Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Letters of Intent

Skimming stories about top D.C.-area high school athletes and the colleges they've chosen, I looked in vain for their grade-point averages and SAT scores. I suppose they must all have made Cs and scored 1010 on the SATs (or had B+ averages and 400 SAT scores) according to the NCAA's sliding scale.

I confess to being something of a sports fan. For two or three seasons, my wife and I shared season tickets to the Washington Nationals with a group of her co-workers and friends. I watch boxing. And channel surfing the other night, when I stopped at "Inside the NFL's" coverage of the Super Bowl and then, later, watched most of NFL Network's replay it wasn't because I hoped the Cardinals might win this time.

More and more though, I find myself thinking about the people in the uniforms when I watch sports.

It's easier not to with football players--the helmets make them somehow less human, until a particularly vicious hit reveals just how fragile they really are. But every time I watch basketball, I wonder if the players (NBA, college, high school; it doesn't matter) can read or write or if they've been passed along from grade to grade because of their skills on the court.

And I can't help thinking about how young black kids grow up thinking basketball or football is all that's open to them because reading or studying is "acting white."

A kid I knew, about to graduate from high school, once told me that if he really, really wanted to, he could play in the NBA. This though he'd gone to a small school with about 40 students in his senior class, and played only when the team was so far ahead (or so far behind) it didn't matter.

But it's not just the kids. The coach of one of the Washington area's high school basketball powerhouses once told how he'd called a student's mom to tell her he was cutting her son from the JV squad. "Fine," she said, "but tell me: What does this do to his chances of playing professionally?"

Back in 2002, when Redskins Hall-of-Fame cornerback Darrell Green announced his retirement, some sportswriter asked if he wished he could play just one more season. Green said no. He'd had a great career, done everything he wanted. And then Green turned the tables and asked the reporter, "I mean, hey, wouldn't you want to be me?"

I suspect most sportswriters would. Me, I'd like to have asked Green (B.S. General Studies, St. Paul's College, 1998) to list the last 10 books he'd read before I made up my mind.

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