With eight sports personalities, all with different backgrounds, gathered for the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Sport Summit, it was expected to be an interesting and fascinating discussion on current topics in the sport world.
Nobody left the room disappointed.
The Sport Summit, an Academy tradition involving award winners and other honored guests held yearly as part of the Board of Trustees meeting and Awards of Sport ceremony, ranked as one of the finest ever.
Headlined by recently retired Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, the group of eight participants discussed the hot topics of the day in engaging fashion.
The panel included important sport administrators such as Robert Kanaby, the executive director of the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS), which is responsible for the managing of 7.5 million student-athletes. Also participating was Wallace “Wally” Renfro, the senior advisor to the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
The world of sports medicine was represented by Dean Kleinschmidt, the athletic trainer of the Detroit Lions. Philippa “Phil” Raschker, who has set more than 200 records as a senior track and field games standout, offered the perspective of an outstanding and accomplished athlete.
There was also a high school football standout turned war hero and actor, J.R. Martinez, who spoke of how his experiences as a football player helped him survive an incident in Iraq and later thrive as a motivational speaker.
And finally, former All-American football players from Alabama and Auburn, centers Dr. Gaylon McCollough (a member of Alabama’s 1964 national championship team) and former NFL player Jackie Burkett (who played on Auburn’s 1957 national champions), provided their unique views on how sports and how things have changed since their playing days.
With Dr. Fred Cromartie, the Academy’s Chair of Sports Management and Director of Doctoral Studies, serving as moderator, the discussion moved from coaching advice, conditioning and coaches’ salaries to the economy’s effect on sport, among other topics.
Discussions that drew the most reaction from the panel were the subjects of athletes turning pro early and the idea of high school athletes playing multiple sports.
Both are certainly hot-button topics, and the panel’s discussion on them was enlightening. The panel members were passionate in their agreement about kids playing multiple sports. Kanaby noted a study showing kids who play one sport are more susceptible to injury than those who play multiple sports.
Not everyone agreed on the topic of athletes turning pro early.
McCollough, who considers Burkett a dear friend and the inspiration behind McCollough going from “a fat kid in the band” to an All-American center snapping footballs to Joe Namath, respectfully disagreed with Burkett’s view that players should take the money and run when they have the chance.
“The average life of an NFL player is 3.2 years,” McCollough said. “The average working life of a person with a degree is 50 years. To give up that kind of money is crazy. I feel strongly about the academic aspect. … An education and a degree is a sure thing.”
The Summit included laughs — Bowden drew many when he playfully chided University of Texas football coach Mack Brown for being the highest paid coach in his profession at $5 million a year “to finish second?” acknowledging the Longhorns’ runner-up finish to Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) title game. Kanaby also drew some chuckles when he quipped that soccer clubs are going to “start a pre-natal program,” a nod to the sport’s astounding popularity among youngsters.
There were other light moments, when Martinez talked of his mother’s desire for him to get a college education, and instead chose to become an inspirational speaker and teach others about life. Even though Martinez has been wildly successful, he said his mother still hounds him about going back to school.
“We can help you with that,” added Cromartie with a smile.
There were also plenty of serious moments, such as when the NCAA’s Renfro admitted that, with 100 football coaches making more than $1 million a season, “salaries are out of whack.”
And finally, there were also inspirational moments when Raschker, age 62 and still running 100-meter races in times that men half her age would envy, told the crowd to “know your events and know them well, and be prepared to compete like anything else. Prepare yourself for whatever might happen.”
Good advice for a career in sport, and life in general, from a group of people who know best.