ROLE MODEL: "Ed O'Bannon has a baby?" my shocked son asks after seeing the headline, Year-old Son Helps O'Bannon Find His Glory at the top of the sports page. "I didn't even know he was married." The UCLA star is not. The next day my son is saying, "Mom, Mario Bennett's going to the NBA next year, he's not going back to ASU."
Oh, Ed, didn't your Mom tell you to wear a condom? Oh Mario, didn't your Mom tell you to get a diploma?
I normally don't discuss sports much (except when answering the required daily sports quiz question posed by my basketball groupie), but these are my kid's heroes. His room is plastered with basketball posters, his clothes scream their names, their teams, their sponsors. He's too young to worry if a college will offer him a scholarship, too young to understand Hoop Dreams, old enough to know a basketball player with a shot at the NBA has a dream come true.
"Mario says he'll stay in school for the spring semester," ASU sports guy Mark Brand tells me. He doubts that Bennett, a senior, has enough credits to graduate in May, "because most student athletes take five years to complete a degree, which is why athletic scholarships are for five years," he emphasizes. He paraphrases what Bennett said at his press conference: " 'I will remain in school for the spring and I'll always have the rest of my life to finish.' " That sounds unrefreshingly familiar.
Meanwhile back on planet Earth, other students--and most female athletes--will continue to lug their books around. The rest of their lives begin now. Five-year scholarships are virtually unheard of outside the sports arena. I worked for years in the financial aid office at the UA and saw needy students of all shapes, colors and talents willing to jump through hoops to complete school as the federal dollars slipped away. And here's a guy who gets to walk away from it, sans diploma, after he's milked the state school system for four years. (Gee, do you think any UCONN women, national champs two years in a row, are feeling this pressure to leave school? For what, a job at Dunkin' D's?)
I'm sure the NBA is cool. When I worked at a big hotel attached to the Superdome in New Orleans I used to see the hot NBA stars who came to the city to play the New Orleans Jazz. They were especially adept at dribbling over and hitting on every woman within sight of the levee.
Concerning O'Bannon, he's already made one mistake, so hopefully he will not follow Bennett's path--if only to set an example for his year-old son who may be more interested in poetry than Pauley Pavilion.
As I tell my own son of hoop dreams, study your spelling words. There's a long line outside the scholarship office.
See you in the cheap seats, warriors.
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