Dr. Boyce: 4 reasons you may not want your son to play football
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
I grew up loving the sport of football. I used to dream that one day, if I worked hard enough, I’d have a chance to run with the greats of the NFL. After all, I was the second fastest kid in my class, I watched every game every Sunday, and I was able to run over the other kids in my neighborhood when we played in the park.
When I look back at the fact that I, like so many young black males, identified myself as more athletic than intellectual, I realize what a serious problem we have in our community. Sports and athletic gifts are actually a curse on the black male, since our ability to run faster and jump higher than everyone else can often lead us to give up everything for a dream that rarely comes true.
Young black women are flying high educationally, largely because they aren’t distracted by dreams of going to the NFL or getting a record deal. Instead, they know that educational excellence is their best option for wealth and success. It’s hard for the sister with the MBA and $100,000 job to get excited about marrying the guy who almost made it to the Dallas Cowboys and never picked up any skill other than throwing a football.
Of course, I later realized that being the second fastest kid in my class wasn’t enough. I also learned that I wasn’t nearly tall or strong enough to make it to the NFL. But looking back on it all, I thank God that I never got that opportunity, because the life of an athlete is not what it’s cracked up to be.
Here are a few reasons that we should think twice before advising our sons to seriously play the sport of football, at least at the college and professional levels:
1) The drugs: A lawsuit has been filed against the NFL by former players who are accusing the league of willfully turning them into a pack of drug addicts. The number of pain killers they were forced to take in order to get on the field every Sunday was far more than a human body should consume in a lifetime. The great Walter Payton was a legend on the field, but died at the age of 45, and he isn’t the only NFL player to die an early death.
2) Yes, you can get paralyzed and the NCAA won’t cover your medical expenses. I won’t even tell you the story told to me by Ramogi Huma, head of the National College Players Assocation, about a player for The University of Washington who was paralyzed on the field. I wish I could remember the player’s name, but actually, there were several that Ramogi told me about. This particular player, after his injury, was released from his scholarship and the university eventually stopped paying his medical expenses. He died three years later from a series of infections. Wait, I said I wouldn’t tell you his story, didn’t I? Sorry about that.
3) Brain damage is everywhere: It’s not natural to be hit in the head that many times with that much force. Think of your brain as an apple. Imagine putting that apple into a small steel container and then banging that container against the wall 20,000 times with all the force you can muster. Now, picture the bruising that would be on the apple and imagine that same bruising on the brain of a former athlete after playing in the NFL for several years. Dave Duerson, a former NFL Man of the Year, recently killed himself after suffering depression and memory loss as a result of injuries sustained on the field. He was just one of many athletes who’ve endured intense suffering after his playing days were over.
4) The financial devastation. Roughly 78% of all NFL players go broke within five years of retirement. This occurs due to a combination of factors, starting with financial mismanagement and a lack of education. The temptation of sports is often enough to convince alot of brothers to trade in their educational opportunities for a situation that is probably not going to last very long. Most of them don’t know that NFL careers are typically very short, less than four years, and it’s difficult to raise enough money in four years to take care of you for the rest of your life.
I love sports, and I always will. But as Damario Solomon-Simmons says, academics should not be a plan B for athletes. Actually, it should be their plan A. Damario, who once played for the Oklahoma Sooners, has made far more money as an attorney than he ever would have as an athlete. It’s time for brothers to change the game.
Dr Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”
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