Suppose you had a son, a fine writer who had brought national recognition to his college newspaper and a scholarship to himself. Suppose that in his junior year, a big-city newspaper offered him a reporter's job with a three- year guarantee at an unheard-of salary.
Would you accuse his college of having unfairly exploited his writing talents, even if he had been allowed to fill his schedule with easy courses in order to maintain his extracurricular activity?
Would you charge the college with having turned the kid into a "slave" if, on the strength of the paper's success, the university had been able to put on a series of lucrative journalism workshops?
Would you advise him to turn down the offer of a professional newspaper job?
We both know the answer to all these questions. We would count it a plus that his well-developed gifts gave him a free education (or as much education as he wanted) at the university of his choice. We would boast that it was his journalistic excellence that brought honor to his school. And we would not think a second time before urging him, begging him, to hire on with the newspaper. After all, we'd say, the reason he was in college to start with was to prepare himself for a decent career in the field of his choosing.
So why all the fulmination about Herschel Walker taking the chance to make himself a cool $5 million by doing for pay what he'd been doing (presumably) for free for three years?
Well, maybe it isn't about Walker per se but about all the other young men who will be tempted to quit college to turn pro. If they then get cut by the pro teams that draft them, they will be in a real pickle: neither college graduate nor pro athlete.
Nice point. But those who finish out their college eligibility frequently wind up in precisely the same pickle. Jesse Jackson says the University of Georgia has graduated only six of approximately 80 black athletes since it started recruiting them in 1971. Georgia's football coach and athletic director disputes Jackson's numbers, saying he has counted "three times that many" black graduates--still not a particularly impressive number.
Nor a particularly unusual one. Of all the players, white and black, in the National Football League, only 29 percent graduated from college. Until they start showing some concern for the student athletes who complete their college eligibility and still fail to graduate, I refuse to take seriously those who are shedding such copious tears over Herschel Walker.
It is interesting that the rule the fledgling U.S. Football League broke by recruiting the Georgia running back does not exist in the National Basketball Association, which routinely drafts underclassmen who go "hardship," a euphemism that permits them to turn professional. What, then, of the complaint that the Walker affair, if it succeeds in destroying the agreement that prevents football players from turning pro before their classes have graduated, will do serious damage to college football?
If NBA teams can draft "hardship" collegians off teams with only a dozen or so players without ruining college basketball, how would the drafting of an occasional underclass football star of a team of 60 or more players ruin college football?
One last question: why did the National Collegiate Athletic Association ever adopt that foolish rule that even negotiating with a professional team destroys a collegian's eligibility? Your son the college journalist wouldn't have to quit his school newspaper because he negotiated with an editor of The Washington Post. The same thing ought to apply to Mrs. Walker's son the college athlete, who would get the same advice from me: take the money and run.