Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The professionalism of 14-year-old Freddy Adu has not elicited a flood of tears in the national press, which is in contrast to all the wailing that is done whenever a basketball player elects to go from high school to the NBA.

There is always a long line of overactive tear ducts trailing the next basketball sensation. There is always a heartfelt discussion regarding the player’s loss of innocence and failure to expand his mind in college.

There are always so many tears in the months leading up to the NBA Draft, usually enough to replenish the water supply of drought-stricken areas.

But there has been no crying around Adu, just effusive praise wherever he goes, and lately, he has been popping up everywhere, telling his story as the next best hope to save soccer in America.

He is the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer, with a contract worth $500,000 this season, and he has a $1million deal with Nike and another nifty endorsement deal with Pepsi.

All kinds of people should be crying right now, squirting their droplets of sorrow. Adu is not even old enough to have a driver’s license. He is barely out of childhood. What will happen to him? None of this will be good for his development.

This poor teen never will know what it means to be a normal adolescent in America. There will be no prom for him. There will be no wistful nights of hanging out in the parking lot of the local McDonald’s.

Adu recently secured a high school diploma in breathtaking fashion after finishing a speedy academic program for athletes in Florida. Now he plans to conquer American soccer, and so much about him never can be the same again.

It is so terribly sad to be a 14-year-old millionaire, with no father and a mother who once worked two jobs to feed and clothe the family.

Or it would be so terribly sad if Adu were an 18-year-old multimillionaire in the NBA.

Not too long ago, all kinds of people were going to Akron, Ohio, to have a good cry around LeBron James, who became a national item of concern in his junior season. People would go to the nearest drug store after landing in Akron, buy out all the Kleenex and then spend the rest of the day bawling over James’ lack of interest in attending college.

It was just so sad, and, of course, it has turned out awful for James. He undoubtedly is squandering all his millions, and other than the fact that he already is an All-Star-caliber professional, his life would have been better served by a class taught by Jim Harrick Jr.

With Adu, however, the urge to wear a black patch in memory of his loss is not evident. Lesley Stahl looked radiant in his presence. David Letterman looked his usual wry self in his presence.

You stop people on the street and mention the desperate plight of Adu, and not a single person breaks down in anguish. Instead, they say it is wonderful what he has achieved at such a tender age. They say, “Who wouldn’t want to be young, rich and famous, and besides, high school is an overrated social experience?”

Yet, when you stop these same people and mention the impressive saga of James, each person starts sobbing uncontrollably. They lament the obvious, namely that James did not attend college, and now his quality of life will be forever in jeopardy. He probably does not even know what a 3-pointer is worth after not having the opportunity to take the test provided by Harrick Jr.

It must be something about the NBA that contributes to the crying phenomenon, because no one ever cries if a high school senior signs a baseball contract and ends up being dispatched to a minor league team in the middle of nowhere. And one ever cries around the child stars of Hollywood and the music industry.

In fact, no one cried when Wacko Jacko was a child star, and now that he is well into adulthood, that is all some people do when they see his ghoulish facade.

We know there is no crying in baseball, and so it must be the same in soccer and the entertainment industry.

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