07.26.05

Paging Jermaine O’Neal : Araton On Clemens’ Kin

Posted in Baseball at 8:50 am by

Koby Clemens recently bailed on a University of Texas baseball scholarship in favor of signing a minor league deal with the Houston Astrons. Where, wonders the NY Times’ Harvey Araton, is the medica outcry?

Given a choice between making a three-year commitment to playing for the 2005 N.C.A.A. champion or stepping right into the family baseball business, Koby Clemens deliberated for about as long as it takes his father to deliver a split-finger fastball, and turned professional.

He declared himself a full-time third baseman and signed earlier this month for a bonus of $380,000 – money that the son of a multimillionaire who drove to Houston’s Memorial High School in a Hummer surely didn’t need. And no one in the greater sports public seemed particularly troubled by this acceleration of material gain the way so many seemed to be when the high-risk driver in the Hummer a couple of years ago was LeBron James.

No one denounced Koby Clemens’s outright rejection of a priceless education, his passing on the social benefits of dormitory life.

Even Tommy Harmon, the jilted Texas recruiter, viewed the decision as the comprehensible way of the world. “Some kids don’t want to go to school, and that’s fine,” Harmon said. “School’s not for everyone.”

Except, apparently, for young American basketball players, most of them black, who for years have reluctantly found themselves in the middle of a college debate rife with sanctimony, with paternalistic double standards too often predicated on race. And who, just last month, were bartered back into the N.C.A.A.’s clutches for at least one year, the result of a collective bargaining agreement between the N.B.A. and its players union.

What should be a fundamental right to earn at 18 has been denied players whose families have more urgent financial needs than the Clemens clan. Meanwhile, the flow of freshman talent will be preserved for those titans of American education, the big-time college coaches.

Through the years, it has been fascinating and exasperating to see how many in my business who profess to know what’s best for the development of young African-American basketball stars can’t wait to sing the praises of Michelle Wie. Twenty minutes after the N.H.L. declared itself open for business, the drumbeat began for Sidney Crosby as the next Gretzky, a player said to be so talent-endowed that he’ll make hockey’s jilted fans forget the mother of all sports labor disputes.

Crosby has not yet turned 18, and I wonder why no North American critic has been heard to complain that Crosby – already signed by some of the leading corporate body snatchers to lucrative endorsement deals – would be better off maturing and honing his skills at a major college program, far away from the diverse pressures of the pros?

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