Ball and Chains: Age rule hypocrisy in sports

By Julian Reed

Ever use Facebook? How about ride a skateboard or play Tennis? If any of the latter is true, like the rest of society, you are privileged with the opportunity and right to earn profit in whatever legal way possible under the capitalist system.

Fair trade off when you consider the parameters. On the one end, you have the chance to earn whatever the market dictates, and the other hand you also have the right and ability to fail. There is no safety net of protection.

In fact, our society is pretty blunt about (As well as openly advertises) the reality that we as American citizens can fall to the floor as fast as we can rise to the ceiling.

Despite all of this, the NBA and NFL go in the opposite direction with age rules limiting when young athletes can enter their respective leagues. Why is this practice in effect you ask? Two reasons bubble to the surface immediately.

First and foremost, to protect (And benefit) the leagues bottom line. In the case of the NBA, they mandate that prospective players must either play one full season of collegiate basketball or a full year after high school (Which typically leads to playing overseas) before they can be eligible to enter the NBA.

This format allows marquee players (Like Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker/Julius Randle/etc) to gain notoriety and visibility which basically rounds out to free marketing before they ever step foot on an NBA court.

The NFL mandates a three year collegiate career (Or time equivalent to, out of high school) before prospects can enter the NFL Draft. This format more so than the one utilized by the NBA is highly beneficial and has been for decades.

Colleges get at least three years to develop and market their new crop of talent to the masses. In return, they (NFL) get prepackaged stars that now can come in and dominate as rookies. It serves as the perfect storm for them.

Fans that watch college football got to see the evolution of guys like Adrian Peterson, A.J Green, Julio Jones, Andrew Luck, etc and knew who they were long before they were drafted to the NFL.

There is also a protective element of those rules as well. Particularly with the NFL, they need players to develop mentally and physically before entering the big leagues to help prospective player’s chances of long term survival in a league where the average career lasts 2.5 years.

So it’s not without logical reason that they have restrictions on when players can enter their league. Indeed it is for the benefit of the players. Despite all of that, I have a serious issue with these restrictions in certain cases.

The innate problem with a one size fits all rule, is that it has no wiggle room for unique cases, exceptions, etc. Rigid rules are unable to accommodate under any circumstance.

What if a potential prospect is ready for the NFL (skill/development/physically) right out of high school? Why should he be forced to partake in the farm factory system of college football and risk serious injury without direct compensation?

Not to even to mention the fact that scholarships aren’t guaranteed, nor cover the full length of expenses, in a society where a bachelor degree is decreasing in value every day.

That supposedly is even and fair compensation for college football players who generate the labor for a multibillion dollar profit empire for college presidents and athletic directors.

Even if the NFL didn’t change its rules to allow whoever ready to enter its ranks, I think something of a developmental league (Like they previously had with NFL Europe) would be a great alternative that would benefit the players as well as the NFL.

Players coming out of high school with the ability potentially could be fairly compensated monetarily for their athletic abilities while I also honing their skills in preparation for an eventual jump to the pro game. Don’t mistake my words.

An education is a great thing, but not for everybody. Current setup has put many unqualified and unfit to be on a college campus onto them solely for the purpose of athletics and created a great deal of the modern hypocrisy.

This reality has resulted in everything from the forging of grades, skipping classes’ altogether, etc. It’s a mockery of the university foundation that seemingly everybody has tolerated for the sake of having a good football team.

From the NBA’s perspective, it is even more hypocritical because time continues to prove that a talented player is capable of entering the NBA early and having a productive career.

Many of its best players today either were from the batch that came out before they implemented the age rule (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, etc) or the era of “One and done’s” (Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, etc). These restrictions come from the respective Player Associations groups of the NBA and NFL.

Problem I have with these prohibitive laws is that it seemingly attempts to protect leagues largely consisting of young black males. Why do they need any more protection from failure than any other American citizen?

Tony Hawk went pro as a skateboarder when he was 14 Years old. Venus and Serena Williams each turned professional in women’s tennis at the age of 14. Mark Zuckerburg created Facebook when he was 19 years old.

Did any person or restrictive barrier prohibit any of them from entering the marketplace and earning money for their gifts?

No. They were all allowed to accrue as much success or failure as they could, totally dependent on their achievement.

It seems as though society is uncomfortable with the idea of young black males earning millions of dollars (Which happens anyway).

Pro leagues have done everything possible to try and project the image of reputable entry.

To try and somehow validate the young athlete’s capacity to earn wealth, as though the risk and investment isn’t mostly the same either way.

If it was truly about trying to help and protect a pool of players largely coming from dangerous chaotic inner city lives, why not setup a true preparatory program? Why not make financial literacy, business as well as the skills needed on field or court mandatory teaching tools to gain entry?

If we’re going to make our youth wait to go pro, let’s adequately prepare them for entry.

In a society built on democracy, freedom, and capitalism, these leagues have been allowed to keep young athletes on a ball and chain.


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