Athletics is an important part of college life. Millions of dollars are spent each year on providing student athletes with scholarships. Of course these scholarships dollars allow student athletes to attend school free or almost free. Coaches spend a great deal of time talking with and meeting with young men and women about coming to their school. Many years ago now, I was offered a scholarship to play sports in college. The first question that each of the coaches asked me was, “how are your grades?” Fortunately, I was a good student in high school so that was never a worry. Like yesterday, I am sure that coaches today have the “grades” question right at the top of their list. They should also add the character question.
While some may disagree, I believe that some of the best athletes might just be on the street corners of America. Unfortunately life’s circumstances trumped their ability to stay focused on academics and athletics. Having the emotional staying power to remain committed to your chosen sport cannot be minimized. There are countless stories of student athletes who triumphed over different challenges to become successful. For an example, you may wish to check out the story of Isaiah Thomas. If you recall, he had a successful college career at Indiana University and later won an NBA Championship with the Detroit Pistons. There are many other stories of men and women who played sports and conquered life’s curve balls. When the academic and athletic prowess is peeled back, you have the most important element and that is character.
Character is what carried Isaiah Thomas through the rough spots. As college athletics continues to grow, where does character count in the recruitment of today’s student athletes? Back in the day student athletes felt honored to have a scholarship. We carried ourselves with dignity and respect. I don’t ever remember with any consistency our students who were athletes falling out of favor with the college. We had an obligation to be good ambassadors for our college and for our team. Equally important was that we were standard bearers for our families and for our communities. I can’t imagine getting into any kind of trouble while being on a tennis scholarship at Johnson C Smith University. I would have been totally ashamed and been an embarrassment to my family and friends.
I have a colleague named Elmon Prier, and he conducts workshops in Ohio about character. These workshops start as soon as elementary school and continue through high school. Mr. Prier makes the assumption that everyone wants to have good character. He has developed a village mindset model which allows him to partner with parents, places of worship, schools and community centers. These workshops conducted by Prier have produced focused, tough minded students who have their priorities in order.
It is the priorities part that worries me about too many of today’s student athletes. If you asked a highly-recruited student athlete what their number one priority is, what would they say? I think we both know what the answer would be. So if we know what the answer is does that give them the right to embarrass themselves and the college with rogue-like behavior?
Recently, I read about a student athlete who was riding on his college campus with a gun. Mind you now, this young man is probably going to school without having to pay one penny. Compare this problem with a student who is working to pay his or her own way through college. We can clearly see who has the character. There are many incidents involving student athletes behaving badly that are occurring much too often. They are making a mockery of traditional social norms. Having grown up in the South, my mom would always tell me to “act like I got some sense.” Maybe it is time to tell some of these student athletes to “act like you got some sense.”
I, along with many others, am tired of hearing about and reading about student athletes that commit crimes. Going into a store and shoplifting is called stealing. Beating up your girlfriend is called assault. Driving impaired will get you a DUI. Some would say all of these crimes fall under the heading, “boys will be boys.” I disagree. These things happen when there is a lack of character. It has been the practice of some coaches to suspend them for a few games and\or to give them counseling. It is my view that tells me that some of the same colleges are involved each year. Let me hasten to add that that there are schools where you never hear about their student athletes getting into trouble. We do need to pay much more attention to character when we recruit student athletes to our colleges. Priority one should be character because it does count.