Sunday, 21 February 2010

13 years old is old enough for me

by dannomack

Note: This is about a controversial decision made by USC's football program.  I am aware that the majority of my readers literally care about nothing less than U.S. college football, but the football part of the situation is barely relevant to the entry, so if you have a few minutes, give it a read!

In the world of NCAA football, there is something known as "signing day", where the nation's top high school football players make a decision as to which college football program they will be playing for (and occasionally attending beekeeping classes at).  This year's signing day took place a few days ago, but the biggest news was not the high school seniors who will be playing college football next year, but the 13-year-old middle-school quarterback who will be playing college football in 2015.

The kid's name is David Sills, and is considered to be a youth prospect on the same levels Tiger Woods and Lebron James were at his age.  As should be expected, David Sills and his family are ecstatic to have made this verbal commitment to his favourite college sports team (read more about the facts and David Sills' reaction here: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4891901), even though it's really nothing more than a ceremonial arrangement.  Sills is much too young to sign an official "letter of intent" to attend USC, and would be completely within his rights to change his mind about this verbal agreement at any time.

I hope that has set the scene enough for you about what has been going on.  If not, perform a Google search for " David Sills USC " and read to your little hearts contents, because it's opinion time, cuties.

As one might imagine, whenever someone younger than the mean age of the population achieves a goal that many people have dreamed of but failed to achieve, jealousy kicks in.  This jealousy came out in the form of moral outrage about allowing a 13 year old to commit to a college before even completing the 7th grade.  Some choice opinions from around the web:

*"No matter how you put this together, it's simply another low standard set by Kiffin, which I hope will not begin as a trend in college football." -College Footballogy

*"As for [USC coach Lane Kiffin's] signing. We just shake our collective heads. Yes, the guy will do anything for publicity." -Online Sports Guys

*"a classic example of bad parenting." -Bob Ryan

*"a particularly moronic moment in sports history" -ESPN Los Angeles

*"Why can't they just let him be a kid and grow into the sport? My 12 year old son is a phenomenal soccer player and we wouldn't commit him to Chelsea, Real Madrid, Arsenal or AC Milan at this stage." -Black Political Thought Blog


Yes, perhaps it is too broad of a brush-stroke to say that all of these comments (and the countless others easily available out there on this wonderful thing called the World Wide Web) were fueled by jealousy.  Bob Ryan, for example, has a well-documented history of saying things before truly grasping the situation.  However, I do not feel it is unfair to say that the majority of the outrage from journalists, bloggers, and fans alike comes from jealousy of the fact that his 13-year-old kid has achieved something (his dream) that most people or their children will not achieve until much later in life, if at all.

My favourite quote up there is the last one, where the writer basically says "Yeah, we could totally commit our 12 year old to one of the biggest programs in his favourite sport, but we're going to wait until he is older to do so."  I found it even funnier when I remembered that all of those major European football clubs have youth organisations that recruit kids as young as 9-years-old to become full-time students of the game.  David Beckham, for example, signed a youth contract with Manchester United on his 14th birthday after being scouted and recruited for years prior to that.

However, that's neither here nor there, because pointing things out like...

-Child actors working full-time jobs for millions of dollars (e.g. Tatum O'Neal winning an Oscar at 11 years old)

-Children attaining scholarships to, and graduating from, Universities based on their academic prodigy-status (e.g. Michael Kearney graduating college at the age of 10 years old)

-Children becoming world-renowned pop stars at young ages (e.g. Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5)


...would likely only lead people to condemn children succeeding in any walk of life, so I won't follow that line of thought any further.  Much of the sentiment I have been reading on the ESPN.com discussion boards (linked at the bottom of the ESPN article above) is that the parents are doing the child a disservice by allowing him to pursue such lofty goals so early on in life.  People claim that - at his age - football should be nothing more than a schoolyard diversion, not a life plan.  Which, of course, is complete bullshit.

If a 13-year-old shows enough mental and physical prowess that one of the biggest football programs in the country wants him to play for them in 5 years, then that should be a sign to the rest of us that this is no normal kid.  He has a gift (I don't necessarily believe that it is God-given or inherent in him, but if nothing else he has been given a gift by the expensive coaching his father has bought for him), and he should be allowed to use that gift to his own ends.  At 13 years old, this kid has gotten his name into the psyche of the college football world, so that even if the deal with USC falls through, he is very likely going to get a free ride to a college somewhere to play ball.

His future is secured, because at the very least he is going to come out of this in ten years with a fully-paid college degree, and at most a spot on an NFL roster.  How can anyone hate a kid for using the talents of an older person in the way an older person would.  I know it stings when you see someone much younger than you succeeding in a field you always wished you could break into.  It makes you feel old, it makes you feel like a failure, and the first reaction of many in that case is to lash-out.  But the kid is good at football, and criticising him for that just makes you a big ol' bully.