A year ago at SXSW, I went to see the premiere of Matthew Cherry’s movie, “The Last Fall.” I had supported the movie via Kickstarter after a recommendation from a friend. I had heard that the movie gave a realistic view of life for most NFL players who don’t get the multi-million dollar contracts. The movie did not disappoint – it showed a side of football that is rarely seen: what happens if you are a borderline player who is let go from the team who drafted you after a year or two? I enjoyed the movie, despite the depressing theme and got to meet the director, Matthew Cherry and the star, Lance Gross.
As a football fan all of my life, I already knew that this was the reality for many players. However, I couldn’t help thinking that it would be great to show it to every parent and young man who thought he could have a career in the NFL. As a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, I had heard too many stories of players who didn’t finish their degrees, but also didn’t make it in the NFL. I often wondered what happened to these young men.
This past summer I was having a discussion with several of my nephews about recent moves by the NCAA to allow players to earn some money and other changes. As a former athlete myself (I ran track during my first two years at Stanford University), I knew the rigors of taking courses while keeping up with a grueling workout schedule. I wasn’t on scholarship 30 years ago, so I quit after two years to focus on my studies and nurse my many injuries. My nephews, who were on scholarship, complained about the fact that their coaches wouldn’t allow them to major in fields like engineering or the sciences because the demands of those majors, including labs, would interfere with practice. We all shook our heads as we realized the wasted potential.
These two experiences came to mind as I watched the horrific injury to Kevin Ware and the resulting articles about the potential costs to him and his family. When I saw an article by Dave Zirin in The Nation that Adidas and the NCAA were preparing to profit from a t-shirt with Kevin Ware’s number, I was sickened. Kevin and his family can’t claim a penny of the money that will be made from that t-shirt.
I have been angry with the NCAA for a long time, but this put me over the edge. Taylor Branch’s article in The Atlantic magazine from last year lays out in gruesome detail “The Shame of College Sports.” It’s time for sports fans to speak up – just like on the issue of concussions in the NFL, it will take action on the part of those who support these players. I won’t let my romance with sports keep me on the sidelines any longer…As a mother of two boys who I hope will be able to play college sports one day I will speak up, and I will continue to do so until we see change.