Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dear Mr. Stern (not Howard)

9% of professional athletes (football) remain millionaires after 5 years of retirement. This is the figure I was told. I am sure it is close, if not accurate, and many other professional sports athletes fall in line with this figure. There was a NBA player that made millions playing a game. Yes, not inventing something, or curing some complex social dilemma, but playing a game. He is now bankrupt. Over the span of less than 15 years he made several millions and is now bankrupt. This means he was spending more money than he made, much like our nation currently, but that’s another conversation, and declared he couldn’t pay his debts any longer. This is an all too familiar story. I’ve often thought of writing Mr. Stern a letter giving him my 2 cents on how to boost his revenue while also making college basketball worth getting yourself attached to. I think I’ll get some of these thoughts out here and now, maybe you’ll see them on ESPN soon.

I think the above-mentioned unfortunate circumstances are only symptoms of a greater disease deep within our culture, especially and most specifically affecting those of lower socio-economic status. For the sake of story let’s go with the name of Melchizedek, random name, yes, but one that has stained itself into my cerebral cortex. Hopefully this story will brand itself to that wrinkly muscle in your head because of such an absurd name. For the purpose of my wrists and fingers not callousing over we shall refer to Melchizedek henceforth as M. M was born in the inner city of a major metropolitan. The inner city struggles and growing up fatherless put M in an interesting situation, M has never been taught about masculinity, respect, or values. M values what he sees and hears in his environment. M values money because he sees people with money get set free. M has several options here, sell drugs, steal, drop out of school and work full time, etc to make this money. M happens to be gifted as an athlete, he jumps like he’s part of one of those crazy animal planet/discovery specials on gazelles you see on TV. M has great hand eye coordination and is naturally quick witted. Someone puts an orange leather sphere in his hands early on and M spends his time practicing and playing basketball from the time he is a child to when he grows into his adolescent years. Some smart coach sees M playing one day and pulls over to talk to him. They chat for a while and M begins playing for his school and embarrassing anyone who gets in his way on that hardwood floor. Good for M! Go M Go! The coach is a paid professional; he makes money being a basketball coach if he proves he is successful. The measures of this success are quantified with victory and wins. M is horrible at Math and his grades are slipping. Coach talks to M’s math teacher and begs him to go easy on him, for the sake of the school’s basketball program. Teacher concedes and lets M coast. M helps Coach win a state championship 3 out of his 4 years in high school. Colleges like M and offer him a full ride scholarship to their nice fancy school. This school is prestigious for its basketball program and winning is what is important. M is allowed to coast through his first year of college. M does so well in college he is nationally ranked and projected to be drafted into the NBA. M is 18 and played one year of college basketball. M’s dreams come true and are a success story, a flower coming out of concrete, one of the inner city boys that made it out. M is a millionaire.

Remember M and his math problems? He has no clue how to handle this amount of money. He is not prepared to handle this much public scrutiny and attention. He was never taught about handling himself in public, with media in your face. M blows his money quickly and still hangs around the wrong guys, the ones who will influence him and use him. M gets into a lot of trouble and builds quite the reputation for himself in spite of his freakish athleticism and God-given talent. M is no longer wanted. M is bankrupt. This story seems to play itself out a lot. This story of M has quite a few holes in it though, did you catch them? Where was his education? Can you blame him for not knowing how to handle millions as an uneducated kid? Where was his accountability? Can you blame him for being arrogant and thinking he is invincible? The system failed M. The system is never looked at though.

Mr. Stern, I’d propose to you a new system, one in which you help young men, college athletics, professional sports, and your and my beloved NBA. I say set in place a degree, an associate’s degree at the very least, for those young people who will go professional. I would implement this to be a two year degree for several reasons. It still allows a young athletic kid to come into his respective sport and dominate accordingly, while entertaining the masses with his mythical gifts. It allows players to play for a college for more than one year. College has no consistency in sports, one and done has killed any sort of following for a team, outside of alumni following. In this degree require courses on financial responsibility, public relations, public speaking, general psychology, anatomy, physical therapy, and some kind of course that would teach universal discipline and responsibility. Assign each rookie a mentor, who would be a retired or currently mature player. You can still have your young stud that will turn a franchise around, but you can benefit from this young stud not embarrassing your league or professional sports all together. Not only do you benefit yourself, but you benefit guys like poor M. M would learn how to manage the life of a professional athlete before it overwhelmed him. M could retire and use his influence as a professional athlete to inspire kids to not drop out of school and the importance of a well-rounded education. M could possibly change the face of children from similar socio-economic circumstances.

I say change the system of professional athletics and the road to getting there. I think changes like this last longer than treating media outbreaks or other embarrassing outbursts as they inevitably happen.


  1. Genius! I love it The mentorship aspect is alone great, but the associates degree designed for athletes going pro is definitely necessary for that stat at the start to change.

