Several weeks ago there was a debate raging about whether it was fair that the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association impose a minimum 45 percent pass grade for student athletes, who want to represent their schools at sports. Many claimed the academic requirement is unfair, especially when you consider there is no similar requirement for students who represent their schools at other disciplines be it music, drama or whatever other artistic pursuits there are.
For a time I was among those who believed the requirement was unfair. Like the others I reasoned that sports are probably the only thing these struggling students could depend on to help them break the cycle of poverty because their sport could help them earn millions of dollars. I reasoned along these lines because I, like many others, only saw those students as athletes and not as people.
I have had conversations with some popular journalists, who help sway public opinion, some of whom often appear in electronic media and who are all in favour of disbanding that rule that requires student athletes to meet a minimum academic standard, dubbing it unfair. They say the standard is robbing these student athletes of their chance of earning a living from the one thing they are good at. My response is simply this; the mark needs to be higher.
The simple truth is this. Less than one percent of any student athlete goes on to have a successful career in sports. That means 99 per cent will fall short of expectations. The student athlete who reads this cannot possibly be as bad at math to see what I am saying here.
Since Usain Bolt became a global star back in 2008, he has been an inspiration for many kids here in Jamaica, who see themselves as one day living the life he is living now. You know, driving the flashy cars, traveling the world, spending time in the company of beautiful women and having tons of cash to spend.
Here however, is a startling fact. There is only one Usain Bolt. Bolt makes tens of millions of US dollars each year because he is the fastest man on the planet and has a personality that makes him not only fast but also very interesting. He is not perfect but his imperfections have served him well. His is a life of drama, mystery, rumour and of course, and unparalleled accomplishment in his chosen sport. Bolt has about a dozen global sponsors who pay him tons of money just because of who he is.
Similarly, there are thousands of track athletes who make a decent living, thousands of football players, basketball players, cricketers, tennis players and professionals from other sports who can play their respective sports at the highest level and retire at 30 and spend the rest of their lives sipping pina coladas on some of the most exclusive beaches around the globe. Note, I said thousands, not millions of athletes. So, what happens to the millions who tried and didn’t make it, or those who could have made it but suffered cruel injuries that robbed their sport of their amazing talents?
They still have their entire lives ahead of them and if they follow some of the talk show hosts and others, they will spend the rest of their lives trying to eke out an existence because having been convinced they were going to make it so they didn’t need to get an education or a skill. When that happens the same people saying now that the rule is unfair won’t care about them. These same people will be calling them ‘has beens’ while raving about the latest most exciting talent.
And that’s why the pass grade needs to be higher and it needs to be enforced. The solution for having them do better is simple. Student athletes need to be given all the help they need to excel at school. Because they represent the school, the very least that school can do is ensure that that student achieves what he/she went to school to do – to learn.
The advocates of removing the passing grade requirement also use the argument that athletes are not necessarily great students. That’s rubbish. Student athletes are like any other student; some are smart, some not so smart but they all have the potential to learn. What some lack is the ability to balance their lives, and some just need someone to sit with them and help them catch up with classes they may have missed or too tired to attend or learn anything.
If schools put as much effort into ensuring that student athletes become good students as they do ensuring they become good athletes, we would be surprised to see how many of them excel at academics as well. Dr. Arthur Wint was a student athlete, so was Herb McKenley, Merlene Ottey, Bert Cameron, Chris Dehring, Don Wehby, Dr Gywn Jones, and there are many, many others.
If given a chance to excel at school, 90 per cent of today’s student athletes can go on and get a good education and have a solid career after their sporting careers are over. All it requires is that they are given a chance to build a strong academic foundation.
What happens now is exploitation. Too many schools make the students high school stars full well knowing that without a proper foundation, they stand little chance of having a successful life afterwards. They tell the kids, don’t worry about school, just focus on running fast, jumping high or far or be able to dribble a ball, pass it and score and they are set for life. They just forget to tell them that sporting careers are short and they have their entire lives still before them long after their sporting careers are over.