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On Jim Harbaugh And Paying College Athletes

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jim harbaugh university of michigan

I really don’t understand how a football fan could hate Jim Harbaugh (cue Ohio State fans going on some weirdly religious sounding football rant about values). You might hate playing Jim Harbaugh’s football teams, but it’s pretty hard to hate Jim Harbaugh the person. He has slumber parties with recruits, he thinks drinking anything other than whole milk makes you not a man, and he loves Judge Judy so much he once attended a taping.

He reminds me a lot of a good friend of mine who, in high school, used the word “retarded” during his senior project. When I told him using that word might affect his grade, he looked at me like I was crazy. He meant nothing bad about people with mental disabilities; he just used the word to explain why Lou Ferrigno’s voice might sound different before playing a video. This is Jim. He goes through life like a freight train never wondering whether something will make him look this way or that way. And that’s why Jim hiring a top recruit’s parent — for a second time — didn’t really surprise me. It was just another fun Jim Harbaugh story where he’d quizzically look at a reporter as if he’d just used the word “retarded” and the world went crazy for thinking that was wrong.

But now that hiring a player’s parent is a bit of a trend, can we all agree how much this would suck for the recruit? I keep seeing him heading off for a college party as his mom says, “Hold on!!” and licks her finger before wiping his face clean. I keep imagining this stud recruit walking back to his dorm after bedding a lady the night prior. I was worried about running into literally ANYONE in that situation; I can’t imagine how he would feel with his parents being a possibility. And what if that happened? They ask him why he’s so dressed up at 8 a.m. Why his hair was all messed up. Why he smelled like he ate nickles. These parents could be the coolest parents in the world, but I don’t think, “I ate out a six” will go over well or comfortably.

College is that first, gentle push off the dock into solidarity. Sure, you’re still tethered to the parent dock thanks to credit cards and cell phones and every article of clothing on your body, but college is one of very few chances you have to live without a past or a parent questioning your every move. There’s no girl you’ve known forever who always brings up that time you pooped yourself walking home from third grade. And you can walk home from a regrettable hookup having an honest conversation with yourself instead of lying again to a parent. Part of college is about rebirth, and athletes seem to miss that more and more. It’s starting to feel like they should get reimbursed.

The argument against paying college athletes is that they get an education. I was on that side until thinking about the kid whose dad is going to be joining him freshman year. I don’t think a lot of us would sign up for that situation. If a school said we could come for free but you got to play in this huge stadium where the whole school cheers you on, sure — we’d be in. But then there’d be this small print in the contract that said you had to be up at 6 a.m. for workouts, you’ll never go on spring break, half the weekends when school turns into a lawless sex den you’ll be out of town, etc. AND we can add to this small print whenever we want, because YOU GET AN EDUCATION HERE. You’d start wondering if all that small print was worth your liberal arts degree. You’d wonder what else could be added. Well, now it’s your parents running into you on the quad after a morning blowjob.

But nobody really thinks about the recruit and their experience. We all lean on this education for play exchange in the way Jim Harbaugh can’t believe you have an issue with hiring a player’s dad to make sure the player comes to his school. Jim will say, “This guy’s a great coach who happens to have a kid who we’d like to play at Michigan,” which feels as ridiculous as, “This kid gets an education for his play and also happens to have to attend events during alumni weekends to keep boosters happy.”

When it comes to paying college athletes, we’re all a little bit Jim Harbaugh. Wild-eyed and quizzically looking at a reporter as we use the words “college education” and the whole thing feels a little retarded.

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Jared Freid (@jtrain56) is a New York City-based comedian who has been featured on MTV’s Failosophy and is the host of The JTrain Podcast presented by TFM.

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