  2. Chef ey? Nice! Thanks for the comment man. Trying to direct more traffic to my site so tell your friends. I think something like this would be so good for the sport and for the players long term. It benefits everyone. I should submit to the NBA and ESPN. Ha.

  3. Well we started a bit of a debate over on G+ but you directed me here so I will reply here. I'll also note that this subject is related but the same as what we were discussing there.

    You make very good points and I agree with you that the machine of basketball is fundamentally broken. I also agree that the NBA needs to improve their life coaching that supposedly happens when every rookie comes into the league.

    Where we diverge is on the placement of responsibility. By the time an NBA player and possible degenerate makes it to "the league" it is generally too late to change 18 to 20 years of ingrained personality. Yes these athletes could benefit from knowing how to keep track of their finances, talk to people appropriately (and in a manner where we can decipher what they are saying) and generally conduct themselves off the basketball court. The problem does not begin when they walk on that stage and grab a hat though.

    Lets take a step back to college where the coaches only care about saving their jobs. Unless you are Coach K or Tom Izzo, you are unlikely to have much job security after a losing season. So what happens? You go out with a sweet deal, promises of all sorts and hand pick skilled kids like a new family pet. You know they have dollar signs in their eyes and flashbulbs in their minds. You know they will be leaving after one season. You know that school spirit is a sham and that midnight madness that you have every year with practically a new starting roster is just a dog and pony show. But you need to keep the paycheck coming in so you smile at the press conference, pat the kid on the back and send your scouts out to look for the next prized piece. The main thing you know, in most of these situations, is that the kid has failing grades and would be lost without basketball. You feel bad and justify it by saying you're giving him a chance to make something of himself.

    Lets take another step back. You are that prep school coach or maybe just a very successful high school coach. You pump out state championships and high profile players like it is your job because...well it is. You build an amazing bond with the kids and they trust you more than they trust the majority of their family. But truth is you only have them for a short amount of time and your only concern is winning. So you bribe teachers to go easy on them, convince the principal that you're bringing much needed funds to the school (to build a new gym of course)and you tell the kids parent(s) that he has a chance to go to college or, with those rare special players, pro. You know you are taking advantage of the kid but you've got a family to feed. Plus the better he plays, the more likely that he will at least be a bench warmer in the NBA so it will all work out.

    In my reverse chronology I am attempting to point out that it is not the NBA's responsibility to teach these guys. They should have been getting an education their entire life and should not be expected to catch up in two years so they can have a piece of paper that said they took a couple tests. This brings to light the actual problems, the journey (or lack thereof) of education and an inappropriate end goal. (Part 2 coming)

  4. Part 2

    The education system is the real problem in this and many other instances. It is also what needs the overhaul. If you educate a child, regardless of their background, they begin to see other options in front of them. Their extra curricular activities become options but not an all consuming end goal. Then once they get to the point where they are able to try to get into college or even enter a professional organization, NBA or otherwise, they have options not an all or nothing situation. In actuality, the letter should be going to the president, an avid basketball fan himself, saying we need to give these men more options. But that is just as pointless as sending a letter to David Stern. Why?

    Stern is strictly as business man and could give a flying *blank* about any one of those people on the floor, educated or not. I saw that it is assumed he makes somewhere around $500,000 per TEAM but his true salary is not actually known. In the current labor agreement he is siding with the owners. Not only because they are his employers but because they are the ones with the real power, power they entrust to him as the commish. The issues surrounding the lock out have to do with one thing and one thing only, money. Creating the kind of education plan you suggest would cost him money. Limiting his ability to allow raw, unpolished people into his league would cost him money. Telling college coaches that they need to tell their players to actually attend class would cost him money. They have postured around an age limit for years but have never really pushed too hard for it. Do you know why? That one in 307,006,550 chance that they will find another Michael Jordan or more accurately LeBron James in the untapped talent of a kid fresh out of high school. Why? Because that kid will make him and the old rich white dudes he works for BILLIONS of dollars. So to say to him, educate your players so they can eventually become smart enough to take more of your money would probably cause him to laugh through a mouthful of pigs in a blanket while fanning himself with a stack of 100s. Similarly our culture's focus on the need to win will elicit a very similar response from college and high school coaches. Somewhat more understandably (only because they can and do make considerably less than Stern an Co.)their livelihood depends on fielding a winning team sometimes at the expense of their players education. Obviously this is not something we should support.

    All this to say, Stern and the NBA should not be the ones we count on to get basketball players where they should be. If would be nice if as an employer and as fellow human beings Stern and his owners cared enough to really focus on education but as business men they could care less. A focus on education early on is the only solution to changing the culture of this professional sport which seems to be the only one to have these kind of problems to this degree.

    And as I said earlier this is not the same conversation as our previous one. Education can only do so much to change a person's emotional and mental make up. I stick with the thought that Beasly has problems that makes him more prone to outbursts such as the one in NYC.