Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Higher Education Myth

J.A. Adande is not a bad sports writer. To be fair, I'm not sure he's a great one, either; I haven't read enough of his stuff to say that. But he's not the kind of guy I ever expected to blog about saying something dumb.

But, he had to go and suggest that Eddie Griffin might not have been such a self-destructive headcase if he had gone to Seton Hall for more than one year.


Adande clearly, is trying to provide some context — maybe even a reason — for what superficially appears to be a senseless death. And he correctly speaks to Griffin's troubled history with substance abuse and mental illness, which (I believe) serve to offer a credible explanation as to why this young man was so self-destructive. But that's not what Adande hinges his piece on; instead, he uses a quote from an anonymous ex-player ("(Griffin was) a perfect example of a kid who shouldn't have went to the NBA early.") to try and make some larger point about how his early entrance into the NBA somehow nailed his coffin shut.

That's unfortunate, because it's insulting to readers to suggest that college basketball — part of the most corrupt sports organization in America — serves as some maturing force on its own merits. Adande mentions the "socialization" that takes place in college, but there's a complete dearth of evidence to support the idea that college is any less an constructive atmosphere for head-cases than the NBA. At least the NBA doesn't pretend to be anything except a professional sports league.

The bottom line is that fucked-up people are fucked-up people because they were predisposed to being fucked-up people. At every stage in his life, people overlooked Griffin's problems because they had something to gain from his basketball talent. It was only once his talent diminished — or his off-the-court issues made his talent irrelevant — that Griffin was forced to confront his problems and take responsibility for them. That would have happened in college as well; Seton Hall would have covered up things as long as he was useful to the team, and cast him off once he wasn't. Perhaps you believe I'm being unfair to the institution in this case, but I have yet to witness a college basketball team treat players as anything except assets for making money and increasing exposure.

Griffin was doomed from day one, looking back. Perhaps if he had been a gifted student instead of a basketball player, things would have turned out differently. But in the world of sports — high school, college and professional — your only utility to anyone is as a player. Championships are not won by an altruism run-off.

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