The image was taken shortly after Young won the NCAA championship for the Texas Longhorns, the institution that has made billions on the backs of unpaid black athletes. On the cover of the magazine were the words “I was born to play football at The University of Texas.”
When I saw the quote on that cover, that’s when I knew Young was doomed.
Since that time, Vincent Young has been cut from the Buffalo Bills, possibly ending his NFL career. He became depressed and suicidal a few years ago after losing his starting spot with the Tennessee Titans. He has also gotten some attention for blowing $30 million dollars in six years by “making it rain” at the club and reportedly spending $5,000 per week at The Cheesecake Factory.
Young isn’t the first, or the last, professional athlete to blow through money like he didn’t want it. Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and Allen Iverson are some other recent examples, as we get to watch our nation’s gladiators melt down into little punks as they cry about the fact that they’ve lost it all.
The reason that I felt sorry for Vince when I saw that magazine cover is that I realized that this was a man who has shaped his entire identity around sports. He sees no other value that he can add to humanity that goes beyond throwing a football to entertain white people. There is a good chance that education has fallen on the backburner, and there is also a chance that he’s engaged in the other destructive habits that can pollute the life of an athlete: sexual promiscuity, excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol, financial irresponsibility and other poor life choices.
Then, years after that athlete sits at the top of the world, he finds his life and his soul in the pits of hell. This is the story that can sometimes be told before it even happens, and I only hope that one day, we can learn from the mistakes of others.
The fact is that it’s easier to become a surgeon than to become a professional football player. It’s easier to become a high paid attorney than a rap star. A person has a much easier path to wealth by being a business owner than by trying to get into the NBA. Also, without education, you’re lost. The wealthy athlete who can barely read is sure to be ripped off by his Harvard-educated business manager, who can replace him with another kid from the ghetto next year.
By not thinking about his life and choices off the field, Vince Young has created a life full of regrets. He, like so many other athletes, signed up for a life of slavery and an existence that makes him only a shadow of the man that he could have been. Any black man who walks away from education and the ability to engage in leadership and critical thinking makes himself as worthless as the crack head on the corner, in large part because he is choosing to destroy himself and neglect his community by not using his powerful platform for a productive purpose. There was a time when athletes prided themselves in being leaders of the community, but now, too many athletes are too busy Buck-dancing for a chance to get a Reebok commercial.
I love my brothers and I love sports, but we should all decide that we hate the embracing of ignorance. It’s time to make a change.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He also appears in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.