Before I begin, just let me say that I do not want to crush anyone’s dream – maybe just enhance it a bit.
After a decade of college planning and four decades of working with teens and young adults, an uncomfortable trend has become more evident. My career day visits to elementary and middle schools have an increasing number of Black boys completely focused on careers as professional athletes. I know, I know they are boys and most kids dream of becoming a sports hero, rich and adored by millions. This is different. These young men believe athletics will take care of all their needs, wants and responsibilities. By comparison, I have a client who is a Junior Olympics Gold Medalist who is focused on a career in medicine. Some of these young men I talk to are locked in on athletics and have yet to distinguished themselves even on their junior high athletic teams.
I really do not have a problem with these kids following in the footsteps of their sports heroes. My concern is that they don’t seem to have any other interests. When I propose, “what ifs” about their athletic career getting sidelined, they shrug it off with an expression that says, “this old guy doesn’t know who he is talking to.”
My fear is that athletics will be allowed to dominate so much time and effort that these adolescents will not explore academic interests. If math is ignored until midway through high school, there is little chance they will be able to consider any career that involves advanced math. The same holds true for science. This will effectively put most of the highest paying careers out of reach for these disappointed athletes. I encourage these aspiring sports stars to choose an academic subject that they study for and pursue with the same passion as their sport. I attempt to make academics more attractive by telling them that college coaches fall in love with great athletes who have great academic skills. It does a college coach no good to recruit the number one athlete coming out of high school if they never play because of bad grades.
I hope that the snapshot I get from one day on the school campuses is skewed. I hope that these boys are getting a recurring message at home and at school about the importance that academics will play in their eventual success on the field, the court or in less physical careers.