There’s been a lot of talk , at least in Red Wings circles about Dan DeKeyser lately. For those of you who don’t have a pulse on potential signings on a team you don’t care about, allow me to bring you up to speed. DeKeyser is close to completing his junior year at Western Michigan. He’s 23 years old, 6’3”, 200 lbs, and a left-handed shot. He’s undrafted, currently fielding offers from various teams, and word on the street is he may announce an intention to go pro, and play immediately for which ever team he ends up signing. Opinions vary from this being a must-sign prospect for Detroit (thanks Graham and WIIM!) to not being that big of a deal, although to be fair that’s pretty much one guy. (Looking at you, Greg who gallops.)
The talk surrounding the undrafted college athlete got me thinking, about Dekeyser and college athletes in general. I hope he ends up going to Detroit, but regardless of where he ends up signing, I don’t want him to play this year. Or in the 2013-14 season. It is my opinion that athletes joining the NHL, or any professional sports league, should be required to have a bachelor’s degree.
It isn’t a popular opinion but there’s plenty of reason why it should be in place . It doesn’t have to be a concrete rule, I’m sure there’d be exceptions here and there. But it’s a rule that should be there for the sake of the player. My high school football team’s assistant coach is a prime example of what can go wrong with young athletes. He was a star football prospect, went to the University of South Carolina and had his knee annihilated on a punt return his freshman year. Annihilated to the point where he would have difficulty walking the rest of his life, much less playing a sport. This wasn’t a collective build up of injuries from years upon years of playing; this was one play and one injury.
Coach Robinson never talked much about the importance of a college education, seeing as he was doing ok as an assistant coach at our school and some other day job I don’t quite remember. But with all the freak injuries we see in the sport of hockey, I think we all know each player walks a thin line. From Patrice Bergeron to Chris Pronger to Taylor Fedun’s broken femur to Blake Geoffrion’s skull fracture, and Chris Moore’s broken neck. I don’t think you can argue that each player is one shift, one play away from having his career ended.
So what does that leave a player with? A broken body, maybe some money in the bank if he stashed it away, a sham of an education and no marketable skills because he’s been playing hockey his whole life. Hopefully he doesn’t have a family depending on him, because that’s tough enough for a single man to deal with. Maybe a few will make the jump to broadcasting or coaching but those players are few and far between, not to mention the demand for new broadcasters and coaches isn’t always that high.
A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessarily the solution to all of this. I for one can speak to this , as I’m about to finish my bachelor’s degree (of science no less!) and it hardly guarantees a good job on a livable wage. However, a bachelor’s degree at least gives this person something to build off of, or a starting point to a new career for a life after hockey.
I can’t really blame the athlete in this scenario. Well, I could. It’s his life, he should be the one looking out for himself and his mother isn’t around for contract negotiations (Probably). But I can understand how it would be easy to get caught up in the opportunity to make millions of dollars playing your game on the highest level there is, the spotlights, the journalists writing about how great you are, the fans, etc. This is why I feel like the responsibility should be on GMs, teams or leagues to make a degree a requirement for playing in the league (grandfathering it in, of course).
It’s also worth mentioning that the athlete who goes his whole career without a traumatic injury is hardly immune from being in a much better situation with a bachelor’s degree once he’s done playing. There’s an ESPN 30 for 30 film called Broke that does an excellent job illustrating this (and it’s on Netflix!). Seemingly countless athletes makes more money than my entire family has seen in it’s life over the span of ten years, give or take, and they retire from the game and end up in the same situation as an injured athlete. A broken body, maybe some money in the bank if he stashed it away, a sham of an education and no marketable skills because he’s been playing a game his whole life. Many will point out that it’s hard to have sympathy for someone who catches a ball for a living and makes millions of dollars, but between bad investments, family members to support and trying to live like a king, it’s easy to see why so many athletes end up going broke instead of investing their salaries and earning 2.75% in an IRA or something else practical.
Hockey enjoys a reputation of being the only sport where the owners go to jail more often than the players, but it isn’t immune from this problem that plagues other sports leagues. Sure there’s Steve Yzerman who slides right into being a general manager. But there’s also Darren McCarty who goes bankrupt before he’s even done playing. Yeah, Mario Lemuix probably has no problem putting food on the table given that he now owns the team he played for. But there’s Jaromir Jagr and his multi-million dollar tax lean that he’s still probably paying off.
Again, having a degree wouldn’t make these problems go away. It does nothing for a player who doesn’t plan for the future appropriately and it doesn’t protect against poor decision making over the course of one’s career. But it gives that player something to build off of. And if this player does all these great things to entertain us for a decade and a half or so, don’t we want the best for him once he’s ready to hang up the skates? In a world where a Bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming the equivalent of a high school diploma in our parent’s generation, a degree should be the bare minimum requirement, not the rare exception for the athlete that decided to finish.
So by all means, god’s speed to you Mr. DeKeyser. Please sign in Detroit and help shore up that blue line, you know the team needs it! But do it in a couple years after you have your degree and dazzle us then, not now.
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