They Are Just Kids

Games People Play

I always thought it would be fun to be a "real" basketball player. No, really, I did. Leaping through the air. Slam-dunking the ball. Making three-pointers. Getting TV coverage. Hey, it looked great to me.

But, I'm 5'5", female and can't dribble, so I knew early on that the pros were out. However, I kept watching basketball and wishing I was on the screen instead of in front of it. And I kept getting amazed by those I was watching.

Until the spring of last year, that is, when I was struggling with freshman life in general. While I was watching March Madness on CBS, a picture of the Michigan team came on. The announcer was touting the Fab 5, the hotshot Michigan starters.

They were cool. They were good. They were about to play Duke in the NCAA finals in front of millions of people, with prospective professional careers, prestige and alumni donations riding on the game.

And, as every branch of the media kept telling me, they were exactly my age.


Suddenly, I was very glad that the most important thing riding on my personal performace was a music paper.

It was a weird experience. I had been following college sports for years. I live in Memphis, which has no pro sports teams--the closest thing is a Class AAA baseball team.

However, Memphis does have the Memphis State Tigers sports program. Every fall brings Tiger football. Every winter brings Tiger basketball. Every spring brings indictments--well, not for the past few years. But virtually the entire city watches the games, argues about strategies and, to some degree, makes fools of themselves in the process. It's worse than that. When you live in the South, college football is a religion. My father took me to my first football game when I was six, and then several others in the years after that. I think I learned to root for his alma mater, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), just after I learned to talk.

And he's one of the restrained ones.

So, for years I agonized when my teams lost and gloated when they won. I yelled at and cheered for players. I watched in awe as big quarterbacks and tall centers squinted at press cameras.

Until I got to college myself. I had expected to feel older, wiser, collegiate--instead, I felt confused. Those college players seemed less like super-humans and more like me.

Harvard is spared much of the reality of college sports today. The Game makes headlines, but Las Vegas bookies couldn't care less about Crimson athletes. We don't have the cameras, the future Celtics, the national attention.

But, like it or not, we're the same age as most of those college players who do. Think your life is tough? Think you can't handle school and activities? Think everyone's depending on you?

Just imagine being on a nationally-watched team, with students, coaches and crazed alumni yelling at you. Imagine having your school's national ranking, reputation and donations depending on your kicking ability or jump shot.

And then try to take it all a little less seriously.

I'm not trying to preach. Hey, I was glued to the TV myself this week during the Duke-Michigan game.

But, over the last few years college sports has become a multi-million dollar business, with large television contracts and endorsement deals for coaches. And a lot of corruption. Good players are offered money, favors and anything they want if they can just play the game.

Even in legal situations, players are thrust into the national spotlight and dissected in sports pages coast to coast in the morning. Somewhere along the line, the fact that these athletes are kids, not adults, seems to have been forgotten.

In a few weeks, college sports will hit its peak. Hockey will be grabbing attention and basketball even more.

And football. If you think your town gets crazy over college bowls, come to the South during Christmas. It's quite a sight to see. For over a week, a good part of national attention will focus on college rankings. Who won the Rose Bowl? What's the point spread on the Sugar Bowl? And who, damn it, is really No. 1?

I'm not asking for an end to parades and sports fanatacism. I am asking for a little sensibility and maybe even some compassion.

Before you scream at the guy on "your" team who just missed the game-winning kick, remember that he isn't a hero--he's just another college student. And there, but for height, aim or the grace of God, could go you.

Marion B. Gammill is a Crimson staff writer.

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