Props to 'Dropout' Jeremy Tyler
The newest report from America's Promise found that nearly half (47 percent) of all young people in the nation's 50 largest cities are not graduating from high school on time and that many of those aren't graduating at all, hence, becoming dropouts.
It is a problem because, the report reminded, the median income for high school dropouts is $14,000, which is significantly lower than the median income for high school graduates ($24,000) and for college graduates ($48,000). More troubling, the report pointed out, high school dropouts were the only workers who saw their income levels decline over the last 30 years.
But if you didn't comb through your newspaper, or maybe watch C-SPAN, you probably didn't notice this report on our national epidemic. Chances are, however, that you did hear of our newest dropout, a high school junior named Jeremy Tyler, who really isn't part of this problem at all. His story was everywhere, starting in The New York Times, which teased it on its front page.
This is how out of whack our concerns are in this country: Over a million kids drop out of school each year and start walking the economic road to nowhere and we don't so much as pay attention, but we can't find enough towels to soak up our collective lather over Tyler, a 17-year-old, 6-foot-11 basketball prodigy equipped with physical gifts to earn gobs of money, who revealed Wednesday -- the same day the report from America's Promise came out -- that he intended to walk away from high school as a junior to hone his skills for pay overseas.
If only the kids who drop out of high school unequipped to prosper, and maybe not even survive, got as much attention as Tyler, maybe we would be solving this national dropout problem. But they don't get the publicity or our worry. Tyler doesn't need it either. Tyler won't be among the dropouts who account for 13 percent of our adult population while earning less than six percent of all dollars in the country.
To be sure, the basketball talent broker Sonny Vaccaro told the Times that Tyler stood to make a six-figure salary playing basketball in Europe next season. Vaccaro helped a high school senior last year, Brandon Jennings, cut a deal to play in Europe this season for a reported $1.2 million in salary and endorsements rather than play for room, board, books and tuition at some sweatshop here known as a college basketball team, for a coach stuffing a couple million bucks in his pocket for his troubles. That's how ridiculous major college athletics has become. It makes you wonder how a college coach like USC football boss Pete Carroll could gather the audacity to criticize his last quarterback, Mark Sanchez, for not hanging around campus for a fifth year and play for a multimillionaire coach rather than play for his own millions in the NFL. That is the height of disingenuousness.
The only thing that challenges such absurdity would be Tyler playing college basketball for one year -- pretending to be a college student and soaking up a scholarship from some lesser talent who could really use it -- before turning pro.
It would be nice, of course, if Tyler and Jennings could just ply their trade in the NBA without having to stop at college first, or now go overseas, but the NBA's commissioner, owners and current players -- who are fearful of their jobs -- colluded to keep kids from jumping from their high school proms to NBA paydays.
As a result, we look at Tyler and wonder if he is doing the right thing rather than look at the builders of this pro basketball structure and wonder if they've done the wrong thing, which they have.
Professional basketball is an oxymoron. You don't have to be licensed to play it. We're not talking about neurosurgery and contract law. We're talking about shooting, rebounding and dribbling.
If Tyler is good enough at basketball to get someone to pay him a fat salary to do so, he should be able to do so right here in the U.S. of A. If he came up with a cure for cancer while in high school would we refuse to recognize it simply because he hasn't sported a mortarboard?
Tyler is doing the right thing. A pro athletic career has a shelf life. The faster he -- or anyone like him -- can start tapping it, the better off he will be. Doing so for relative slave wages in a major college program shouldn't be the only option. It isn't for prodigious tennis players. It isn't for prodigious soccer players. It shouldn't be for Jeremy Tyler or Brandon Jennings or any teenage talents like them to follow.
"In order to continue to move forward and make the U.S. competitive in today's global economy," Gen. Powell's wife, Alma, who chairs America's Promise, declared Wednesday, "we must work together like never before to provide the supports that young people need in order to graduate high school ready for college, work and life."
Tyler is an exception who has the opportunity to move ahead of that game, and he can always finish his high school studies and even go to college. In fact, more and more pro athletes are doing just that. They wind up being anything but dropouts.