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Volume 70, Issue 113, Wednesday, March 23, 2005


In pros, age not just a number

Teens aiming for big leagues are not ready to compete

Pro Sports Fan

Arica Jefferson

I know the talk about the age limit in professional sports has almost become redundant, but the discussion is one that will not slow down anytime soon, especially in the wake of the National Football Association Draft and the hoopla surrounding 19-year-old Maurice Clarett.

We are all familiar with Clarett's attempt to enter the NFL Draft after only his sophomore year at Ohio State. The whole fiasco went through more than six different courts, and after many of appeals and much refilling, the case made it to the Supreme Court where Justice Ruth Ginsburg decided to uphold the longstanding rule in the NFL that allows only players who have been out of high school for three years to play. Of course, that didn't stop Clarett and his team of lawyers, who said they wanted the case to be reviewed by a larger panel of judges. Apparently, the Supreme Court wasn't large enough for them.

I have never really spoken about the Clarett decision, but I think the standing to not allow young players in the NFL is a great one. I know there has to be a "no fear" attitude in sports, especially in football, but simply put, it is unsafe for a 19-year-old or a college sophomore to be playing in a league designed for grown men. How is he going to get over on a 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound offensive lineman who is not only bigger but also stronger, faster and better equipped to take the physical punishment that comes along with professional football? There are men who have already been in the league for three of four years and who still end up with broken bones and career ending injuries thanks to these linemen. How is a child supposed to handle them? 

So, now that he has whined and thrown a couple tantrums -- since that's what children do -- he didn't even play this past season, and his stock has dropped. I can understand why. Not too many teams full of grown-ups want to deal with a child's fits because he doesn't get his way. But if I could ask Clarett, I would only have one question: Was it worth it?

The discussion can only be: a bridge to one possible place, the NBA. There are quite a few people who are not pleased with the fact that there is a push for a 20-year-old minimum to play in the NBA that commissioner David Stern is trying to implement. Of course the player's association is against the concept, but so are the people in ownership and managerial positions. It could be because the shift the NBA has made from drafting the best college students to getting a good highschool student who may become something great and thus trying to make the largest amount of money from the highschool student.

LeBron James, 20, and Carmelo Anthony, 21, have grossed large sums of money for the league and their respective teams, but it is naive to believe these owners and general mangers don't see dollar signs when they look at these young players. The only reason they have to care about their futures is because it may or may not make them money.

I can commend Stern for saying it's better for children not to aspire to coming straight out of high school into the pros but, rather, going to college. It is official that the Continental Basketball Association and the National Basketball Developmental League have merged, so I suggest doing just like Major League Baseball. If the kids don't want to go to college, send them to the minors for a year or so. Then they can be better prepared for what they are about to get into by playing with the big boys. We must remember, Kobe Bryant was ready physically, but not mentally; Kevin Garnett still hasn't won a ring, even as good as a player he is, and it is too early to tell what the future holds for LeBron.

There will always be different views on this topic, and we may all never agree, but one thing is certain: Children are never fully prepared to play a grown man's game.

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