Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #139 A Different School of Thought

In 1987, I saved up my allowance to buy a back issue of Sports Illustrated at the Rastro in Greenhills. It was their annual college basketball preview with Navy’s David Robinson on the cover (I still have the magazine). It was a refreshing read about the future San Antonio Spur who then stood 6’9” and carried a bad team. Robinson went to college primarily to get an education and to serve in the military as opposed to simply playing basketball. Incredibly, he was and still is a rarity in sports today.

What equally transfixed my reading was a feature spread on several seventh to twelfth graders in America who were touted to be the next big thing in basketball. There was Marcus Liberty, Damon Bailey, Barnabas James, Michael Irvin, Brian Crow, Alonzo Mourning, and Kenny Anderson. Of the players listed, it’s only Mourning and Anderson who went on to have stellar college careers but who also did well in the National Basketball Association. As for the others? They had to live with those weighty tags where they are considered as busts.

Liberty believed the press and praise early on and he left the University of Illinois after his junior year to play in the pros; a four-year career that ended quietly and without the fanfare that trumped him to be the best prep player out of Chicago. As he freely admits, he regrets one too many decisions among them his not getting a degree.

Sixteen years later, former SI columnist Rick Reilly also wrote of an 11-year old player who was rated by an online basketball scouting site as another “can’t miss” prospect. “Who ranks fifth graders”” angrily asked Reilly, a 10-time National Sportswriter of the Year in the United States. “If the kid pans out, is that a feather in someone’s cap? And who does it hurt? It hurts the kid who’s got all these expectations the rest of his life.”

And we’ve not been spared on the home front. Though lacking in the high stakes pro leagues of America, the Philippines’ collegiate sports scene has regressed into the worst kept secret of a sick sports scene. Time was when everyone talked about the Philippine Basketball Association’s rigodon of players. But really does anyone care now with all the Fil-Ams?

The cutthroat competitiveness that defines pro sports has invaded the purity of the college game. With reports of game fixing, point shaving, and unethical recruiting policies, it seems that what schools are teaching now is “winning isn’t everything but the only thing."

Several years ago, a high school volleyball player who played for one of the country’s traditional volleyball powers decided to matriculate in another college because he felt that “he needed to think about his future.” He was offered a scholarship by his erstwhile alma mater but he turned it down without a second thought. “I don’t think there is a huge demand for PE teachers,” he explained of his decision to take control of his life. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a volleyball player forever so I knew I had to get a good education and that meant going to another school.”

It’s amazing how we confer the burden of tradition, winning, expectations, responsibility, and glory to teens and barely twentysomethings. Have we conveniently forgotten that they are in not quite adults yet and that first and foremost, it is a school’s sole mission to educate them?

Remember when we signed up to play for the jayvee and varsity teams for the sheer fun of it? Of course we wanted to win and we gave it our all. If we lost there was always the next game or next season to try and even up matters.

Only now, who knows if we’ll be around for next season?

Several years ago, after a lackluster season where its football team didn’t win a single game, a Recto-based university sent its entire team packing. I guess a college football title was more important than making sure that these kids got an education. What education, you might ask, when they never went to class anyway?

The team was imported all the way from the province to play football and everything else be damned. Since it was the only thing they did well and they didn’t get the job done, they were replaced by another batch of footballers from another southern city. Well, since there’s no pro football league to pay you to keep playing, dog, where you going after your eligibility has dried up?

Oh, since we in the province speak better English than Tagalog, maybe we’d work in a call center.

Another university brought in a new coach with a penchant for winning championships. In doing so, he cut many of his players and served notice that the leftovers didn’t have security as well. What of the scholarships of those cut? Well, too bad for them. Thy belong only to those who are on the line up.

Now those cut are left to wonder what if they had accepted the scholarship offered by another school? Said the coach, “The team isn’t here to participate, but to compete.” It’s bad enough that they’re benched and yelled at for the slightest mistake and now they have to worry about losing their scholarship.

A Manila-based school recruited a player from the southern Philippines and he played a couple of years for the basketball team. After being deemed too small for college ball, he was cut. He is still toiling in the school’s Team B hoping for another chance but doesn’t know it yet but he’s not going to make it back to the senior varsity. Not when there are taller players up the pike.

One truism I’ve constantly advised people is that, “life sucks.” The sooner we all comprehend that then the easier it is to adapt to the unfairness of it all and make the best out of it.

College is supposed to prepare young men and women for life. And life is never easy and like work, it is a four letter word. Welcome to the real world, son. Why wait for graduation to experience it when you can get ahead of it now?

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