It's probably no wonder that some star athletes are growing up to act immature and self-centered on the professional fields, when they are treated like superstars practically from kindergarten.
Who's going to tell a kid they need to be gracious, or humble, or a team player, or to stop showboating, or to concentrate on their studies, when they are being groomed to make millions from the time they are junior high age?
GQ magazine this month features a huge story on Tyger Campbell, the phenom from Cedar Rapids who is expected to be the next big thing in basketball, a sport where children 10 and 11 years old are now being examined by pro scouts, courted by Nike, and offered scholarships to play for the powerhouse colleges.
It's a feeding frenzy out there, fueled by parents, coaches, trainers, managers, camp promoters, rankers, marketers and anyone else who thinks they can make a buck off a kid's sweat.
Aside from perhaps a rare pop music prodigy or child actor, few adolescents are the subjects of dozens of newspaper, magazine, online or TV reports before they've even started high school, and that's probably a good thing.
In addition to being a bit cavalier with their abuse of vowels, the family of young Tyger skipped out of Iowa when he was in seventh grade and 13 years old, in order to get him in a prep academy in Tennessee where middle schoolers can play on high school varsity teams. He already had his first college basketball scholarship offer in his pocket, YouTube videos going viral, and the most prestigious basketball prep "academies" in the country trying to entice him into jumping schools, tuition free.
It's completely ridiculous, of course. Kids are being recruited when they aren't even close to being grown. It's far too early to know what their bodies, minds and skill sets will be like as adults. And more importantly, a greedy sports system is robbing kids of their childhood.
Maybe, just maybe, a kid who is talented in sports may actually want to try something else, too. Will they have an opportunity to experience art, writing, music, a play, or really pursue their studies, when they are basically miniature professional athlete being ferried around the country to leagues and tourneys nearly year-around to maximize their future return in their particular sport?
ESPN this week had a feature on a huge young kid playing football, who had college recruiters chasing him so much that his house was overflowing with boxes of their enticements. When they interviewed the kid, he was clearly feeling motivated not just to get a scholarship, but to earn enough as a pro to support his entire family for the rest of their lives. That's a pretty big burden to bear when you're not old enough to shave.
The GQ article says that some of the prep schools that attract prime athletes have exactly 12 students - a basketball team. It concludes that college is becoming "an obligatory pitstop to satisfy the NBA draft-eligibility requirements," that "high school is the new college and middle school the new high school" when it comes to recruiting athletes.
Our boy Tyger, by all accounts a smart, well-adjusted young man, was 7 years old playing in elementary school games when people started talking about how he was going to be worth millions of dollars. LeBron James' son, and others, have received college offers while in elementary school. Coach K and other leading college basketball coaches have been seen watching future stars when they are still playing in middle school.
What next, scouting day care centers? Recruiting genetically promising specimens based on ultrasound pictures while they are still in the womb?
It's an interesting society we live in - one that worships sports above all else, pays athletes more than any other professions, and overlooks boorish and sometimes even criminal behavior for the sake of winning games.
At various eras in world history, society has prized its scientists, or artists, or composers, or soldiers, or captains of industry, or authors and poets, and made those people its celebrities. Not surprising then, the era that most admires a vocation tends to produce the greatest in that field.
Everybody wants to be a star, and whatever we prize most, we tend to look for in our children and try to foster as they grow. Our heroes now are athletes.
Elsewhere in this issue is a story about two amazing, super-intelligent, caring local students who are looking to go into the medical field. I doubt if their houses are overflowing with huge boxes of free college offers like the 290-pound kid's house is. But who would make a greater difference in the world - a great doctor or medical researcher, or a kid who can tackle or dunk?
Another current trend for young athletes is "classifying up" - jumping forward a grade, which gets them to the big money of pro ball that much sooner. There is nothing about it that has anything to do with education.
Of course parents want their children to have the best chance to succeed in the things they love and are good at, even if it means open enrollment to a new school or traveling teams all summer. OK, if its done in a healthy way and doesn't get in the way of a normal life for a kid.
Unfortunately, a few parents seem out to live their own spoiled sports fantasies vicariously through their children, or are seduced with the potential of riches off them. We've even seen fights between parents of opposing teams in the stands at middle-school level games, or little league parents screaming at officials. And we think kids are the immature ones.
After one year, Tyger and his folks dumped his school and he was moved away to attend an even more basketball-focused prep school, far from his family and friends. He's a one-and-done, in eighth grade.
"It's going from a game to a business," the kid reflects, and that strikes me as sad. "I realize this is going to be my last kid's summer."
Before ever sitting down at a high school desk.
I wonder if it's too late to rename my kids Lyoness and Jagyr. It's a crazy world.