‘I Pity The Fool’ :The Sadness Of Professional Athletics

By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Updated: July 8, 2007

NEW YORK — As a child, I dreamed of nothing more than becoming the next Tony Dorsett.

I ate, drank and slept this dream, which I knew would surely become reality. After all, I was the fastest kid in my neighborhood and had a strong pair of thighs and broad shoulders to go with it.

Coaches would salivate over me, as I would out-sprint the fastest players on the football team with the greatest of ease. I’m not bragging, but. Okay, I’m bragging just a little bit.

But my mother got in the way.

She didn’t want me playing football, due to her obvious plot to destroy my future. Only a parent who hates her child would not allow him to risk brain damage and paralysis on the football field.

So, I ran track instead and played some basketball, missing out on the fun of hot, two-a-day practices with my friends and getting my head knocked off on every other snap.

Thanks to a guy named Allan Houston, I was never able to see the light of day on the basketball court.

The fact that he was also smarter than me didn’t help much either.

But then again, my grades were the worst anyway.

Years later, I could actually see some wisdom behind my mother’s decision.

While it is quite possible that she was just being over protective of her baby (I was quite a handsome child by the way. Too bad the girls couldn’t see it), it could have been that my mother had seen what I would later see as a grown man.

Working with ESPN, sports finance, and as a university professor who has seen a lot of hoop dreams through the years, I find that professional sports is not what it’s cracked up to be.

If you are the one guy who happens to have the phenomenal ability to make it to the NFL, the average span of your career is just 3.8 years.

That means that if you started in the league in 2003, your career would be over by now.

Many NFL retirees are still not even old enough to get a rental car. What is most sad is that many athletes have thrown away their futures for that small chance at glory.

10 years after excessive wear and tear and even some steroid use, your knees don’t work, you are a senior citizen at the age of 35, just a shadow of the amazing gladiator you once were.

Many athletes never finish their college degree, thinking they will never need one.

The only need some athletes expect is a good architect to build their mother’s house.

I think about this every time I see the next great NFL prospect being featured during the draft, I wonder to myself “does he realize how short his career is likely going to be?”

“Does he realize that he is going to be hot for about 12 months and then someone else is going to take his place on television?

I wonder if he understands the toll that professional football will take on his body and that the league won’t give a damn about him once he is retired?”

It’s hard to give your mother credit for stealing your dream, but in this case, I must make an exception.

There is nothing wrong with being an athlete, but I was a knucklehead.

I didn’t want to study.

I thought that playing sports would make me rich one day.

Now, I am doing well financially, but it’s because I became an intellectual athlete, rather than a physical one.

I was on ESPN for my brains, not my brawn. I never thought I would live such an existence.

Sometimes, the death of one dream gives birth to another. Not being the athlete I wanted to be was truly a blessing in disguise.