This week, the week of October 5, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack announced that he has dropped out of school with plans to enter the NFL draft in 2016. My first reaction was WHAT??????? My second reaction was sadness. His knee injury (meniscus) will keep him from playing this season, his junior year. I thought perhaps hearing Jack’s first hand perspective on it would help, but when I heard Jack on ESPN’s Mike & Mike this morning, I just shook my head. When asked why he’s made this choice, Jack said it was just time, that he felt like he’d done everything he needed to at UCLA. In 2 seasons with only one as a starter? However when asked if he would have entered the draft if allowed to at the end of last season, he said no. What changed? He said he now felt like he was the best in the nation.
Wow. This young man seems so naive. He’s walking away from the support of his athletic department when he is injured. Why? When asked on Mike & Mike, he had no answer. He is off to work out in Arizona, hoping that in 6 months someone from the NFL will remember him and decide that his limited experience is enough. Even his NFL experienced ULCA coach Jim Mora has been quoted as saying it is very risky. In the past two drafts there were two who were drafted with college injuries, but one, they received national attention in their college years (Clowney now in Houston, Gurley now in St. Louis). More importantly, they did not drop out of school after their injury.
I love football, and I love what college sports in general do for the athletes, the schools, and the communities (despite the down sides – a different discussion), BUT education should not be an after thought for college athletes. I understand that for many it is secondary, but for it to be so invaluable that this young man, and his family, have decided it makes sense for him to drop out now, when he has the most time to focus on studies does not make sense to me. Unless this is about the search for the almighty dollar.
If that is the case, and it sure seems like it to me, I hope that someone helps Jack and his family see this CBS story, “Going for Broke: When Athletes Lose it All” and they reach out to former linebacker Keith McCants or someone similar. One example I saw was that an athlete with a $1.7 million contract should live off $50,000 a year in order to still have money later in life. That’s still plenty of money…if you live an average lifestyle. Most of these young athletes enter professional sports thinking they have made it and will never have to think about money. It is SO wrong.
With no college degree, what do these athletes do when their careers are over? There’s only so much room around a commentator desk, and that is still reserved for a select few who make an impression of their capacity to add some value and analysis (although that expectation is decreasing). I always think back to William “Refrigerator” Perry from my beloved home Clemson. Perry won the Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears…and then laid bricks back in his home town in South Carolina because the money dried up. It breaks my heart.
I often hear people say that they have no sympathy for professional athletes who make millions of dollars. I do. First, the money is not never ending and it is human nature to see a big number and think you are “rich”. In fact, it ends for most in a few short years. Second, the number of friends and relatives who come out of the weeds asking for money is unbelievable. (Lottery winners often experience this.) I talked with an agent who shared with me the story of a young man who was a friend of his. This agent was appalled at the way people would spend this young man’s money. They would go out to dinner and when the check would come, this young man’s friends would hand him the bill. Even his closest friends expect him to take them places, buy them things, get them tickets, etc. According to this agent, this is what happens to most professional athletes.
Moral lesson for all of us: No matter who it is, we are not entitled to someone else’s money. Just because someone makes more than is, wins something, inherits something, etc., it is not ours. It is theirs. If someone chooses to be generous with us, then we say thank you, but it should NEVER be expected. We have an opportunity in our society to change our culture of entitlement. We blame these young athletes and young people for being entitled but we do it, too. We expect those with more to share with us. How about we buy lunch for someone with those we perceive to have more than us? How about we stop being jealous of the person with the fancy car and big house and instead just be happy for them and still live within our means? Where do we think kids learn this from?
Maybe there’s something more going on with Myles Jack to lead him to choose to end his education. I just hope that the reality of the fallacy of placing all his hopes and dreams in the NFL hits him, and his family. I hope whatever happens, he is not laying bricks in 10 years because he didn’t have any other options.