In Problems in Youth Sports

This past Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, the cover article wonderfully written by Michael Sokolove was about 6th grade Seattle basketball phenom, Allonzo Trier. Trier is 13, practices at least 4 hours a day, jets all around the country to play in tournaments, is being illegally recruited by some Division I college programs and, please sit down for this one, already has his very own clothing line!

Gerald Wright, a Bronx native and owner of NYICE gear put it “nicely.” It’s a win-win for the kids and my brand. We want other people to say, ‘If Zo’s (Trier’s nickname) wearing it, I want to wear it.’ Meanwhile, he’s got something unique. I don’t think Lebron had a logo in middle school. I don’t think Kobe did. To the young man, it’s a way of saying, ‘you’ve worked hard, so good things will come to you. I don’t see it as exploitive or taking advantage, and the moment I did, I would get out of it.”

Ok, so if this isn’t exploitive, then what would you call it? Sneaker and clothing companies showering a 13 year old with free gear and whispering sweet nothings in his ear. College coaches texting his mother and contacting him about their programs. Adults surrounding him, showering him with attention and praise. It’s seductive and insidious. It’s flat out sickening is what I’d call it!

Don’t misunderstand me here. For Allonzo and his mom, a single parent, his basketball is a way out and a means to a better life. The kid is truly working his butt off to make this dream happen and he should be commended for that. My beef is with the adults surrounding him like sharks circling a helpless prey. My fear is that Allonzo will end up just being another casualty along the road to finding the next Lebron. What if he gets injured? At the ripe old age of 13 he is already dealing with sore knees! What if he doesn’t grow enough? What if his mad skills taper off? What will happen to all the attention then? There’s no question that the instant he stops being the best, the adoring adults will drop him like a hot potato. They will discard him in favor of someone else. There will be zero consideration given to his feelings or the impact on his self-esteem should this occur.

It’s a harsh, cut throat business best summed up by another exploiter of young children, famed gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi, I’m probably misquoting him on this, but the gist of his message was “All these girls are like little scorpions. You put them all in a shoe box and the best and strongest will kill off all the rest and emerge victorious.” This is great if we’re dealing with scorpions. Not so great, sensitive or caring when it comes to dealing with living, breathing, feeling creatures like young girls!

There is no place for professionalism in youth sports. To me, it’s nothing more than a clever disguise for child abuse. What’s with a national ranking system for 6th, 7th and 8th graders?! What a total farce, not to mention inaccurate! In addition, some of the AAU teams that Allonzo and these other kids play for travel twice a month by plane to play tournaments and end up playing 118 games a season! That’s 36 more than your average NBA team plays during the regular season!

What’s next? We’ve already started televising The Little League World Series. Will we start to cover 5th and 6th graders playing basketball? How about T-ball games? You never know where you’re going to find the next Babe!

Here’s the link to the NY Times article:


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