Degree of intelligence says college can wait for youths with pro talent


July 04, 2005|By DAVE JOSEPH

LET YOUNG ATHLETES earn, then learn.

In a perfect world, LeBron James and Morgan Pressel would attend college. They would make new friends, experience the joys of academia, and, eventually, learn the difference between Dostoyevsky and Gwen Stefani.

But this isn't a perfect world and there's no room for Pollyanna in professional or amateur (whatever that means) sports. Yet, in the past few weeks - with the NBA raising its age limit and Pressel and Michelle Wie taking high school vacation to compete in the U.S. Women's Open - some are once again complaining that young athletes are turning professional too soon.

The athletes should attend college, they claim. There should be age restrictions implemented by professional sports, they argue, and the NBA didn't do enough raising the age requirement for the draft from 18 to 19.

These arguments are a joke, if not insulting, and for the most part being made by people who forgot what it's like to struggle - have likely never had to struggle - and who lack knowledge when it comes to sports history.

Lawrence Phillips attended college.

How can NBA commissioner David Stern tell an 18-year-old high school graduate he must wait a year before he can earn a living and help his family that's struggled to make ends meet? And will Stern help that young man if, during that year off, he is injured and is not able to earn a living in the NBA?

Why should Pressel attend college if she wants to make millions on the LPGA Tour while traveling the world? The argument that athletes should attend college and mature before playing pro sports is tired and old and, really, 20 years removed from being remotely legitimate.

Todd Marinovich attended college.

No one has the right to tell a young person to turn down millions of dollars so he or she can gain the experience of attending college for a year or two. And who would turn down those millions if it didn't compromise their beliefs and could help a family suffering from financial hardship? Oh, I know the answer - those who haven't suffered. Those who don't know what it's like to watch their parents struggle to make the rent.

John Rocker attended college.

Unfortunately, some have forgotten or have never bothered to investigate the number of great athletes who turned professional without benefit of college.

The NHL welcomed Wayne Gretzky at 17 and Bobby Orr at 18. Unless there's a deep, dark secret associated with these two men, I don't believe they've disgraced themselves. Tennis star Tracy Austin won the U.S. Open at 16; Pele made his World Cup debut at 17. Pitcher Bob Feller made his major league debut at 17 with the Cleveland Indians in 1936 before finishing his senior year in high school.

Andrea Jaeger played professional tennis at 14. She's now founder of the Silver Lining Foundation, which provides relief for children suffering from cancer.

Sean Taylor attended college.

Certainly, this isn't to suggest 15-year-olds be allowed to play professional football. There are boundaries in every sport and most rational people have a good idea of those limits. Maybe the age limit for tennis and golf should be 15. A high school diploma for the NBA. Two years of college for professional football.

But the rapid development of young athletes physically and mentally, coupled with the money they can earn, should allow those few extraordinary athletes like Pressel and James and Freddy Adu to compete professionally if they are able and attend college at their convenience.

That would be a perfect world.

Dave Joseph is a columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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