|Ryan Boatright's mother received $8,000 in benefits, jeopardizing her son's amateur status. (US Presswire)|
If the NCAA is to be believed, Connecticut freshman Ryan Boatright's mother got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. And the car dealership. And the travel agency. If the NCAA is to be believed, Boatright's mom has capitalized on her son's "amateur" basketball ability for more than $8,000 in cash and other benefits, including plane tickets and monthly car payments.
And still, the NCAA decided to reinstate Boatright. He'll play the rest of the season, and he'll play a pivotal role considering he has been among team leaders in scoring (10.2 ppg), assists (3.5), steals (0.9) and 3-point accuracy (47.1 percent).
And because of the mother and her hand in the cookie jar -- and the car dealership and the travel agency, if the NCAA is to be believed -- people are outraged. They're outraged that Ryan Boatright's mom milked her son for cash and a car, yet her son will be allowed to resume his amateur career at UConn.
Me, I'm outraged too.
At the mom.
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And at whoever gave her the cash, the car, the plane tickets.
But not at Ryan Boatright. I'm not mad at him, not even a little bit. I feel sorry for him. I'm glad he can play again, and sad that he has missed nine games of his freshman season because of this.
Because Ryan Boatright isn't the bad guy here. I'm not sure who is the bad guy here, or how many of them there are, but Ryan Boatright isn't on that list. Not if I'm writing the list.
And I come by this opinion honestly. In fact, I come by this opinion recently. Until recently, my opinion would have been pretty much the opposite of the one you're reading now. Until recently, I would have scoffed at the NCAA, sneered at UConn, screamed at Ryan Boatright for using the system to his advantage.
That's where lots of you are. You're where I was until recently -- you're naïve. After I tweeted my support of Boatright on Sunday, I was hit by an avalanche of naïve self-righteousness. One guy, who later came around to my way of thinking, told me, "[Boatright had] no clue? I was a horrible high school athlete, but filled out NCAA eligibility apps. Common freakin sense stuff."
So I told that person what I'm telling you now:
All due respect, don't confuse your parental background, which I'm guessing was solid, to some of these kids.
See, some of these kids -- lots of kids, whether they're great athletes or not -- have rotten parents. After years of covering college sports, you think I would have gotten that message already. But no. It took having kids of my own, listening to them, listening to their friends, to realize just how rotten parents out there can be. The poison I've heard about parents in my own community, in the so-called middle class, breaks my heart.
The things that have been said to these kids, the neglect shown, the selfishness and indifference they've seen from their parents ... it's unbelievable. As in, if I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it. Because who treats their kids with anything but selfless love?
But it's real. It happens. So that's where I am, in a position that is more cynical today than it was yesterday. I'm now in a position where I can absolutely believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a kid like Cam Newton didn't know his dad asked Mississippi State for $180,000. I can believe Miami's DeQuan Jones didn't know a family member allegedly asked for $10,000 to secure his commitment to UM. I can believe Baylor's Perry Jones III didn't know his mother was loaned three months of rent money by an AAU coach.
And I can absolutely believe Ryan Boatright didn't know his mom was using her son for cash, a car and plane tickets.
These are not things parents brag about to their kid. These are things people do in the dark, hoping their little secret never gets out. Some parents, the worst parents, use their children -- jeopardize their children -- because they can. Because they don't care about their kids, at least not as much as they care about themselves. (The Perry Jones example doesn't seem to fit here, by the way. His mom's heart condition has made her unable to work, which made her unable to pay bills, which is why she apparently sought loans from the AAU coach, a longtime family friend.)
Imagine being an athlete and finding out what Mommy or Daddy was doing when you were in high school. That your parents treated you like an ATM. That they risked your college career, your future, your reputation, for a few bucks. That's a heartbreaking discovery, when you think about it.
So this is where I am today. I'm in a place where I'll choose to believe the kids over their parents. Kids are young and dumb, even the smart kids. They're dumb, all of them, and bless their heart for that. Would that I could go back to being dumb again, to not knowing how the world works, to not knowing the darkness that can lie in the heart of Mommy or Daddy.
Reggie Bush at Southern Cal? Maybe he didn't know his parents' house was being paid for by a businessman. Enes Kanter at Kentucky? Maybe he didn't know his father was being reimbursed for educational expenses by a local club team.
Cam Newton, DeQuan Jones, Perry Jones III?
Maybe they didn't know what their parents were up to.
Kids don't always know. The lucky ones never find out.