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Yes it was funny, but more importantly, it was valid and true

College football fans may remember the famous “I’m a man! I’m 40!” rant by Oklahoma St. coach Mike Gundy from a couple of years ago.

He thought a sportswriter was picking on one of his players, and saw himself duty-bound to address it.

I thought it was awesome. And, it turns out, so do many of his potential recruits:

“If I had it to do all over again, I would not have changed anything I did. I felt we had a player that was treated unfairly, and it was my responsibility as the head coach to stand up for that player. I have three sons of my own, and if they ever went and played ball or did anything with their career and there was someone responsible for them (who) didn’t try to stand up for them, it would disappoint me as a parent.

When it first came out, lots of folks had a laugh, and the rant does seem a little over the top in a couple of parts. But lost in all the laughing and the making fun of his “I’m a man! I’m 40!” line is this: he was exactly right.

His larger point was that we’ve forgotten that college athletes are amateurs. Or, “student-athletes”, if we want to be extremely generous and take the NCAA at their word on that terminology.

We all know that some of these amateurs aren’t as good at their chosen sport as some others. But then, as “student-athletes”, they have lots of responsibilities off the field as well. Where is the media attention for that? Oh, right, there isn’t any.

College athletes have amateur standing for a reason. That’s what we’re told, anyway. But take a look around, at the huge TV contracts, the shoe deals, the under-the-table payola from connected alumni and prominent boosters. Look at the big money coaching contracts, and all the advertising revenue that flows to the NCAA and then to the big conferences and member schools.

Money just flying into and out of everybody’s pockets except the players.

Does that sound like amateur athletics to you? Me neither.

Yet, despite all that money flying all around them, the players themselves are still expected to lead the monastic life of an amateur athlete. Sure, OK, if the NCAA says so.

And as money has invaded college sports, so has the focus on individual stars. ESPN puts you on SportsCenter if you make outrageous plays, or act like an idiot after scoring touchdowns. What’s the difference, any more? It’s all about celebrity more than athletics, and it has been like that for years..

So I think Mike Gundy is here to remind us that we should respect our student-athletes, our amateurs, for being good people and working hard and doing their best. That’s all we can really ask of our young people.

Take care of your business the right way off the field, too. That’s really what Gundy is saying here. Watch for yourself:

He has a very good point, and it doesn’t get made often enough: we’ve completely lost our minds about what is important with the student-athlete today.

As fans, we hitch our hopes and dreams on the backs of kids so that we can feel a little better about ourselves and our pathetic, empty lives. I know that’s harsh and maybe a little hyperbolic, but when you really back away from it, and shine a bright light on what is going on there, isn’t that pretty close to the truth?

As parents and boosters, we lie to ourselves and to our kids when we ignore the most honorable among us, the kids who probably aren’t going pro, but still study hard and show up at practice and contribute to the team in any way they can. Instead, many of us promote harmful ideals like celebrity and glorifying the individual.

We did a much better job preparing our young people for life after college when we took the “student” part of “student-athlete” seriously. Today, we cater to the needs of the top .1% who might become professionals someday, for a couple of years.

Speaking as a parent of a college age son, with two more to follow in a few years, I think I can speak with confidence when I say that most parents of college athletes want to know one thing, just one thing above all others: who is going to advocate for my kid’s interests while he/she is away at school?

If you can’t be there to provide parental guidance day-to-day, you want somebody you can trust to take over that role. Especially in the shark-infested waters of big-time athletics.

So when a coach like Mike Gundy takes on great risk to stand up for what is right, and to stand up for a kid on the team who does everything right, even if he is not the most talented on the team, that tells a recruit’s parent just about everything they need to know.

And unlike the sordid tale of another coach recently, I’m pretty sure Mike Gundy won’t be caught doing some random gold-digger on a restaurant table, paying for her abortion, and then getting sued six years later. Some coaches are more about celebrity; some are more about leading young people.

So, all in all, I’d be honored to have a fine man like Mike Gundy watch after one of my kids. Even if he does say funny things on Youtube videos when he’s angry.

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