Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Putting the student back into student-athlete...

Despite being in and around college athletics for the last 11 years, I have no idea when the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) put an emphasis on calling college sports participants student-athletes, as opposed to simply calling them athletes. I know the NCAA has faced a lot of flack for being an athlete mill, churning out trained bodies for various professional leagues instead of individuals prepared for life.

But for all the pressure on the schools to up their graduation success rate (GSR) and all the NCAA commercials touting the tagline "I'm going pro in something other than sports," I can tell you from four solid years on the front lines, for the most part, the concept of student being equal to athlete has not sunk in.

Luckily for the future of civilization, there are a few exceptions. The New York Times recently posted an article on the rise in NBA players going back to school in the off-season to earn the degrees they abandoned when they declared for the draft. This year 45 players - 10 percent of the league - went back to school. The Times cites the disturbing facts presented in a March issue of Sports Illustrated that 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of retirement, and 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or under financial stress because of being unemployed or divorced within two years. Baseball players sometimes fare about as well. So it's a good thing athletes are now realizing those boring classes and homework left in the dust of a signing bonus could really lead to something.

ESPN's College Football Nation blogged yesterday about Dave Shinskie, Boston College's 25 year-old freshman quarterback. Shinskie, a minor league pitcher for the past six years, was released and made the decision to go to school to get his degree. He has not yet declared a major but plans on sticking around all four years and maybe going for an elementary education degree so he can teach third grade and possibly coach. Shinskie has suffered the usual freshman growing pains - confusion with the playbook, lack of experience and handling classes and football - but his coach and teammates (who call him Uncle Dave) are standing behind him and have high hopes.

Finally, I'm going to take a little space to plug a site one of my former rowers has set up on his own, jumping into the fray that is the Middle East peace process. The Middle East Alliance is, as stated on its website, "a not-for-profit project founded in July 2009 to provide a one-stop location for all Middle Eastern news and blogs for Western audiences ... The ultimate goal of the Middle East Alliance is to provide a source that enables the English speaking world to truly understand life on the ground in the Middle East, as told from the people who live there and experience it first hand."

Having lived in a foreign country at the start of the second Iraq war I know how important it is to get a glimpse, on a more personal level, of how people in other countries view events, particularly when those events are so volatile and touch so many other parts of the globe. My former student-athlete is working in Kurdistan for an American university and has already recruited bloggers from Iraq and Iran as well as feeds blogs from Syria onto his site. It's worth a look when you're feeling open-minded or perhaps especially when you are not...

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