Friday, July 3, 2009

End game of the sporting deceit

Few athletes have had better college careers than Curtis Jerrells.

For four years, he started every game at Baylor University, leading the team in scoring and assists each year.

No one could watch this fearless floor leader from Austin's Del Valle High and not project him in a pro uniform.

No one, that is, except possibly the pros.

Last week when the NBA draft sputtered to a close with picks that wouldn't even excite Dick Vitale, Jerrells was exactly like those of us of leaden feet and sofa-toned torsos. No pro teams were calling us, either.

Jerrells will be making money in his sport this year. I'd bet a week's pay on that. But most likely it'll be in Europe or the Continental Basketball Association. Regardless, it will put him in rarefied company.

Being asked to participate in the Dallas Mavericks' NBA Summer League team alone makes it so.

One who won't be in that elite company is a young man named Larry. He was just a kid when he came to my attention — a third-grader who chose to slough off at school because, he said, he was going to be a pro athlete. He was big and athletic. No doubt, adults had encouraged the notion that someday . . .

It never came. He never finished school.

How many times? How many futures have been squandered on such a pretense?

You hear those who have made it, and who have shoe contracts and posses and agents, tell audiences, "Just put your mind to it and you will succeed." It's baloney, of course. They know it. They know how privileged they are.

It's child abuse for young people to be strung along with unrealistic hopes when they could position themselves for countless realistic, and rewarding, hopes. What they need to hear is, "You can't know what the future brings, but you are in control of your future if you keep your options open."

Instead, they get overwrought footwear slogans. "Just do it."

Look up "sport" in the dictionary. It says nothing about "life" — or "death," for that matter. It does mention recreation and enjoyment. Here's a Gatorade slogan that won't fly: Sport is a diversion.

Unfortunately, we look around and see how it's become so much more — so much money for so few, so much angst and attention. Worse yet, we see so many young people thinking it's their ticket. Instead, too often it's a life pass to disillusionment.

The sneaker commercial dares the young to dream.

When young Larry chucked it all as a high school student, his dreams were downsized beyond belief — from making the gargantuan shoe contract to finding the next day's meal. What a comedown. And who was to blame? Many players.

I'm sure one reason Larry set his sights on the unattainable was because he had no father at home modeling how fulfillment — success — can be attained in mundane ways. All he had modeling for him were those who wore the sneakers, who flew over the court, and flashed up and down the field, sort of like what Larry did on the playground among his undersized peers.

For his purposes, Larry had the worst role models imaginable.

He didn't understand that only in the rarest of circumstances do fleet feet and better-than-average size represent a ticket to fame and fortune.

No, the ticket to success is much more basic and entirely devoid of glamour: education, understanding, having a grasp of the world outside the lines.

It's an understanding that you will be happy to know Curtis Jerrells attained somewhere along the line. In May, along with teammates Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat, he got his degree from Baylor.

Pros or not, they're going to be all right. Instead of waiting in vain for the phone to ring, they'll make the calls.

John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

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