Should you spur your child to play dangerous sports with the goal of becoming a professional athlete and making a boat load of money? De la chanson or it depends on the child, parent, talent, motive and opportunity. The answer is a resounding “no”, if you ask this parent of four. I will explain more of my rational later. For a starter, caveat emptor: sports, like other businesses, have exploitative under-bellies few see or want to see. Being proactive is prudent because advice given after injury tantamount to medicine after death.
There are functional skills one can acquire from playing various sports: teamwork, perseverance, determination, winner and resilient habits. Also, playing sports can be beneficial to one’s overall health.
Obesity is a world-wide health problem with known consequences. Some of these consequences are high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, joints disease, various cancers,to name a few. But don’t tell that to many Nigerians (in particular and Africans in general) who believe that being fat is a glorious thing, a status symbol, evidence of good living and wealth. Engaging in physical activities throughout one’s life are worthy habits that promote both the quantity and the quality of life, per health experts.
However, there is a huge divide between playing sports recreationally and playing them professionally. No sport is risk-free but some are more dangerous than others. The admission costs to the professional athletes’ club can be too high; frankly, may not be worth it.
In my 20’s I liked to watch boxing. Sugar Ray and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns II fight comes to mind. Marvin Hagler, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, George Foreman’s second coming were my favorites. I watched those fights every chance I got. At one Pay-View event in 1987 in Oakland, California, I happen to be seated close to a former boxer. As we walked out of the venue after the thrilling fight, he made statements that stuck in my mind when a spectator begrudged the millions the fighters earned. He said, “these fighters will pay dearly for the rest of their lives for the hits they have taken today.” He continued by saying, “all the millions they made today will not be enough to heal the life-time of pain and suffering.”
Looking back, his utterances were rather prophetic because little were known then about the effects of concussions, hits to the head, performance enhancement drugs, Parkinson’s disease, memory loss and slurred speech issues. Some of the sports we send our children to play today are equally dangerous, don’t let the hype, money, fame, and medical advancement fool us. Remember that beef came from a cow or as the Igbos say, “Suya ahu si n’ahu nama”!
Seeing the huge money and fame in these sports, it was just a matter of time before Nigerian parents and/or our children themselves started pursuing the trappings of these sports. Some may want to reap the obvious benefits without seeing the latent pitfalls. These parents and children should adhere to this Einstein quote: “learn the rules of the game [first]. And then you must play it better [on and off the court] than anyone else”.
I must devote a paragraph and pay homage to Nigerian, and in deed world’s, athletic heroes. Dick Tiger, Christian Okoye, Hakeem Olajuwon, and current professional players have shown glowing examples on and off the stage. They remain the beacon of everything great about Nigeria and Nigerians. When was the last time you heard anything negative about these heroes? Through their actions, they continue to varnish the image of our Motherland even as corrupt politicians and 419ers are bent on tarnishing her global image. Like grateful Nigerians everywhere, I salute these evergreen heroes.
Are these reasons compelling enough to let your child play dangerous sports?
I hope Nigerian parents both at home and, especially, abroad are not pushing their children into these sports to cash in. Often, we’re people with all-out tendencies to make money at all cost. Some may want to dispel a myth out there and end up exposing themselves and their children to hidden dangers. According to one sportswriter, “people are skeptical about Nigerian players; they are soft, not tough enough and too educated”. That’s a loaded statement! Trying to “prove a negative” may cost one dearly. You may recall Loyola Marymount basketball star Eric “Hank” Gathers who died on the court in 1990 during a televised game. They young man had a known heart condition but he continued to play without taking his medications that made him too drowsy to perform up to his star caliber.
All sports have inherent risks. As Italians say, “ogni rosa ha le sue spine” or “every rose has its thorns”. I like to ride bicycles. Lots of cyclists get hurt and even killed while bicycling. Just 3 weeks ago here in Austin, Texas, a cyclist pushing his disabled bike was killed by an inattentive driver less than 10 miles from my residence. Do you know that girls’ soccer players sustain the second highest number of concussions, after American football players? Go figure that one.
However, some sports are like cigarettes: they are dangerous when played as prescribed. Some of the injuries are cumulative from very young ages (elementary and middle schools) and the ill-effects are not fully felt until after one’s playing days are over.
The odds of making it to the pros are quite infinitesimal. As a friend who played ones of these sports professionally tells me, “people only see the very few who successfully jumped over to the other side of the ridge. But look down in the abyss to see the multitude that did not make it.” The few that make it to the pros end up living painful lives after their injuries begin to manifest and when their insurance benefits are no more. They quickly squander their earnings due to poor financial management skills. Just like too many Nigerians refuse to plan for retirement, these athletes think they will always be in money. Those who help you waste your resources will not be there for you when you need them. Wake-keeping, if that, can only bury one after one had died, it won’t sustain the living.
I am not advocating you or your children eschew amateur or professional sports. Neither am I singling out any one sport. Like I said, every rose has its thorns; no sport is risk-free. What I am recommending is for you to conduct your own research before exposing your family to any sports. If after all that you still feel the sport is for your child and he or she has the wherewithal to become the one-in-a-million victor, go for it. I wish your family well. Please beware all that glitters may be brass, not gold.
Ask yourself these questions:
How come very few offspring of pro players follow the footsteps of their parents? Did the genes that propelled their parents to stardom suddenly “miss road”?
Why don’t team owners, coaches, team doctors, use their enormous clouts to play their children in these evidently lucrative sports? Other businesses, including preachers, train their children in the family enterprise, why not as dangerous sports players? Could it be because they the truth or, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, society writes injuries in dust and benefits in marble?
Are sports the only way to earn university scholarships? Academic scholarships are better than most sports scholarships. The former graduates more students than the latter. Reading will not give you the aforementioned injuries.
If you don’t know any ex-professional players in the sport your child might be interested in, Google or Facebook search to find one to talk with. They are relatively easy to find and you would find them willing to assist you. Listen with an open-mind to what they tell you; don’t take their feedback as bitter ex-players comments. That is what I did years ago before my children were of age to play popular American sports. As a proactive step, I started discouraging my sons from playing football. I was shocked when my middle schooler told me he had been asked to tryout for his school team.
My wife and our children were first jubilant at the news. I went into high gear to talk him out of playing football. When he refused to back down, I blessed him but told him I would not go to any of the games. They said he was good at it. He convinced his mother to go to one of the games. I must inject here that she’s in the medical field. After watching the game live and hearing the sounds of war… I mean the hits the on the field that day, she returned home to join me to dissuade our son from playing that sport. The sounds of the hits were not like anything she hears from football games on TV. My response was if she thought the middle school players hit hard, she can imagine how harder the high schoolers and college players hit, not to talk of professional players. I could not stand watching my child play football, just can’t. Call me chicken!
After that first year of football, our son announced to our delight that he was giving up the sport. I asked why, he said none of his team members were in his Advance Placement classes, in fact, most of them were not doing well in school, partly because of missed classes due to injuries and/or sports distractions. This is the case in Africa and elsewhere. Some excel in both sports and academics.
Thank goodness my son didn’t get hurt and his grades remain high. He talked about serious injuries other footballers sustained, how they were encourage to eat and weight-lift more to get bigger, stronger and hit harder and run faster. He talked about sub-par equipment use and the push to play for college scholarship and pro prospects. Academics were not a priority, practicing and wining games were! Finally, he said he found out that we wanted what was best for him both now and in the long run. He realized we did it with and for love. And we can live with that!