We should never be surprised when a professional athlete claims the punishment he receives is unfair, excessive, or goes against the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. For the most part, these athletes are simply incapable of seeing the world as we see it. They have been coddled from the time their athletic talent first became evident and have all too often been allowed to pass through life with a different set of rules applied to them.
It begins very early and continues right up until reality smacks them in the face. Mom or dad sees how their child stands out physically at an early age and decide to sign their kid up for local athletic leagues where volunteer coaches fantasize about building the next great sports dynasty around a six or seven year old kid.
These parents are soon approached by eager coaches to place their child on a travel team where he will get the chance to compete against others his age at a regional level. By the time he has reached middle school, he is being asked to decide what sport will he specialize in while always being reminded of how special he is and how far he can go with his athletic talent. He begins to identify himself as a professional athlete in waiting and no longer considers himself as a potential doctor, engineer, scientist, or teacher. Academics are now something that just get in the way of playing.
In middle school, he will be recruited to play for his school teams and often comes face to face with the academic hurdle for the first time. Because he now sees himself as the next great athlete, he has developed bad habits in the classroom. Homework does not get completed, class work lags behind others, and he resents his teacher who gets on him about it. When his grades fall below the school standards for remaining athletically eligible, his teachers are often asked by a coach to “cut the kid some slack.” Often times they will, only to see it backfire as the kid learns his special talent now gets him out of school work.
If he has real athletic talent, high schools will find him before he has entered and recruit him to come play for them. Coaches will talk to parents about where they see the kid playing, how much playing time he will get as a freshman, and assure them they can get him placed with all the right teachers so he will remain academically eligible. Once a high school is selected, this may not be good enough for the prized athlete. If unhappy with his playing time or playing assignment, he and his parents will begin talking to coaches from other schools as they search for the perfect place for their kid to play ball.
If the kid or his parents are dissatisfied, they have no problem using their influence to get a coach canned. They will take up an excessive amount of a school administrator’s time with constant complaints until either an agreement is reached or there is a parting of the ways. Should the exceptional athlete fail to meet the academic standards required to continue playing, parents will demand his schedule be changed and even go so far as to have him placed in special ed thinking this is the route that will allow him to play regardless of whether or not he learns anything of value.
By sophomore year he is now receiving mass produced letters from colleges all over the country telling him they have their eye on him and want to see him playing for them some day. He will be invited to camps to showcase his skills to college coaches and begin to receive hundreds of emails, text messages, and phone calls on top of the endless letters trying to sell him on a particular college. If he is among the elite being recruited, he will eventually sign a college scholarship.
In college, he will learn he is still different and be treated as such. He may live in an athlete only dorm and receive special food, tutoring services, and attention. Many colleges will give him credits for classes he never took and go to great lengths to find him instructors who are athlete friendly. In fact, if you are the rare breed of athlete who is academically smart, you will anger your coach when your academics interfere with training, practice, or games. Unfortunately, this is rare. A college athlete on scholarship is not likely to graduate with a degree if the sport he plays is a major money maker like football or basketball.
By the time this person is playing on a professional team, he has close to fifteen years of being given special treatment. Since this treatment has come during his formative years, he is unable to relate to what is normal by society’s standards, especially if he has been enabled by parents and coaches all along.
For the athlete, there is no right or wrong because he now believes he can do whatever he wants because of his special talent. He can treat women like crap, father as many kids as he wants, and live by a set of rules that do not comply with the law of the land. This is why when life catches up to him , he will act as though he is not being treated fairly. The reality is, he is being treated fairly for the first time in life and doesn’t like it.
Adrian Peterson is a special athlete. So is Ray Rice and countless others we sadly read about for the misdeeds they commit. We help create the monsters they turn into when they beat their wife, abuse their child, or kill someone with a car because they were drunk. We drive them to PED use because we live vicariously through them and their great athletic accomplishments. But in the end, we do them a huge disservice because when life catches up to them, they only have their union leaders to rely on and all too often they come from the same world the athlete grew up in and are unable to relate to the one the rest of us live in.
We call it entitlement and it is a disease that afflicts more than just the professional athlete. We see what it does to movie stars, musicians, and politicians too. And because we see it play out among those we wish we could be, it has increasingly become a disease for the common person.
However, for those who still live in the real world and believe there are consequences for our actions, we are not surprised to see the hammer fall on the likes of Adrian Peterson. In fact, we applaud the person who finally says, “Enough, already.” It’s just too bad it take a sports commissioner to be the one to do what parents, coaches, teachers, and agents didn’t have the decency to do. Maybe if they had, we would have more athletes to look up to in this world.
James Moore is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching and currently runs his own personal training business, In Home Jim, in Hemet, CA. Jim’s writings are often the end result of his thoughts mulled over while riding his bike for hours on end.