Do Schools Owe It To Former Athletes To Help Them Finish Their Education?

August 30th, 2017 | by Karen Gross
Do Schools Owe It To Former Athletes To Help Them Finish Their Education?
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former athletes

Recently, InsideHigherEd published an article that raised the problem of colleges honoring professional athletes who did not receive their degrees from the institution honoring (or any other institution for that matter).  In other words, why should a college or university honor former athletes who did not succeed at a key goal within the academy: graduation?  The example chosen in the piece is Michael Vick — not exactly an ideal example given his other off-field activities related to animal cruelty.  
 
I think this debate misses the point as framed. I have always thought that professional sports teams and their governing organization owe it to former athletes to help them complete their degrees — after their playing days are over, including making progress while playing and participating in programs in the off-season.

Sound ridiculous? No, it isn’t. And I suspect some players would actually have interest.  And colleges and universities could and should play a role.

For starters, a professional career in some sports is short — under a decade. There is an offseason and there are camps — where there could be intensive courses. And, given that many athletes do not have name recognition, their post athletic life will be impaired by the absence of a degree. And, I know one professional sport that actually was exploring this options.


There are former athletes in many sports who have done just this. Some have gone on to graduate degrees. And, there could be a positive engagement between educators and those in professional sports. Why not create this opportunity? We create health care risks like CTE. Why not create something positive like educational opportunities — and one usually cannot be a coach in college or even high school without a college degree.

So, let’s be creative and think about how to make this kind of education happen. Imagine, even, courses in public speaking and rhetoric? Courses in sports management and psychology of coaching. Imagine courses in leadership, or economics including personal finance, entrepreneurship, and franchising. Picture courses in current events and disaster relief and charitable organizations and fund raisers and other issues with eleemosynary institutions.  Imagine professors going to training sites to teach professional athletes — might be a prized assignment and one for which many would volunteer (me included).

There are possibilities, with a myriad of approaches. Imagine that: Athletes with degrees. For real. Doable.

About Karen Gross
Karen Gross is the former President of Southern Vermont College, an NCAA DIII institution fielding 13 teams. She was the president of the college's Athletic Conference, the NECC. She also served on the NCAA DIII Presidents' Advisory Council. A lawyer by training, she represented an NFL quarterback (decades ago) and is a serious professional and college sports fan. She currently is senior counsel to a crisis management firm in DC where she specializes in education. A Red Sox fan, she knows a lot about losing and winning. Her son, now a professor, is a former NCAA Division I athlete.

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