Wednesday, January 17, 2007 Updated: January 18, 12:41 PM ET
D-I can be a dangerous place
By Jeff Pearlman Special to Page 2
When my son Emmett was born three months ago, all the members of my family felt the need to offer up their best wishes.
"May he grow up to be incredibly smart!" proclaimed Leah, my sister-in-law.
"May he grow up with wisdom beyond his years!" uttered Marty, my uncle.
"May he grow up with the strongest of values!" said my aunt Nancy.
"May he "
I do not want smarts. I do not want wisdom. I do not want values.
I want athleticism, damn it. Pure, unparalleled athleticism.
I want Emmett Pearlman to run like Emmitt Smith; to throw like Dave Winfield; to battle like Ray Leonard and to snarl like Ray Lewis. I want him to become a mean, lean sports machine -- the merger of Mike Tyson's anger, Bob Gibson's intensity, Ken Griffey's instincts, Renaldo Nehemiah's burst and Bobby Orr's dependability.
I want him to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated beneath the headlines BEST SCHOOLBOY ATHLETE EVER and WHERE WILL HE PLAY COLLEGE BALL? I want every Division I coach to knock on my door -- desperate for the services of the one they call, simply, God.
And then, on signing day, when the nation comes to a halt, I want my boy to stare down a letter of intent, pick the paper up, tear it to pieces and make the following announcement: "I have decided to forgo college to pursue my dream of working as a clerk at the Hampton Inn in Palm Beach Gardens."
I am not joking. If Emmett and my 3-year-old daughter Casey become Division I scholarship athletes, they are banned from my house for life. Become the first Jewish skinheads, follow Sri Chinmoy, melt pingpong balls and snort them -- I don't care. But never go Division I.
Doesn't this picture make you want to ... oh, never mind.
Do I hate collegiate sports? Of course not. But do I want my kids to fall under the spells of the hacks, morons and evildoers who call themselves big-time Division I coaches? No way. Heck, just take a look around. In Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama's deep-pocketed boosters decided Mike Shula -- a leader with (gasp!) decency who (gasp!) demands academic standards and (gasp!) cares about his players -- should be fired one year after finishing 10-2 and winning the Cotton Bowl. And in his place comes Nick Saban, aka Liar from Hell. Once upon a time, Bear Bryant preached integrity. Now standing on his sideline will be a man who insisted he would remain with the Miami Dolphins, then -- oops -- digested the dollar signs. When Saban said, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach," perhaps he meant to add, "in the year 6574."
Or, more likely, he was just full of crap.
Alas, Saban is no lone wolf. The college ranks are chock full o' coaches allergic to good character. Perhaps my boy will be recruited by Kansas State, whose new men's basketball coach, Bob Huggins, never met a graduation rate he couldn't lower. Perhaps he will go to Maryland and play hoops for Gary Williams, who once offered a scholarship to an orthodox Jewish kid named Tamir Goodman. Williams all but rearranged the Terps' schedule to adjust to Goodman's religious beliefs, then discovered Goodman wasn't very, ahem, good. Scholarship revoked. See ya, kid. (This was not all that different from the stunt Rick Pitino once pulled at Kentucky, when he ordered an upperclassman forward named Roderick Rhodes to beat it when it was determined the Wildcats no longer needed his services. Rhodes: "But coach, what about my future?" Pitino: "Here's a broom.")
Who knows? Perhaps Emmett will go to Texas Tech -- aw, hell. That one is just too easy.
Of late, my personal favorite is Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, a vile ogre who has as much business molding young men as I do breeding llamas. The examples of Calhoun's thuggish, boorish behavior are too numerous to count, but here's a new one. While answering a seemingly benign postgame question from Brett Orzechowski of the New Haven Register, Calhoun went off on rant No. 12,371. "You don't write columns. You write [crap]," he snapped. "You want to start with me? You'll lose. The next phone call won't be answered. You want to start all that stuff? See how well it works for you. I'm not upset because we lost. I'm upset because you're a smartass."
Big deal, you say? What's so terrible, you ask? Here's what's so terrible. Universities are, at their core, places for deeper thought and higher learning. Youngsters are supposed to enter as sponges and leave as leaders. They are supposed to hear the right messages from the right people; learn about what is just and right and appropriate in the world.
That's why I'm so thrilled for Emmett.
The Hampton Inn has a killer breakfast buffet.
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds & the Making of an Antihero."