Today’s Athletes Don’t Understand The Need For ‘Luck’ To Survive Being A Celebrity

By Jean Fugett, Jr.
Updated: August 23, 2006

BALTIMORE, Maryland — I wonder how in three years time, one Ohio teenager survives being a celebrity and goes on to have a productive NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers while another Ohio high school star who wins a national football championship at Ohio State ends up in jail?

While most high school stars expect to make it to the pros, the hard fact is that very few high school phenoms actually make it to the pros. In today�s society, many high school sports stars never even finish college or have the aspirations to even attend.

High school athletes believe their athletic ability is the fastest way to fame and fortune because sports comes easy to them at the high school level and success does not require hard work. Athletes focus more on their sport than on their studies. Many high school stars do not find out until later that a lot of hard work will be required and even after all the hard work they have put in, there is no guarantee that they will make it to the �Big Show�.

I had just concluded my teenage years back in 1972, when at the age of 20, I played for the Dallas Cowboys. At the time when I came in the leauge, I was the youngest NFL player in history and I asked Bob Hayes why I had made the team, �Coach (Tom) Landry likes you�, he quickly replied, �You learned the playbook in two days!� Another Cowboys teammate, fullback Walt Garrison used to always remind me that he would rather be lucky than good. Many athletes rarely find out that along with the physical attributes they possess, they also need a lot of luck to succeed at the professional level.

That very thought has stuck with me for many years. I bet Maurice Clarett sits in jail wondering how he ended up there and wonders why his luck has been so bad. Will he chalk it up to bad luck or bad decisions?

LeBron James was discovered by the media as a precocious high school star labeled the next Michael Jordan; a high school player that was better than Kobe Bryant when he came out of Lower Marion in Philadelphia. James was lucky because at that particular time he could go straight from high school to the NBA, which is no longer allowed. He also made good decisions. Was this by luck, happenstance or by those good decisions that he made? Today a player must be out of high school for one year before becoming eligible for the NBA draft. What would have happened if James was forced to go to college for a year? Would he have survived his own celebrity? Local star Carmello Anthony did and based on James� decision making, it is evident that he would have succeeded just like Anthony has.

Clarett, in a sense, is also a victim of his own celebrity status. His talent attracted every kind of parasite along with good, honest people who also offered him help and advice. How could he separate the good advice from the bad; the good people from the bad? At 19 years of age, Clarett stood atop the world of college football as a champion destined for future NFL stardom. How he went from a brush with the law to his recent arrest for carrying concealed weapons while awaiting a trial for robbery has been well documented.

So far, no one has explained how LeBron James could make it to the pros while Clarett could not. In high school they had so much in common but not today. Today, James is representing the USA at the World Games while Clarett becomes yet another young African-American male in our justice system. His celebrity status could not protect him and being a celebrity could not protect Lonnie Baxter, a former Maryland basketball star recently arrested for possessing a gun a few blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C.

Things are so much more complex than when I was that wide-eyed 20-year-old playing for Coach Landry. Today�s high school superstars are tempted with more choices than anyone could have ever imagined. Yet, as it may be the case, the instant fame is also bringing some serious choices of right and wrong. Again, it still boggles my mind at how two Ohio prep stars could go separate routes, but then again in today�s world, this is an ordinary occurrence.