“It’s all about the U”. Growing up in South Florida I heard this chant all the time, especially between the months of August and January. For those of you who don’t speak “college football”, the “U” is a reference to the University of Miami. During the late 80’s, early 90’s, and early 2000’s they were a college football dynasty. As a kid, I vividly recall listening to Trick Daddy’s “Take It To Da House” while watching Edgerrin James run down the sidelines for one of his many touchdowns as a Hurricane. University of Miami football was not just a powerhouse program, it was the epicenter of my universe during my middle school years.
During my little league football days I dreamt of suiting up in the orange and green and breaking every NCAA rushing record. I eventually grew up and realized that God had called me to do other things, but my love for that program never waned. A few weeks ago I watched Billy Corben’s documentary the “U” on Espn. Corben, a Miami filmmaker, had already won many awards for his documentary “Cocaine Cowboys”- a film about how the cocaine trade changed the culture of South Florida. Not only was I pumped to see a film about my favorite college team, I was excited that the rest of the United States was going to learn about how “The U” invented swagger. Surprisingly, after I finished watching the film I had mixed emotions.
The University of Miami football program is famous for holding the NCAA’s longest home winning streak, yet they are also infamous for leading the NCAA in suspensions and sanctions. In fact, I recall on many occasions hearing the school referred to as “Thug U”. Corben did a great job of illustrating how the football team helped bring a racially and culturally divided Miami together. Additionally, he showed the “football first” mentality that is so pervasive in South Florida. The “football first” mentality is the notion that football is your ticket out of the ghetto, therefore you should focus all your time, efforts, and resources into perfecting your craft. Although I know that this mentality is prevalent in other sports and other regions of the country, I can only speak on what I saw growing up. Upon reflection, I realized that many of my peers over the years have succumbed and have even fallen victim to this mentality.
(Above is a video about a Miami high school football star who struggles with the “football first” mentality)
When I was thirteen years old I helped take my team to the league championship. A week leading up to the game, some local hustlers offered to give me money for every touchdown I scored. This was commonplace. In fact, I knew kids whose fathers never paid child support, but gave them money for their athletic accomplishments.
By the time I reached high school many of my peers had already given up on school. They honestly believed that they were going to make it to N.F.L. Coaches, family members, and other folks in the community had told these boys to shoot for their dreams. Unfortunately, most of the time they didn’t emphasize pursuing dreams that didn’t involve a pig skin. Although most coaches told us that we were student-athletes, if a star player’s grades were slipping during season, it was magically pulled up to make the minimum G.P.A. requirement. Even worse, I knew kids who literally had gym class all day. When graduation time rolled around they and their parents looked puzzled as to why they couldn’t walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
Many of the young men that I played football with spend most of their days bragging about how good they were in high school, and in some cases how good they were in flag football. Alas, many of them are doing this on the corner or in jail. Once they realized that that they couldn’t make it to the N.F.L., a lot of them gave up on life.
I didn’t write this post to point fingers at anyone, I wrote it to shed light on the mentality that continues to take many of our young men down everyday. Although I love football, we must eradicate the “football first” mentality.