February 17, 2020

Bryce Harper Is Lucky He Doesn’t Play Basketball

June 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Bud Selig is thrilled to do what David Stern hates: Announce a 17-year-old is the No. 1 pick

What’s the difference between Bryce Harper and Eric Bledsoe?

Money. Lots of money.

Harper is the 17-year-old phenom taken first in Monday night’s baseball draft.  A latter day Mickey Mantle, Harper skipped the last two years of high school, was home schooled, got his GED and spent the past year at a junior college where 75% of the students are part-timers. When Bud Selig called his name first last night, there was no national outcry that this white teenage athlete’s life would be ruined because he didn’t get a college education. The only question asked is if Scott Boras can get Harper a bigger bonus than the $15.1 million the agent got for Stephen Strasberg last year.

Bledsoe is the 19-year-old point guard who declared for the draft after playing one year at Kentucky, now under investigation for Bldesoe’s suspect high school transcript and other assorted recruiting violations. Bledsoe, a black kid from Alabama, bounced from one high school to another in hopes of meeting NCAA requirements to he could do what he does best: play basketball. Unlike Harper, he didn’t have the option of going pro before he reached the age of 18.

The national media has been drooling over Harper for more than a year, eager to see how quickly the Sports Illustrated cover boy can reach the major leagues. Apparently, a college education is meaningless for a baseball player, yet essential for a basketball player. Just ask ESPN talking heads Dickie V or Digger Phelps or any of the predominantly white media who continually pine for the days when basketball players entertained us for the full four years.

A 17-year baseball player jumps to the pros and he’s the second coming. A 19-year-old basketball player doing the same signals the end of civilization as we know it.  The fact that most of the basketball players are you black kids looking to escape neighborhoods we’d rather not think about never enters the equation.

We all know education argument is a sham, but that doesn’t stop us from playing along. We love March Madness too much to insist these kids get the same opportunity that baseball players enjoy.  It’s not the NCAA baseball tournament bracket that Barack Obama fills out each year on ESPN. And no one’s rushing to pay the NCAA $10.8 billion for the baseball tournament, the sum CBS and TNT just spent to secure the March Madness for the next 14 years.

For that kind of money, you need the Eric Bledsoes and the John Walls and the Lance Stephensons on the court, with the occasional stop in a classroom to retain their eligibility. Preventing the kids from earning a living—and forcing them to risk injury—comes in a distant second.

So Bledsoe leaves his one-year sentence at Kentucky with his health, if not his reputation, intact and is expected to be a first round pick in this month’s NBA draft. Wall, his Kentucky teammate, also finished his one-year term and is almost sure to be the No. 1 pick. Both should consider themselves lucky. The NBA is all but certain to make it two years before a player can apply for the draft when they negotiate the new players contract later this year.

Hey, someone has to stand up for the value of education.

Jon Pessah writes on the intersection of sports & culture. He is a regular contributor at TrueSlant (http://trueslant.com/jonpessah) and a founding Editor of ESPN The Magazine. He Tweets @jonpessah.

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