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Is ESPN Putting Too Much Pressure on High School Athletes?

high school athletes

ESPN recently began airing high school football games, prompting many to wonder if doing so puts too much pressure on young athletes.

Wait. What?

You’ll have to pardon my confusion, because it’s earnest in nature and springs from several different angles. The first is this: televised high school games are nothing new. They’ve been airing on local and regional channels for years.

But even if that weren’t the case, covering high-profile high school athletes is nothing new. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge sports fan. Or maybe it’s my role as the director of digital content for a sports radio station in Knoxville. Either way, I’ve been plugged into the media’s coverage of high school football for years.

As such, I’ve long known about websites like Rivals and 247Sports, which have essentially turned high school football into big business, in part by leaving no stone un-turned in the recruiting process.

Each top prospect is covered ad nauseum. Each camp he attends is chronicled in great detail, each college visit he makes, the impetus for public speculation.

So to wonder if ESPN’s broadcasting of high school games is putting too much pressure on kids misses the mark in my estimation. Leading indicators have been around for a decade. (Disclaimer: ESPN and Babble are both part of the Walt Disney Company.)

But say it weren’t missing the mark. I’d still be confused. I mean, am I the only one who saw Miley Cyrus’ sexually charged performance a couple of weeks ago at the Video Music Awards? Am I the only one who stood in awe of the Internet backlash that publicly shamed her?

Has poor Miley not been covered by various and sundry media outlets for nearly half her life?

So why did I not get an email from my editor asking me for my take on whether or not Nickelodeon and or the Disney Channel’s coverage of young actors / actresses is putting too much pressure on them?

All I got was an email wondering if ESPN was putting too much pressure on young athletes. So I’ll play along, first by continuing this thread on Miley, as I feel it’s a parallel universe worth pursuing.

I think kids like Miley Cyrus probably do have too much pressure put on them. And I think that pressure can lead to some not-so-great choices that are made in hopes of furthering an image.

When I saw Miley’s act, I felt sad for her. Because she was channeling a persona despite the fact she’s too immature (both physically and psychologically) to understand the difference between it and the person which lies beneath it. She’s clearly confused the two and fancies herself to be something she’s not. Miley Cyrus isn’t a tawdry sex kitten. No matter how many times she bends over and sticks her tongue out.

I’ll admit it. Miley’s performance made me wish that there weren’t companies led by balding, middle-aged men which turn little children into international celebrities before they’re psychologically ready to handle such things. But guess what?

Too bad.

It’s never gonna change. It simply is what it is —namely a regrettable byproduct of a scenario created by grown ups who, long ago, identified a way to make money. Straight cash, homey.

Same thing with the debate about the games on ESPN. Is it too much for some high school kids? Probably. But will it change?

No.

And I’m not sure it should. Because 95% of the people who are concerned such contests are putting too much pressure on young athletes have one thing in common.

They’re not young.

And at 43, neither am I. But I do, at least, know a thing or two about millennials — the group of Americans born between 1980 and 2000. And I’ve got news for you. Millennials don’t even blink an eye at this sort of thing.

They seek the attention. They want to turn themselves into brands. What’s more they do just that each and every day with the help of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest and any other form of social media you could possibly imagine. With the Kardashians as their model and a cadre of reality TV shows as their backdrop, millennials know that fame is within everyone’s grasp.

Wanna be a writer? Great. You don’t need a deal with a pub house. You need a blog.

Wanna be an entertainer? Fantastic. Sign up for a YouTube account and you’re halfway home.

The millennials live in a flat world in which every single person is one viral moment away from being well-known. A lot of times it goes well and leads to fame. A lot of times it doesn’t and leads to infamy.

Either way, it doesn’t change one simple fact: millennials are okay with the instantaneous nature of social media. They’re fine with turning themselves into a brand. They’re good with the spotlight. Even the ones who don’t have any discernible talent.

So the high school football players who’ve been at it for far longer than just an instant? The ones who’ve been grinding for years in hopes of playing high school football at its highest level? The ones whose dream is to play in college and maybe even in the NFL? The ones who actually do have a discernible talent?

Believe you me, they’re a-okay with that talent being showcased for the whole world to see.

Sure. Some are probably too young to handle it. And yeah, there probably will be casualties. There always are. Just ask Miley. Or Lindsay. Or 2008 Brittany Spears (though the current incarnation certainly seems to be doing a bit better…).

But don’t let the names that fly off the tip of your tongue fool you into thinking that’s the way the majority goes. Because the Justin Timberlakes are out there. It’s just they’re doing so well, we don’t hardly even notice them.

So let them play, I say. And let them play on ESPN, to boot. Not only have they earned it, but they’re good with it, too.

Besides, that ship set sail over a decade ago my friends. And even if we could stop it, no one ever would.

Too many grown ups are making money.

Friday, Sept. 3 at 12 p.m. ET, HLN‘s “Raising America with Kyra Phillips” will be focusing on the pressure put on young athletes. Can high school football stars handle the pressure? Tweet @KyraHLN with the #RaisingAmerica hashtag or leave your thoughts on Facebook.com.

image: JamieL.WilliamsPhoto’s Flickr

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