*Scene: Brooklyn classroom in the 1990s *
Teacher: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Mark: I want to be a doctor!
Steve: I want to be a police officer!
Irv: I want to be a multimillion dollar football or basketball player, have a sneaker dealwith Nike, and own three homes on the West Coast.
Teacher: Marck, Steve; great goals! Irv…ummmmm, okay.
“Ummmmm…” , the idea that I can make enough money to benefit generations of Hyppolites by playing a child’s game and by extension, position myself to inspire kids worldwide for years to come, has led me to the conclusion that, yeah, it actually is ‘okay.’
I get it, I get; 1.7 percent of college football players actually make it to the NFL. 1.6 percent of college basketball players actually make it to the NBA. The chances are super slim, but that doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t be allowed to dream as big and bold as they like; that’s kind of the point of childhood.
Why is aspiring to be better than Lebron James or Tom Brady discouraged? Far worse than dreaming big is suffocating from apathy, don’t you think? There are tons people just wandering aimlessly, not living but rather, subsisting until they don’t have to anymore. That probably sounds kind of nihilistic but the point is that dreams are hope, dreams are life, dreams are the future and frankly, having a dream to follow is worth not believing in a safety net. About a week ago (I’m sure you read that in your best Bobby Shmurda voice), I sat in the park and watched a kid who couldn’t have been any more than 13 years old walk up to the basketball court. He had on Nike KD gear, a basketball in hand and he warmed up by shooting around for a bit—nothing out of the ordinary. Except, after watching him methodically sink nine consecutive shots, it hit me: This kid is really about his business and if he wants to go pro, we (society) should support and nourish instead of diminishing that dream.
What we want does not always coincide with what society deems as normal. Interestingly, people forget that it’s the dreamers, ‘crazy ones’ and the iconoclasts that end up impacting society most deeply. People think that kids with potential and drive should aspire to more than running fast and hitting and catching things but that’s because most people also think that sports are the ultimate shortcut to success for not-so-bright people.
Because obviously systematically moving 300-pound men out of my way without hurting myself (or them, frankly) is blind luck every time and NOT the combination of skilled hand-eye coordination and split second decisions about weight, speed and physics.
But I digress. Parents usually think the “real world” requires extensive years of classroom education listening to teachers who sound like Ms.Donovan.
However, this discussion wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the inherent racist and classist overtones in people’s disregard for certain sports. Ask yourself: would my teacher have scoffed at my aspirations if I’d said I wanted to dominate tennis, golf, or even swimming? Probably not. But then again, the average kid from “the hood” didn’t grow up with the resources to play such sports. Parents aren’t paying for special training coaches, country clubs, let alone gym memberships. Not because they didn’t want to, but rather because they could not. Instead, we grew up happily playing sports that required a couple friends, little to no equipment and some form of ball which we would pool money together to get (ask Benny from The Sandlot). So does the fact that the sports we grew up playing–which tend to require brute force, “just” being able to run fast, and hit a ball–make them less intelligent or valuable? Think what you will, but in all my years of watching teen movies, the kid labeled ‘dumb jock’ usually got his varsity jacket for playing football, basketball or baseball but the golfers, tennis players and swimmers managed to escape scorn.
At the end of the day, adults mean well. They want children to be safe, happy, functioning members of society. They want kids to make an impact and for that impact to be as positive and far-reaching as it can be. So…would you believe me if I told you that if we define impact by its breadth, then technically Lebron is more impactful that the President?
Well, you should. When it comes to impacting culture, although being a doctor, lawyer, or the President is an amazing profession, the ability an athlete has to inspire and influence is unmatched. Before you start yelling at me, hold your fire; I come bearing a bit of data. I compared the number of views on Lebron’s “Announcement to South Beach” to Obama’s “2010 State of the Union Address” videos on YouTube and you know what I found? More people were interested in Lebron’s next move than President Obama’s updates on the nation.
I’ll just let that info sit for a bit. *sips on protein shake*
Who knew a kid from Akron Ohio would get more attention playing basketball than the leader of the free world? For that to make sense, you have to ask yourself, “How much could the majority really relate to Obama?” Yes, he’s a black man who has struggled, if not for any other reason than how people perceived his obvious brilliance within the context of his black male body. Be that as it may, his plight is not the same as the average young man in urban America. While I understand the sleepless nights and countless hours of studying that go into becoming a sucess political figure, these games we play, watch and love claim more praise for their role in society than any President could. Interestingly enough, ‘How to Become an Athlete’ is not taught in the curriculum in your local high schools, but it plays a significant role in how generations of kids are raised. Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Tom Brady may all have full spreads in Sports Illustrated magazine, but they also deserve to be in our history books. After all, that is the only place valued information is found…right?
*Carries football into class, puts homework on the teacher’s desk and takes a seat in the front row*
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