The Professional Student Athlete

Fig 1. 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized recently with a muscle disorder, from "Hawkeye Football" (Iowa: Sarah Brew Baker Flickr, 2007)

February 3, 2011

Student athlete is a term that most North Americans have come to understand as more athlete than student.

Why are the top American Collegiate athletes called amateurs, but treated as professionals?   They have professional training facilities, professional coaches who get fired if they don’t win, a 24 hour media circus that monitors and analyzes their every move both on and off the field, and a focus on winning not on graduating.  The only thing about these elite college athletes that is not professional is the fact that they do not get paid for their services, even though they generate millions of dollars for the schools’ athletic departments.  What gives these schools the right to treat their student athletes as if they were already professionals?

This past week 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized for over a week with an unusual muscle disorder termed rhabdomyolosis, following their team’s offseason workouts. The cause of this has not been absolutely determined but it is almost certain that the disorder was due to overexertion during the off season workouts. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out that this disorder has been known to occur after difficult workouts, especially in military boot camps.

It is an incredibly disgraceful display of college sports excess, yet it has received almost no publicity even in the college mad U.S.A. Increasing pressure is an aspect that goes hand in hand with this enlarged stage that the country’s finest college athletes are put on.

This pressure to win is felt not only by the player’s but also the colleges, who pay their respective head coaches millions of dollars. It’s a simple formula really. Head Coaches are paid to win, winning means money and money, well money is good.

Colleges exploit their “students” who are allowed nothing more than a scholarship, but are forced to carry the burdens of a professional athlete. They don’t care for the well-being of their athletes…err students and through their selfish motives could be costing lives to young men.

Even though no one was killed in this recent incident at Iowa, it should signal the need for change in the way in which our culture treats and thinks about student athletes.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the safety of college athletes has taken a backseat to the ultimate goal of winning. Last December, Texas Tech Raiders head coach Mike Leach was suspended by the school for allegedly isolating a player in a dark closet for refusing to play with a concussion. Mike Leach was fired for his actions, but, if his record had been 11 and 2 rather than 8 and 5, the penalty would almost certainly have been much less.

Colleges and college coaches should treat their student athletes and students first and athletes second.

Fig 2. Deceased Notre Dame student cameraman Declan Sullivan, from "Declan D. Sullivan" (Indiana: Mike Miley Flickr, 2010)

What about Notre Dame’s Declan Sullivan? He was a student camera man who died earlier this year after the tower from which he was filming the football team’s practice collapsed under extreme, high wind weather conditions that the coach had deemed safe.  Everyone could see that it was dangerous for the student to climb the high tower, but instead of opting to protect his student, Coach Brian Kelly decided it was more important that the almost meaningless task of filming a team practice was completed.  Captain Queeg would have been proud.

Although this one incident doesn’t deal specifically with the exploitation of a student athlete per se, it does show what outrageous lengths Colleges will go to in order to be the best prepared to win.

The NCAA is content to give these athletes very little, which I guess is right in line with the amount of protection they provide to their prized athletes. They set limits towards how much team’s are supposed to practice but these rules are often broken by Colleges without ramifications.

Only the lucky few of these student athletes will continue with a professional sports career.  We have to make sure that these student athletes who will go on to become accountants or teachers or engineers aren’t ruined before they have the opportunity to continue with their regular lives.

No Fun League

Fig 1. Chad Ochocinco has been fined his fair share of times by the NFL for his over the top celebrations, from "Chad Johnson Photostream" (Zimbio: 2009)

January 16, 2011

Emotion and passion are two very important characteristics of football players but in spite of that, the fat and self-satisfied NFL seems content to subdue these two qualities that are an essential part of the makeup of these highly competitive athletes that play their sport.

It is no surprise that the National Football League has been dubbed by many the “No Fun League” as their rigid insistence on players containing their natural emotions is taken to the illogical extreme.

Too often players are flagged for a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for behaving in a manner that is simply in line with the nature of the sport. Football is a game that is based on that raw, animal-like instinctual behaviour. Without the pure emotion that is displayed by these athletes there is no way that the entertainment value would be at the fever pitch level it is for most fans.

