Should you encourage your child to play dangerous sports with the goal of becoming a professional athlete and making a ton of money? From the song or depends on the child, parent, talent, motive and opportunity. The answer is a resounding “no” if you ask this father of four. I will explain more of my rationality later. For starters, emptor warning: sports, like other businesses, have exploding bellies that few see or want to see. Being proactive is prudent because advice given after an injury is equivalent to medicine after death.
There are functional skills that can be acquired by practicing various sports: teamwork, perseverance, determination, winning and resilient habits. Also, playing sports can be beneficial for your overall health.
Obesity is a global health problem with known consequences. Some of these consequences are high blood pressure, type II diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, joint diseases, various cancers, to name a few. But do not tell many Nigerians (in particular and Africans in general) who believe that being fat is something glorious, a symbol of status, a proof of the good life and wealth. Performing physical activities throughout life are worthy habits that promote both quantity and quality of life, according to health experts.
However, there is a big difference between playing sports recreationally and practicing them professionally. No sport is risk-free, but some are more dangerous than others. The costs of admission to the professional athletes club can be too high; Frankly, it may not be worth it.
When I was 20 I liked to watch boxing. The fight between Sugar Ray and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns II comes to mind. Marvin Hagler, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, George Foreman’s Second Coming were my favorites. I watched those fights every time I got the chance. At a 1987 Pay-View event in Oakland, California, he was sitting near a former boxer. As we left the venue after the exciting fight, he made statements that stuck in my mind when a spectator complained about the millions the fighters made. He said, “these fighters will pay dearly for the rest of their lives for the blows they have received today.” He went on to say, “all the millions they made today will not be enough to heal a lifetime of pain and suffering.”
Looking back, his statements were quite prescient because little was known about the effects of concussions, blows to the head, performance-enhancing drugs, Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, and speech problems. Some of the sports we send our kids to play today are just as dangerous – don’t let the hype, money, fame, and medical advances fool us. Remember that beef came from a cow or, as the Igbo say, “Suya ahu si n’ahu nama”.
Seeing the huge money and fame of these sports, it was only a matter of time before Nigerian parents and / or our own children started chasing the pitfalls 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 dedicate a paragraph and pay tribute to the athletic heroes of Nigeria and indeed the world. Dick Tiger, Christian Okoye, Hakeem Olajuwon and today’s professional players have shown shining examples on and off the stage. They remain the beacon of all that is good about Nigeria and Nigerians. When was the last time you heard something negative about these heroes? Through their actions, they continue to varnish the image of our Motherland, even as corrupt politicians and members of 419 are bent on tarnishing its global image. Like grateful Nigerians everywhere, I salute these evergreen heroes.
Are these reasons compelling enough to allow your child to play dangerous sports?
I hope Nigerian parents, both at home and especially abroad, do not push their children into these sports to profit. Often times, we are people with a total tendency to make money at all costs. Some may want to dispel a myth and end up exposing themselves and their children to hidden dangers. According to a sports journalist, “People are skeptical about Nigerian players; they are soft, not tough enough and too polite.” That’s a loaded statement! Trying to “prove negative” can cost you dearly. You may remember Loyola Marymount basketball star Eric “Hank” Gathers, who died on the court in 1990 during a televised game. The youngster had a known heart condition, but continued to play without taking his medications, making him too sleepy to perform at the height of his star caliber.
All sports have inherent risks. As the Italians say, “ogni rosa ha le sue spine” or “every rose has its thorns”. I like to ride a bike. Many cyclists are injured and even die while riding a bicycle. Just 3 weeks ago here in Austin, Texas, a bicyclist pushing his damaged bicycle was killed by a distracted driver less than 10 miles from my residence. Did you know that female soccer players suffer the second highest number of concussions, after female soccer players? Go imagine that one.
However, some sports are like cigarettes: they are dangerous when practiced as prescribed. Some of the injuries are cumulative from a very young age (elementary and middle schools) and the ill effects are not fully felt until the game days are over.
The odds of reaching the pros are pretty infinitesimal. As a friend who played one of these sports professionally tells me, “People only see the few who successfully jumped to the other side of the ridge. But look down into the abyss to see the crowd that didn’t make it.” The few who make it to the professionals end up living painful lives after their injuries begin to manifest themselves and when their insurance benefits cease to exist. They quickly squander their earnings due to poor financial management skills. Like many Nigerians refuse to plan for retirement, these athletes think they will always have money. Those who help you waste your resources will not be there when you need them. Watching, if that, can only bury one after one has died, it will not sustain the living.
I am not recommending that you or your children avoid amateur or professional sports. I’m not pointing out any sports either. As I said, each rose has its thorns; no sport is risk-free. What I recommend is that you do your own research before exposing your family to any sport. If after all that you still feel that the sport is for your child and he or she has the wherewithal to become the one in a million winner, go for it. I wish the best to your family. Keep in mind that anything that glitters can be brass, not gold.
Ask yourself these questions:
How is it that very few descendants of professional players follow in the footsteps of their parents? Did the genes that propelled your parents to stardom all of a sudden “lose their way”?
Why don’t team owners, coaches, team doctors use their enormous influence to get their children to play these obviously lucrative sports? Other businesses, including preachers, train their children in the family business, why not as dangerous sportsmen? Is it because the truth or, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, society writes injuries in dust and benefits in marble?
Is Sports The Only Way To Get College Scholarships? Academic scholarships are better than most athletic scholarships. The first graduates more students than the second. Reading will not give you the aforementioned injuries.
If you don’t know of a former professional player in the sport that your child might be interested in, search on Google or Facebook to find one to talk to. They are relatively easy to find and you will find them willing to help you. Listen with an open mind to what they tell you; do not take their comments as bitter comments from former players. That’s what I did years ago before my children came of age to play American popular sports. As a proactive step, I began to discourage my children from playing soccer. I was surprised when my high school son told me that he had been asked to audition for his school team.
My wife and our children were pleased for the first time at the news. I set out to dissuade him from playing soccer. 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 is in the medical field. After watching the game live and hearing the sounds of war … I mean the beating on the field that day, she came home to join me in dissuading our son from playing the sport. The sounds of the pounding were unlike anything she hears from soccer games on television. My response was that if she thought high school players hit hard, you can imagine how hard high school and college players hit, not to mention professional players. I couldn’t bear to watch my son play soccer, I just can’t. Call me chicken!
After that first year of soccer, ours announced to our delight that he was leaving the sport. I asked him why, he said that none of his team members were in his Advanced Placement classes, in fact most of them were not doing well in school, partly due to missing classes due to injuries and / or sports distractions. This is the case in Africa and elsewhere. Some excel in both sports and academia.
Thank goodness my son didn’t get hurt and his grades are still high. He spoke about the serious injuries other footballers suffered, how they were encouraged to eat and lift more weights to get bigger, stronger, hit harder and run faster. He spoke about using below-average equipment and the drive to play for college scholarships and career prospects. Academics weren’t a priority, practicing and winning games were! Ultimately, he said that he discovered that we wanted the best for him both now and in the long term. He realized that we did it with and out of love. And we can live with it!