Role Models

I read a story today about a smart kid, son of African immigrants, who got accepted to all the Ivy League schools.  I wonder why he applied to all, but no matter, this is a great story.
The media is all over it when a university snags some guy who has great aptitude in tossing a ball through a small hoop or catching an oblong object while running down a grassy field. It makes no difference. There will be exactly the same ratio of winners to losers whether sports stars play well or poorly.

The smart kid, on the other hand, has a good chance making the world better by building knowledge and contributing to the development of better techniques. I dislike the emphasis on sports in university. This is not because I resent the fact that coaches are often the highest paid public employee in the state or that so much money is poured into these programs that could go to academics, although I do. What I object to in sports recruiting as tournament aspect with few winners and lots of losers. Consider Lebron James. He was born with talent, which he developed in an admirable way and now he makes millions of dollars doing something he loves. Great. But what about the millions of others with similar but not quite as good talent? They work hard to develop sports skills and get very good. They get their shot at the big time and fail. What are they left with? An excellent but not outstanding basketball player is no better off than a weekend player. He gets bupkis. On the other hand, kids that study hard and don’t quite make it into the academic firmament are still going to be able to use their talents and skills to improve their own prospects and the world. In other words, a good but not great mathematician can do more than show off to friends on the weekends. If you are looking for role models, do you want a role model doing something that you can never achieve or one that can help you succeed even if you fall short of the sublime excellence of the very best? This is also the classic American story of the children of immigrants who succeed in America through hard work and intellectual talent. You can still make it if you work hard. This is the kind of story that good parents should teach their children.