Far too often, players are penalized for excessive celebration after making a play that is almost always out of the ordinary and sometimes actually extraordinary.  Jubilation in the form of an uninhibited touchdown celebration is the most common cause of a flag for unjustified “excessive” celebration.

Why, in the name of Vince Lombardi, does this warrant a penalty?

All the players are doing is expressing their uncontainable excitement for something that does not happen to them on a regular basis.  If he is lucky, an outstanding player in the NFL may find the end zone dozen times throughout an entire season.  An average player considers himself fortunate to score even a single touchdown.  Yet the NFL wants to limit players from showing their natural human joy and exuberance in these instances.

Flagging a player for spiking the football or jumping up and down in elation for a period of more than a few seconds is just plain wrong. Time and again we see players making spectacular plays only to have their team punished with a crucial 15 yard penalty resulting from an unwarranted flag for “excessive” celebration.

Instead of adapting their rules to allow for more emotion to be expressed by these athletes, the NFL seems to be going in the other direction. It is strange and baffling to me.  The fans love the celebrations and more fans mean more ratings for the NFL.  Why would the NFL not encourage these celebrations?

The Commissioner talks about “professionalism” and “the integrity of the game,” but these celebrations do not harm the integrity of the game, they enhance the integrity of the game because they are real. If Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to do the right thing he should address this issue and make the necessary changes to allow more leeway for his athletes.

Vancouver Whitecaps Take a Page from History

Fig 1. Omar Salgado was taken first overall by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, from "2011 MLS SuperDraft" (Baltimore: Zimbio, 2011)

January 13, 2011

Talk about starting off on the right foot. In the 2011 MLS Draft, the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps chose not to take forward Darlington Nagbe who was considered by many to be the consensus number one choice. The Whitecaps instead selected young striker Omar Salgado, despite their immediate need at that position.

This situation had déjà vu written all over it for many Vancouver sports fans.

In 1999 the Vancouver Grizzlies basketball franchise held the second overall pick and decided to choose the dynamic Steve Francis even though he had publicly announced that, under no circumstances would he ever, play in Vancouver. In a city where the African-American presence is extremely limited, Francis did not play the race card and stated that the distance from his home in Maryland, endorsements and taxes were the reasons behind his thought.

The Grizzlies front office decided not to take his warning seriously and, when Francis stood by his threat, eventually were forced to trade the disgruntled Francis prior to the start of the 1999-2000 season for far less than his actual worth. General Manager Stu Jackson could have easily chosen a player that would have welcomed the idea of playing in Vancouver. Big mistake.

Like Francis, Darlington Nagbe expressed his desire to play in the United States. However, unlike the Grizzlies, President Bob Lenarduzzi and the Whitecaps decided to go a different route with the Mexican-American Salgado, who is ecstatic about the opportunity to play in Vancouver.

The Whitecaps understand that Salgado, at 17 years of age, will not be able to address their glaring need at striker at this point in time. The fact of that matter is that as an expansion franchise the Whitecaps most likely will not compete for an MLS title this upcoming season so they should be able to take their time with Salgado to develop him the right way. Lenarduzzi even emphasized that they will not be rushing their young striker’s development and said that “We want to make sure when Omar plays in our starting 11, we’re not doing it out of desperation but doing it on the basis of good timing.”

Winston Churchill once said that “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The Whitecaps obviously learned this history lesson and will not be repeating it anytime in the near future.

Karma is a B****

Fig 1. Cleveland fans were not happy with Lebron James' departure to Miami to say the least, from "Lebron James" (Cleveland: Associated Press, 2010)

January 12, 2011

This gloating tweet came from the self-proclaimed King, Lebron James, during a game in which his former team, the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers, eventually lost by an embarrassing 55 points. “Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. It’s not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!”

Ironically enough, in his very next game, the “bitch” karma came back to haunt Lebron James as he hurt his ankle in the process of his Miami Heat’s 13 consecutive road victories streak being snapped by the lowly LA Clippers.

