Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 2003 / 7 Kislev 5764
Will Nike Soon Be Scouting In Elementary School? In Utero?
Recently, fourteen year old soccer phenom, Freddy Adu, was signed to a multi-million dollar contract with the Major League Soccer's D.C. United. Nike actually made him a very wealthy man, er um, boy at the age of thirteen, signing him to an endorsement deal. Adu joins the Cleveland Cavalier's recent high school graduate and NBA face of tomorrow, today, Lebron James in forcing professional sports to now adhere to child labor laws in dealing with players.
This youthing down in sports is not exactly new as there has been teeny-bopper professionals for quite some time....In 1887 14-year-old Fred Chapman played professional baseball in Philadelphia. Gymnastics throws females out of the game before they hit puberty.
Prodigies in the entertainment business have gone on long before Michael Jackson began scouting them; Shirley Temple, The Little Rascals and...Michael Jackson.
Certainly the parents of these vunderkind have made out beautifully. Just check out Mrs. James new digs. But with the upside comes the downside of growing up too soon. Ask our own direct out of high school superguy, Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, or as he's known in Colorado....the defendant.
There have been way more flops than fortunes made come from these early entries into professional sports and with the carrot of fame and Hummer sports cars for kids and their parents and dreams of championships and franchising gold awaiting the teams, it could get much worse.
The sports biz might soon see high school blood as old school. That those with super genes in K through 12 are already on everyone's radar screen. They'll be forced to dig deeper. Binoculars will be scouring the pre-school playgrounds. In fact, forget about looking in schools, that too will soon be considered that too late to get first dibs on some of the budding greats. Soon they'll be looking in utero. While mom is in the birthing room, pushing and cursing out dad, I'd be particularly wary of any strangers who appear with pen and contract in hand cheering on the crowning, not of the baby's head, but of the next Wimbledon champion
But why stop there? Don't be surprised if professional teams start sending their scouts into singles clubs, plying potential superstar parents with liquor in hopes of creating the right carnal climate for phenom conception.
And if it works with sports and entertainment are we missing the boat in not changing our attitude toward other professions?
How soon before we begin looking for the kid on the playground who's the best fibber (or bodybuilder) and groom him for politics? Or find the biggest ego in kindergarten and start developing the next talk show host? Or determine the least interested in learning anything and start cultivating the next big TV sitcom writer?
But can we as parents, glom any lessons from the early professional signings of Adu, James and any other adolescents? The answer is yes. While it may rob our children of their youth, it can provide a splendid livelihood for we parents. So, Casey, Kelly get your noses out of those books and get into the gym. Adidas is at the door.
JWR contributor Steve Young, Prism Award winner and Humanitas Prize nominee for his
television writing, is film
correspondent for BBC radio.
He is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and
Other Stepping Stones to Success," "The 130 Tales of Winchell Mink," Harper Collins (Winter, 2003) and the director/writer of "My Dinner With Ovitz."
His website is www.greatfailure.com.
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© 2002, Steve Young