The other day I watched as LeBron James, an 18 year old high school graduate, was drafted as the first pick in the NBA draft. As those who have followed this story may note this young phenom has already made millions in a playing contract and endorsement deals. The flip side is that this child already
has an expensive entourage, frivilous taste (a $50,000 Humvee, massive debts, etc.), and something of a remorseless notion of his own indestructability. While I am sure King James will find success in his professional career I am concerned about the consequences that may befall this young man's emotional well being. (Witness the continuing downfall of 2000 high school phenom Kuwame Brown (sp?))
The point is that professional sports team are jumping into contracts that exploit young players. Tickets get sold, money gets made, and no care is taken to protect these talanted but immature young players. Few talanted young players attend college, fewer complete their degrees, and only a small handful obtain a meaningful education.
Why not drop the pretense and allow these players to attend college, make a sizable though reasonable salary, and persue training specific to their planned profession. Of course semi-pro (trainer) leagues will never work because US college sports are big business that can not bear the competition, but why try to fit squares pegs into round molds.
Do away with traditional student athletics. Allow colleges to run the semi-pro leagues. Seperate college athletics from college. Don't make these young players conform to traditional academic requirements, and give up on the NCAA's unrealistic notions of amateur status. Pay them a set (and standarized) salary that will provide a sufficient incentive to forgo the massive pay day of going pro, ie. $50,000 for "starting players", $30,000 for "support players", etc. Require schools to provide insurance that will compensate atheletes with career ending injuries. Prohibit the pros from drafting of players who have not completed a required "training term" of four years.
Students would play while taking specialized classes in sport skills, money management, contract negotiation, and professional ethics. True some players will complete the program only to not be drafted, but hey I got a BFA in Theatre and now I am a lawyer. There are as many professioanl athletes as their are professional actors, writers, or artist, and I have noted no paternalistic protection of a young artist ability to persue what is likely to be a useless degree in Art History.
Through this program we would get professional millionaires with an ability to manage their resources, develop and maintain their skills, protect their athletic and personal assets, and maintain their personal identity.