By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

You know, this column was going to be about the absurdity of NCAA rules that prevent Reggie Bush's family from benefiting from the Heisman Trophy winner's fame, production and pro potential but allow Pete Carroll and USC to earn millions.

Yeah, on the surface, it seems irrational that Bush's college accomplishments could be in jeopardy because his mama, lil' brother and stepdaddy lived in a 3,000-square foot home owned by a man who wanted to represent Bush.

Who, more than Bush's family, deserves to reap the rewards of Reggie's physical gifts? And why should Bush's family have to wait until NFL rules allow Reggie to turn pro to wet their beaks?

Yes, this current controversy had all the makings of quite a fine column decrying NCAA exploitation and, in my opinion, unconstitutional NFL rules. I mean, seriously, is it just a coincidence that the NBA and NFL -- leagues dominated by African-American athletes -- have eligibility rules that protect and benefit the NCAA while fairer-skinned sports such as baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, hide-'n'-seek and poker aren't as strict?

But you know what?

While there's truth in all those arguments, there's also a greater truth, one that trumps any possible exploitation and racism.

For the overwhelming majority of athletes -- black, white and brown -- the NCAA, NFL and NBA's rules are in their best interest. It wasn't that long ago that black people risked and sacrificed their lives for the opportunity to attend America's finest and best-financed institutions of higher learning.

Believe it or not, the civil-rights movement had nothing to do with professional sports. Long before Rosa Parks, and even before Jackie Robinson, the musician/field hand Fiddler earned black folk the right to entertain large throngs of white folk. Obviously, Reggie Bush will earn more with a football than Lou Gossett Jr.'s character earned with a fiddle, but my point remains relevant.

Rules that attempt to force athletes, particularly black athletes, to embrace education rather than short-term financial gains supersede rules that prevent a small number of athletes from pursuing a professional career and profiting from their college fame.

I admit the NCAA pays its football and basketball players in a currency -- education -- that many athletes don't respect or value, and that lack of respect creates much of the corruption and hypocrisy that plagues the NCAA. I've argued in the past that the best way to end some of the corruption would be to give football and basketball players the option of taking money or an academic scholarship for their services as entertainers for students, faculty, alums and fans.

Free Reggie Bush to just play football and feed his family any legal way he pleases. Every military-age man deserves that right.

But shed no tears for Reggie Bush and his family. He knew the NCAA's rules when he signed a national letter of intent with USC. Plus, thanks to the training he received at SC, he'll soon be drafted by the Houston Texans and receive a signing bonus in excess of $20 million. Rather than "lease" a $750,000 home from a shady character, Bush's family could've easily spent one more year living within their means and saved Reggie any potential embarrassment.

There was a time when families made all sorts of difficult sacrifices for their children.

Yeah, if you wanna cry, cry for the black children and the parents of the black children who have foolishly bought into the myth that the best way out of poverty is through athletics or entertainment but not education. It seems like everybody wants to be Reggie Bush or 50 Cent. Fiddler was way ahead of his time.

It's not an exaggeration. In Kansas City, I'm the spokesman for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring organization for youth primarily from single-parent families. Just last week I participated in a conversation about the high percentage of kids and parents who were dreaming the impossible dream.

I don't want to sell the impossible dream, and by beating up the NCAA for paying with education rather than money, I feel I'd be selling the notion that all black youth would be best served exchanging their physical gifts for financial rewards rather than mental rewards. And that's just not true.

Ninety-five percent of all college football and basketball players would be best served demanding improved academic opportunity and more academic support. USC did not exploit Reggie Bush. And the rules prohibiting athletes from declaring for the NFL draft whenever they want are in no way inhibiting black progress.

The culture that allows black children to turn their backs on opportunities won by death and chase fool's gold is the real killer.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. His newspaper is celebrating his 10 years as a columnist with the publishing of Jason's first book, "Love Him, Hate Him: 10 Years of Sports, Passion and Kansas City." It's a collection of Jason's most memorable, thought-provoking and funny columns over the past decade. You can purchase the book at TheKansasCityStore.com. Jason can be reached by e-mail at ballstate68@aol.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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