dedication to the game, arguing that his intelligence is an asset to be applauded in an age where college athletes are known to get B.S. degrees like agricultural journalism* or to coast through without attending class. The author claims this is 'more' evidence that the NFL likes their players to blindly follow the protocol rather than to stir up trouble.

I don't know enough about the drafting process or the behind-the-scenes management of NFL players to form a solid opinion on this. I do know that the NFL has some serious PR problems. I'm not even talking about Big Ben being unable to keep it in his pants or Plaxico shooting himself in the leg or all the other convicts that tear up the field any given Sunday.

I'm talking about the studies that are linking professional football to early onset dementia and other scary health problems. If you haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant and thorough article from The New Yorker earlier this year that discusses this link, you should really do so. It's as fascinating as it is frightening. He writes about how football players are pushed past their physical limits and the new long-term effects that are being discovered in past pros. He claims that the 'entertainment' we as viewers see in grown men getting hit over and over is no better or less damaging than the violence seen in dog fighting. If you ever needed proof that the NFL isn't serious about protecting its athletes, you can perhaps think about why it hasn't continued to amend the rules of the game as Gladwell suggests, or at the least admit to the public that this problem is real and they are trying to find ways to change the game and equipment to make sure the best interests of their players are met.

I also read an article last year about how professional sports leagues and their internal franchises do very little to protect their athletes from the threat of bankruptcy after retirement. Some of the article is hilarious, like how former MN Twin Torri Hunter spent $60,000 investing in inflatable rafts that pop up from underneath your furniture in the event of a flood and save the furniture from water damage. (SERIOUSLY.) Stories like that make it difficult to defend some of these idiots. Other stats- 78% of former NFL players are bankrupt or in financial distress within 2 years of retirement- make me believe there should be more precise attempts at ensuring professional athletes are smart with their money. At the least have a backup plan (read: college degree) and at best have someone who isn't a leech to your fame taking care of your money. Surely not all of them will listen to their club's manager, but I'm sure a quick speech by now-broke (all-time leading rusher for the Saints) Deuce McAllister will wake them up a bit.

Rolle was looking out for his future when he participated in the Rhodes Scholar program. Whether or not it affected his draft pick isn't really the question. The question is why the NFL isn't running a PSA starring their genius that touts the importance of staying in school and making wise decisions for your future as you pursue your dream of being a professional athlete. That'd be one step in the right direction to proving that they do in fact care about more than a 1,000 yard rushing or 15-sack season.

* Oh, I went there, Wisco.


KC said...

This bankruptcy stat is really bad. 78%?!?

Surely there has to be a better way.

Ed Kohler said...

It really is amazing how many pro athletes have nothing to live on after lucrative but short careers. It seems that many get caught up in competing to out-spend each other during their careers, which leads to nowhere to go but down.