Foxsports.com featured writer Jason Whitlock tweeted after the game “Heat lose. LeBron hurts ankle. Karma is a bitch. God watches everything.”

This is Lebron James confirming to us once again that he just doesn’t get it.

Overnight, Lebron went from being one of the most beloved sports icons to arguably the most hated following his ill conceived national television event announcing his decision to withdraw his talents from his home town Cleveland and take them to his party town Miami.  Since that excruciating, self-glorifying evening, the ever arrogant James has not backtracked on anything and has apologized for nothing.

His true personality has crawled out of its shell over the last 6 months and it is nasty. His constant acts of selfishness have left the public with no other choice than to hate the man. Seriously, have you seen his most recent Nike commercial?

Lebron James claims that he is embracing the new villain role that he has taken on and came out the other day saying that “I’ve kind of accepted this kind of villain role that everyone has placed on me. I’m okay with it.”

Sorry, Lebron, but I’m not buying it.

I cannot believe that a man who has thrived off of the love and praise that has been heaped upon him since middle school can in such a short time can resign himself to, much less embrace, the villain’s role. Seriously take a look at his most recent Nike commercial?

Lebron’s actions throughout this entire ordeal have shown his still child-like immaturity. His mean-spirited karma tweet shows us that the anger and hate that his former Cleveland worshipers feel toward him, sadly, is fully reciprocated.

The fans that at one time bowed down to their King have lost all respect for him but he doesn’t seem to understand why. He speaks of karma yet continues to act disrespectfully. He yearns for love, but instead of letting people into his complicated world, he puts up the Lebron Wall.

Lebron James is trying to prove not only to Cleveland, but to the rest of the basketball world, that the decision that cost him his exalted reputation was the right one.  The sycophants that surround him will not tell the emperor that he has no clothes, so Lebron has no reason to think he was wrong.  He will continue to play game of tall men in short pants in the hope that in time the decision that he refuses to regret will lead him to the top of the NBA mountain, winning back his lost love and status, which he so dearly needs.

Head Shots

Fig 1. Sidney Crosby is possibly the NHL's most prized possession, from "The Hockey News" (Pittsburgh: Associated Press, 2008)

January 10, 2011

Despite self-serving pronouncements, the NHL head office has been very apathetic over the past couple of years in its efforts to crack down on players who recklessly cause head injuries.  In fact, the only cracking that we have seen is the heads of the players who continue to be illegally targeted by these cheap shot artists.

However, it is possible that the NHL may now have wakened up to the issue because the biggest star in the NHL constellation – Sidney Crosby – has been seriously injured by an illegal hit to the head.  Although Dave Steckel was not suspended for his dirty hit on Crosby at the Winter Classic, head of officiating Colin Campbell and the NHL handed down a 6 game suspension to Calgary Flames Tom Kostopolous for his brutal shot to Brad Stuart just a few days later.

The injury to Crosby, from which he has still for recovered, has motivated the NHL to finally do the right thing and give a legitimate penalty that will deter players from committing these illegal acts in the future.

With the onslaught of dirty hits continuing, and the medical knowledge of the devastating effects of concussion increasing, the NHL seems to be finally grasping the obvious point that, in order to protect its players and its game, it needs to place severe penalties on the players carrying out these actions.

Prior to the Tom Kostopolous suspension, most of the penalties issued by the NHL were either 1 or 2 game suspensions for hits of a similar manner. The problem is that with the amount of money these guys make a couple of games is not enough of a deterrent. Moreover, being suspended for 1 or 2 games out of an entire 82 game season does not penalize the player’s team enough either as they would only lose their player for a very small portion of the season.

Protecting their players, especially star ones, should be the number one priority of the National Hockey League because obviously if these top tier players are consistently being forced out for long periods of time as a result of illegal hits, the league itself will suffer a drop in its entertainment value. With an already struggling situation in many franchises south of the border, the league cannot afford to have their star players, such as Sidney Crosby, sit out for an extended period of time.

It may be selfish thinking, but the NHL should be protecting its players for the leagues own good, not only for the good of its player’s health and longevity now and after hockey.

%d bloggers like this: