For most of the past week, Alabama football has spent time and a diligent social media presence promoting its success in the NFL Draft.
That’s a smart play, calling attention to the record-setting number (school and Southeastern Conference) of draftees, the four first-rounders and, as the signatures start to roll in, the six-, seven- and eight-figure bonuses and contracts with those eye-catching dollar signs. Recruits notice those things, especially the zeroes that add up behind the dollar signs.
This weekend, there was a different emphasis. There were still some of the same NFL stars and stars-to-be that the Crimson Tide program has emphasized over the years, but they weren’t in their new uniforms. Instead, they were wearing something traditional — the cap and gown of newly-minted college graduates.
There is an important point to be made to high school athletes. For all the glamour of professional sports, a degree is the reason for attending college. That’s true for the majority of the 105 athletes, men and women, who will move on from athletics or who will stick with it without ever making life-changing money from playing or coaching the sport that they love.
Showing that even the fortunate few that are making millions — and, like Amari Cooper, Derrick Henry, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, left school early to do so — realize a degree matters is a powerful reminder of priorities. That’s why the pictures of Nick Saban surrounded by graduating players matters.
For Henry, returning to go through the graduation ceremony was fulfilling a promise to his grandmother, even though she passed away before she could see it. For Siran Stacy, it was important to come back after 25 years and a harrowing set of life experiences. For the running back that followed closely after him, Sherman Williams, it was another step upward in a climb that included drugs and prison at rock bottom.
It was a great day for them, and for their contemporaries. For Shaun Dion Hamilton, it was the second time through the graduation line. He will head to the Washington Redskins with a master’s degree. For former Crimson Tide sprinter Devon Romero, it was a third trip. She earned her doctorate in counseling education this spring. Crimson Tide swimmer Luke Kaliszak of Huntsville finished with a 3.975 GPA in pre-med and is a finalist for the SEC’s Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Award.
For Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson, the day was doubly proud as he graduated both a player and a son in one package, UA guard Avery Johnson Jr. Former UA guard Ar’Mond Davis also graduated, ensuring his immediate eligibility at UC-Santa Barbara, where he will play as a grad transfer next year.
Whatever the back story, and everyone of the 105 athletes has one, they are all spoke clearly this weekend, valedictorian or not. Alabama isn’t the only school that supports its athletes academically and encourages them to return. There are fewer “diploma mills” operating than there once were, and most universities are serious about their academic mission.
But Alabama gets national attention and the attendant scrutiny because of its success, especially in the highly visible world of football. No one downplays the importance of that program, or any of the others. But showing there is also a way to win that isn’t measured on a scoreboard, but with an education, is critically important.
bearcreekken likes this