Many of you out there probably don’t know who Karnell Hatcher is. He is a college student at LSU. A junior he also happens to play safety on the LSU football team. I became aware of Karnell Hatcher by watching LSU play football on television. More to the point I became aware because I was critical of his play.
Now I have never played high school or college football, but as a fan , like others, I exercise my right to pass judgment and offer opinions on how Karnell Hatcher and other college players perform. In my opinion Hatcher, over the past few weeks, had been beaten for too many long pass plays and against Arkansas made an error when instead of tackling a receiver he turned himself into a guided missile and tried to blow his guy up. Unfortunately he missed and ended up taking out a teammate instead. This allowed Arkansas to score a touchdown from deep in their own territory with only six seconds to go in the half, and those points ended up being the difference in the game.
I was mad! The guys I texted with back and forth during the game were mad! This Hatcher guy was hurting the team! His error cost LSU a chance at a Bowl Championship Series game! But afterwards I began to reflect, and my reflections gave me pause.
Karnell Hatcher is a kid. My oldest son is twenty years old and he is my child. Karnell Hatcher has to play in front of thousands of people every week, and possibly millions more on television. He plays on a team that is responsible for generating millions of dollars for the school and the state. His coaches are either millionaires or firmly entrenched in the upper tax bracket of the nation. He endures scrutiny from his coaches, peers, fans, and the media. For this he gets a college education, with a caveat.
Karnell Hatcher’s foremost obligation is to the football team. His scholarship is year to year. He needs to stay eligible so he can play but he has to attend meetings, practices, and off season conditioning. The schools state they want a high graduation rate. But as long as players stay eligible, even if they don’t have enough hours to graduate once their careers are over, no one is overly concerned. The fault lies with the players.
These kids are all at risk to get severely injured everytime they step on the field and that fame is fleeting. If a college team plays twelve games a year, and each game lasts three hours, that is one hundred and forty four hours of football or six days. Since no player in today’s world play both ways that means that three full days of their life are actually used playing football in a game, yet hundreds of hours and days are devoted to preparing for that short span.Big time universities depend on the millions of dollars generated by the efforts of these kids, but the players themselves see very little of that money , even while they bear the burden of performing. Most of these players won’t make it to the National Football League, and those that do won’t last long, in that the average NFL career for most players is less than five years.
To me I have no right to criticize Karnell Hatcher. I ought to be grateful that this young man loves his sport enough to play it for what amounts to be chump change. Yes a college education is priceless but many kids go to school for free through a variety of programs. Once enrolled their focus is on their academics, so that they can maintain a grade point average sufficient to keep their awards.
Now if the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) were to approve a stipend, or perhaps call it work study because it is work, and allow these young men to earn a modest income from their efforts, then the playing field is leveled.
Right now a young collegiate football player, with a high probability of being from a low to moderate income family, is being asked to risk his health in return for a college education. His efforts will generate millions of dollars that will not only cover the cost of his education but thousands of typical students as well. To me there is something wrong with that picture. All sports carry the risk of injury, but no sport is as dangerous as football is. Today’s elite football player is bigger, faster, and stronger than his counterpart of a decade ago. Equipment is lighter and collisions, often violent, are what drive today’s game. And no sport generates as much revenue for its school like big time college football.
The professionals are extremely well compensated for their risk but their college counterparts are not. The type of scandal that enveloped Reggie Bush at USC and threatens to undo Cam Newton at Auburn, ( both of these scenarios involve receiving money),could have been avoided if schools were allowed to pay athletes a modest salary for their efforts. Better yet, put it in a trust fund that allows them to receive the money upon graduation. This protects the non-NFL players and encourages kids to get their degrees. If a student athlete were paid $25,000 a year they would have $100,000 to start their life with after a football. That is a down payment on a house, the ability to acquire reliable transportation, and buy furniture.
The next time Karnell Hatcher makes a good play I will cheer him and the next time he makes a bad play I will encourage him, even if he can’t hear me. He deserves nothing less.