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NIL Coming to a High School Near You

NIL Coming to a High School Near You
Frank Russel, Director of Athletics

High-school athletics are not solely about winning and losing; rather, they are about fostering the moral character of young scholars. In the past, college athletics provided individuals from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to pursue a college degree and further character development through sports. This belief was shared by legendary coach Nick Saban, who, upon retirement, expressed concern the focus had shifted. He remarked, "Maybe this doesn't work anymore, that the goals and aspirations are just different and it's all about how much money I can make as a college player." 

With the rise of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals and the prevalence of the transfer portal in college athletics, the emphasis has shifted away from cultivating well-rounded individuals with a focus on earning a college degree. Instead, it has become more about maximizing financial gains and prioritizing victory at any cost.
 
Unfortunately, NIL and the transfer portal are making their way to high schools across the country. With the rise of social media, high schoolers can create their own brands and market themselves. “Schools” have started with the sole purpose of creating these marketable widgets. IMG Academy in Florida is an example of a high-school athletics program distorted to chase the almighty dollar. Another example is Bishop Sycamore in Ohio, where a con man sold the idea of monetary gain through athletics to parents hoping their kids could get a college scholarship. 
 
These types of programs sacrifice practice and character development for year-round competitions resulting in underdeveloped athletes due to single-sport specialization at a young age. Prioritizing one sport leads to burnout and overuse injuries, and this is just the physical side of an athlete’s underdevelopment.  The moral underdevelopment of club athletes is due to coaches having little to no oversight while being placed in a position of power and influence. Instead of young athletes being taught the values of temperance and gratitude, they are taught the value of clicks on Instagram and how to market themselves for the most money. 
 
Here at Liberty, we reject this idea.
 
Properly understood, high-school sports are an extension of the classroom. As LCHS English instructor Mr. Tullius says, “A robust athletics program is the most important way we can reinforce our character education outside of the classroom.” When we hire a coach, we look at their virtue first, their knowledge of the sport second. It is up to coaches and parents, working together, to keep kids firm in their understanding of why we compete. This cannot be accomplished if coaches are only chasing state championships. 
 
We strive for this high ideal, but the realities of hiring good moral coaches, especially now, make it difficult to find the perfect person who already embraces the school’s mission. We work to develop and perfect coaching methods to combat the degradation of modern athletics. 
 
Only through sports are students compelled to exert themselves physically, mentally, and morally amidst high levels of stress. Temperance and prudence are required to maintain composure after a referee's questionable call or to gracefully acknowledge being defeated by a superior opponent. We can endeavor to instill these values, yet their true significance is not fully grasped until students experience the anguish of defeat firsthand. Coaches play a crucial role in guiding students to comprehend, process, and derive lessons from adversity.
 
NIL distorts the priority. If high-school students can be paid by a vendor to market their product, the athlete is no longer seeking to grow morally. They are merely seeking the next paycheck. Why should an athlete compete when they are hurting? If the goal is to make money or "go D1," then pushing through discomfort should not be tolerated. Sacrificing the success of the team for personal gain is the logical conclusion. Athletics teaches the importance of self-sacrifice for the betterment of those around you. It helps students see the justice in selfless behavior.  Fortunately, a student does not need to be hurt to learn this lesson. Every JV- and C-team player learns this idea. Part of their role is to push the varsity forward even if it means being no closer to a starting position. 
 
I am not writing here as a curmudgeon who wishes for things to return to the way they used to be. I am writing also as a former college athlete who experienced the effects of these changes in priority. My high-school-wrestling coach made me the man I am today because of the priorities he listed for the team and the standard to which he held us. We have all had mentors at some point in our lives who showed us the moral lessons in whatever we were passionate about. It would be a disservice to them and to young people to allow money and winning to corrupt the moral purity that should be high-school athletics. 

 

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