Just because a student-athlete may look and play like a grown man, doesn’t mean sports media should judge his actions as such. Fact is, they reside in a social and academic realm uniquely designed to afford, 17-22 year olds mostly, space and opportunity to mature. How then, as seasoned adults, is it plausible or beneficial to stigmatize said individuals when they don’t behave or perform in the fashion suitable of our traditional expectations?
Such was the case earlier this week when Duke true-freshman phenom, Jalen Johnson, abruptly elected to opt-out of the remainder of this historically disappointing season for the Blue Devils, with just under three weeks left to play, to prepare for the NBA Draft. As the news broke and throughout the days that followed, I watched and listened as grown ass people in our business condemned the young man, essentially vilifying Jalen for “quitting” as they called it. Does this student-athlete deserve to be type casted with a negative connotation for doing what he feels is best for himself and his future? I’d like to think obviously not, yet apparently many of our peers in the industry would disagree.
To compound matters, I observed several analysts and commentators attempt to validate their misguided response by criticizing aspects of the 19 year old’s educational background and family support system. What does attending three different high schools have to do with a boy’s character or integrity? Do we ever really know the true circumstances behind someone’s story?
Hell, I attended three different high schools in two different states! Trust me, there are likely all types of factors my fellow talking heads haven’t considered. Where is the compassion here? How about some empathy?
Each of you are obviously entitled to voice your own opinion on the matter. I by no means am attempting to tell you what to think or feel, necessarily. I simply ask what good does it yield anyone (i.e. fans, college hoops culture, Duke, or Jalen and his camp) to label him a “quitter,” other than to satisfy selfish motivations maybe?
We have been blessed with a microphone, camera, or some other platform to share our views and opinions, yes. However, occasionally our beliefs can come off as condescending and antiquated to the younger generations. The world for these young people is not surprisingly very different than that of the ol’ school landscape most of us were nurtured in. The majority of today’s youth don’t possess the comparable work ethic, patience, and discipline we were taught, because that hasn’t been their reality. As adults and parents, we created the “microwave society” or “independent culture” they are being raised in. How then can we simultaneously scrutinize its byproduct…their attitude in decision-making?
I do not know Jalen Johnson personally, nor his “true” motivations for opting-out. And no, I don’t believe I would’ve made the same decision, although that’s difficult to say without knowing all the specifics in-play. Which is why I chose to support and applaud his action throughout our radio broadcasts this week. The student-athletes’ desires and well-being mean more to me than another potential NCAA Tournament appearance for the iconic Duke program. That’s why I believe I was led to this position. It is a daily opportunity to not only entertain and inform, but to also inspire, encourage, and empathize.
Perhaps we have a responsibility here, to not merely consider Jalen Johnson’s reputation and NBA Draft profile, but to also to be sensitive to the namesake of him and his family, along with his mental wellness as a 19 year old. Ask yourself how you would feel about some bloviating broadcaster typecasting your child or nephew through the media without possessing all the pertinent intel that went into the decision?
Jalen may grow to regret his decision, as he may grow to resent us as the sports media. How then is it profitable to continuously refer to him as a “quitter;” especially knowing full well the relationships, jobs, and various other opportunities we’ve intentionally aborted on along the way for our own satisfaction? Feel as you will on the matter. That said, I imagine Jalen, and many others like him, would tell some of us to grow up.