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An education is a terrible thing to waste

August 25, 2014 - Shaunna Dunder Hershberger
Yesterday, the St. Louis Rams announced the news that quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the season with an ACL tear in his left knee. The injury occurred during the 1st quarter of the Rams' preseason game Saturday. Bradford missed the final 10 weeks of the 2013 season with the same injury - a torn ACL in his left knee. The knee was surgically repaired, and Bradford was just returning from that injury before reinjuring it.

You've got to feel bad for the guy. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Bradford was "devastated" by the news. Bradford was the overall number one pick by the Rams in the 2010 NFL draft. He was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year that same year. Bradford has seen ups and downs in his career, but he always had the promise of doing something great. And now you have to wonder, as he spends his fifth year in the league on injured reserve, if he'll ever really get that chance.

The NFL is a brutal sport. Athletes are bigger, faster and stronger, and so are the hits. Longevity in the league is actually quite rare for most average players. In 2011, the NFLPA determined the average length of a player's career was about 3.5 years. Roger Goodell argued that the figure was "closer to 6 years". Regardless of whether it's 3.5 or 6, or even 10 years, that's really not a very long career.

And this is where the importance of an education comes in. Bradford left the University of Oklahoma after his junior year. He was close to a degree in finance but had not officially graduated (though he's said that he plans to finish his degree). Even if we assume Goodell is accurate with his assessment that 6 years is an average length of career, next season will be Bradford's sixth. And because he's now got the "injury prone" label on him, teams might be afraid to take a chance on him. His career in the NFL might be over much sooner than he'd hoped. And what does he have to fall back on for the next 30 to 35 years of his life before retirement? It's not a big secret that some of these young players notoriously mismanage their money and wind up bankrupt or living from paycheck to paycheck (Vince Young is a good example of this).

I'm not saying Bradford won't eventually return to school and finish his degree or that he's going to mismanage his earnings. But many college athletes won't do that, and all it takes is one devastating injury to end a career that barely began.

I realize the bright lights and glitter of the NFL are hard for young college athletes to ignore. There's also a lot of pressure on these kids to go big and win now. And it seems pretty plausible to assume that once a kid leaves school, he's probably not going to return to finish his degree. Think about it. Even if he has a brief career in the NFL, by that time he might be married, have kids and other commitments... college classes are probably one of the last things on his mind anymore. So why not just finish it up while you're there? The NFL isn't going anywhere.

An NFL career can get taken away in one play. Nothing can take away a college degree.


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