Pay Collegiate Athletes If It Is Tied To Their Education: Former Black Student-Athlete Turned Physician Weighs In

There is a script I continue to watch unfold: A young African-American male heralded in college as an elite athlete raises large amounts of money for his university. He then leaves this Mt. Olympus-esque world prior to obtaining a degree for the dream of playing in the National Football League. A few years, seasons and many injuries later this same young man is 30 years old, financially unstable with little to count for his past triumphs but some old newspaper clippings, ESPN highlights found on YouTube and unending aches and pains in his joints. I propose that if the NCAA provides financial compensation under a strict framework of academic compliance and encouragement, multiple issues can be resolved. I am a 30-year-old African-American medical school graduate, a current resident physician, and a former division III track and field All-American.

In 2011, I graduated college and returned to my hometown of Washington D.C., while a savior was moving in from Waco, Texas. Robert Griffin III the former Baylor University QB—nicknamed RGIII—had just been drafted #2 overall by the Washington football team. Each Sunday he had the crowd roaring, game after game, night after night, under the lights and loudspeakers. He was the second most popular person in town next to then President Barack Obama. Years later, as RGIII and I—nearly identical in age—look into the future, divergent futures stare back at us as his career lights are dimming while mine are beginning to illuminate.

Recently, California Governor Gavin Newsome signed the Fair Pay to Play Act allowing collegiate players to be financially compensated for name recognition and to hire agents beginning in 2023. If one steps back, this bill can serve as an opportunity to embolden student-athletes to increase their academic focus for a more enriched future. The financial burden for some players and their families is evident and demands consideration. For many of these families, they send their sons to elite football powerhouses with the hope of winning a national title and the goal of one day playing in the National Football League changing their familial financial landscape. The Fair Pay to Play Act or any bill of this magnitude can be utilized to promote academic compliance through financial compensation. Enforcement of class attendance in conjunction with assignment completion would hold these players more accountable. I propose there be an allocated amount of money a player be eligible to receive on a weekly basis. Yet, missed classes or assignments would result in a weekly reduction or removal of the financial stipend. Daily, the notion of a student-athlete loses its values with certain sports as institutions refuse to hold their student-athletes accountable in the classroom as much as the coaches are holding them responsible on the athletic field.

In 2015, according to Tuscaloosa News, Alabama’s football program earned nearly $46.5 million for the school during their 2015 championship season. Shockingly, this number was nearly $7 million less than the year prior. In the same breath, the organization pushing vehemently to deny these young men the chance to profit from their dedication—the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA—averages nearly 1 billion dollars in revenue annually. These earnings come from exposure and marketing derived from competition and winning, from the coaches who recruit the talent, and from the talent who sacrifice their beings and future. Financial compensation based on academic compliance would allow the players to send money home to their families, to save money and most importantly to better invest in their futures through educational attainment.

I can no longer bear to see former student-athletes holding onto memories everyone else has forgotten not daring to dream of more for their futures. Most NFL players have finished their career by age 30 with no college degree, dismantling financial instability and lasting damage to their bodies. This has to change. There needs to be more retired NFL players becoming businessmen, news personalities, and even coaches. A bill of this nature can create this narrative for these current and future young men. The compass needs to be realigned moving from viewing athletics as the highest point of ones life to utilizing sports and academics to more lifelong achievements.

The importance of sports and athletic prowess is not in question but without a push for education, we are the hurt ones—the men of color.

Writing A Personal Statement: Who Are You and Who Do You Want To Be? Tell Me!

Every time I hear someone mention they are lacking a mentor or guidance I cringe. One of the true disadvantages in this world is having no one to call a mentor. Many applications require personal statements and without guidance this part of the process can be very daunting. I hope my personal statement from 2018, below,  for a residency position in a department of anesthesiology might help. Here’s my essay:

My first experience under general anesthesia was terrifying. A whirlwind of emotions taunted me as I laid in the pre-operative suite. On one hand, I was excited to finally get my torn labrum repaired; however, I was anxious about the anesthetic aspect of the operation. The anesthesiologist also recommended a nerve block to help with postoperative pain control. Even as a first-year medical student, attempting to understand lower extremity anatomy and the mechanism underlying local anesthetics was unnerving. Despite feeling unsettled due to my limited knowledge of the procedure, the anesthesiologist gained my trust only after five minutes of interaction. His demeanor, empathetic manner and smile—a very caring one—gave me the desire to pursue a career in anesthesiology. I admired his ability to swiftly ease my fear of receiving general anesthesia. This reminded me of my experience with AmeriCorps (City Year DC) in which I worked countless hours with students on various English and mathematic assignments. During my year-long experience, I helped the students grow more comfortable with their studies, their public speaking and increased their desire to learn. This service year required many hours of multi-tasking, working as a team player, and working well under pressure. These attributes will translate into the field of anesthesiology, allowing me to excel.

I have known for a very long time that I wanted to be a physician, yet I was unsure of which specialty.

Following my surgical clerkship, I began a rotation at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in pediatric anesthesiology. I love children thus I entered this rotation excited for the opportunity to serve this patient population. Small in stature but powerful in their own right, the pediatric patients undergoing surgery left a lasting impression. I realized that caring for the pediatric population is more than an “interaction.” The young boys and girls were scared as they minimally understood their situation except that they were being separated from their parents. The ability for the anesthesiologist to simultaneously calm these patients while placing the parents at ease was nothing short of an art. In a way, the pediatric anesthesiologist is forced to bridge the gap of the health care provider and friend. This evidenced the notion that trust is not earned by who we are but rather by what we do. I watched as Dr. Whitaker sat on a patient’s bed and inquired about the name of the stuffed animal she was cuddling tightly. She did not care too much about Dr. Whitaker’s occupation, but rather her newfound excitement was directed at his most recent question. At that moment–eager to experience that same level of patient interaction one day–I began contemplating a career in pediatric anesthesiology.

The pediatric patients from Nationwide Children’s Hospital shaped my desire to not only serve, but illuminated how a life in service to children is a life worth living. It is incredible to fathom that the face of the anesthesiologist is the last and first person a patient sees before and after a surgical procedure, respectively. Although–quantitatively limited in patient interaction compared to other specialties, from a qualitative standpoint an anesthesiologist’s interaction highlights the importance of compassion and enthusiasm. These are qualities that I possess and will afford me the ability, if given the opportunity, to fully care for my future patients. This specialty will allow me the flexibility to pursue being a highly competent clinical-educator, to conduct minority health disparities research analyzing anesthesia-related outcomes on various ethnic populations and to augment the relationship between anesthesiologists and surgeons to improve the overall patient outcome. Observing Dr. Whitaker and the pediatric patients has shaped my desire to pursue a career in the field of anesthesiology.

 

 

LeBron James is right – the classroom is where the future is, including for athletes. I know. I lived it: Jason L. Campbell (Opinion)

*Published online at Cleveland.com on Dec. 28th, 2017*

PORTLAND — “Nothing is given. Everything is earned” is the motto of NBA icon Lebron James. It’s also a pillar for his newly created I Promise School.

By intertwining a family-first ideology with a rigorous science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum for students in the 1st through 8th grades, the beauty and irony are evident. Someone who has made his entire life putting an orange ball into a hoop understands that a lifetime of success originates inside a classroom — not outside, on a basketball court.

“Nothing is given. Everything is earned in the classroom … first,” might serve as a more accurate descriptor of LeBron’s theory.

As we survey the majority of African-American communities, there lies a common denominator in how society views athletics — as the main mechanism by which blacks rise to success.

In primary schools, a factory-like process is pushed on many young black boys: Perform well on the basketball court in grade school; join an out-of-school team; earn a scholarship or invitation to attend a top athletic preparatory school; become a star recruit at a Division I athletic program; and keep your mind and eyes on the coveted title of “professional athlete.”

As these young boys become young men, there is an industry of coaches and recruiters who look for talent at an early age without valuing the young person themselves.

However, it does not need to be that way. As a young physician and former collegiate student-athlete, I had coaches who instilled values in me and goals on me to succeed in both the athletic and educational realms. If not for them, I would not be where I am today.

These coaches are a rare breed but need to be the common numerator.

The hard truth is that becoming a basketball player in the National Basketball Association is exceedingly difficult, almost like playing lottery odds. In the 2016-2017 school year, according to NCAA.org, there were 550,305 high school participants in men’s basketball, and 18,712 became NCAA participants. Thus, the probability of competing in NCAA collegiate basketball was 3.4 percent for male high school basketball athletes desiring to compete at the next level.

Only 1.2 percent of these NCAA student-athletes make it to the major professional level.

Neither of these aforementioned statistics account for longevity or success as a professional athlete. Suddenly a small fish in a big pond, some players end up in the league even if only for a single game or less. Despite these numbers, families and coaches are emboldened to push their young student-athletes to fight for careers in professional athletics.

However, what happens if we channel the same passion into pushing these young men to concurrently focus on exploiting the educational mission for long-term success?

National studies from 2012 demonstrate that black physicians comprise only 4 percent of active physicians, 6 percent of trainees in graduate medical education and 7 percent of medical school graduates.

If the same fury, encouragement, and will were instilled into young black men in the classrooms, what might be the possibility? Moreover, how much stronger would our entire country be with such a paradigm shift in priorities?

The right direction and guidance — similar excellence and discipline — used to excel at sports can be transitioned into the libraries, research laboratories and clinical rooms where black men are currently sparse. We often see black athletes but, in certain areas of this country, we rarely see black physicians. Pushing oneself to an exemplary level in athletics is nothing short of amazing, but enhancing your knowledge of a certain subject matter is one of the most self-fulfilling achievements in this world.

Lebron James has initiated a conduit for lifelong success for the black community in his hometown of Akron.

He evidences two of the most clichéd sentences in society, and as we know, most clichés ring true:

Home is where the heart is. Classroom is where the success is.

As my 30th birthday approaches, as a young trainee in an anesthesiology residency program, my career is in its infancy. In contrast, for my contemporaries in the world of athletics, most of their careers are in the terminal stages. Excluding environmental occurrences and certain medical conditions that may occur, we all will live at least another 50 years.

In truth, there are many successful athletes, like Lebron James, who have pushed beyond the limited box of athletics, recognizing that the seeds to the future success of the black male are in the classroom and not at the basketball courts or the football fields.

Today we plant the seeds.

And watch them grow.

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Dr. Jason L. Campbell, a native of Washington, D.C., is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine and a former Division III All-American track and field athlete at Emory University. He is currently a physician resident in the Department of Anesthesiology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.