Buckeye: Law school over NFL

Many kids dream of reaching the NFL. Andrew Sweat is no different.

Growing up, the Washington, Pa., native wanted the NFL and all the glory, accolades, and financial security that came with it. He worked hard, he worked out, and he found himself at noted football factory Ohio State. Played linebacker – the same position as recent Buckeye standouts Andy Katzenmoyer, Bobby Carpenter, James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk, all of whom realized their dreams of the NFL.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the pros. Sweat suffered a concussion in college. Then another. And on Nov. 12 of his senior year, at Purdue, he suffered his third. Sweat wasn’t drafted – perhaps the concussions scared some teams off, perhaps being ranked the No. 31 draft-eligible linebacker scared off other teams.

So, he planned on trying out for the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent this year. However, the day he was supposed to report to the Browns, he slipped while showering and suffered yet a fourth concussion. And while concussions normally cloud one’s thinking, it appears the fourth knock to the head allowed Sweat to think clearly.

“When I fell, it scared me,” Sweat told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Football is not worth my health. It’s really important to me that I’m able to have a family and a life after football. Football is a great game, but when you have a concussion like that, it’s not worth it.”

Good thing Sweat isn’t a dumb jock. Quite the opposite, in fact. He graduated from Ohio State with a finance degree, was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, a four-time OSU Scholar-Athlete, and interned at Merrill Lynch, according to his Ohio State team bio.

While some would find it difficult to give up a boyhood dream, I think we’ve already established that Sweat is atypical. Instead, he’s going to law school. He’s been accepted to five, and as of this writing, has yet to make a decision.

However, it appears some people are less-than-thrilled with his decision.

Former attorney Elie Mystal posted several rants on Above the Law’s blog, including such gems as offering to help Sweat “avoid making what could be the biggest mistake of his life” and saying that the schools Sweat has been accepted to – Pittsburgh, Duquesne, West Virginia, Florida, and Miami (Fla.) are like “the Cleveland Browns of law schools.”

(We’ll leave alone the fact that no one knows who Mystal is, or likely cares about his opinion. Who is he to say what someone’s biggest mistake of his life his? There are hopefully many, many more years of life remaining for Sweat in which to make a mistake).

Popular blog Deadspin was on the same page as Mystal, posting “It is, I suppose, a little easy to forget that NFL players make a lot of money. Yes, they subject their bodies and brains to untold ravages; yes, they’re exploited by money-hungry owners; yes, they’re largely deprived (unfairly) of the education and training needed to succeed after football—but they make a lot of money.”

To me, these postings all smack of jealousy – I know nothing about Mystal, nor will presume to, but I will bet most of my salary (don’t get excited – it’s not very much) that he never had the opportunity to play professional football. But he likely had the same dream as other schoolchildren, so he can’t fathom why anyone would turn down the opportunity.

Similarly, Deadspin is full of sportswriters – and you know what they say about sportswriters: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, write about those who do. (And I’m a former sportswriter).

Seems to me that Deadspin, while professing to say Sweat is making a bad decision, is actually making the decision easier. Who really wants to “subject their bodies and brains to untold ravages” or  consciously be “deprived (unfairly) of the education and training needed to succeed after football.” I mean, with sales pitches like that, Deadspin writers should be working on a car lot.

However, it’s the last line of the Deadspin rant that gets me. “…but they make a lot of money.”

First of all, consider – only about 50% of all undrafted free agents actually sign with a team. Also consider that undrafted free agents usually get only a few thousand dollars signing bonus, if that, and get the rookie minimum salary, which for 2012 is $390,000. Yes, that’s a lot of money to the average American. However, that’s if – and only if – the player makes the team. And that money is not guaranteed. So one more concussion and all that goes out the window. Or perhaps the Browns would sign the No. 29-ranked linebacker thus making Sweat more expendable than he already is.

Conversely, the average salary for an attorney with five-to-eight years of experience is approximately $144,000. Which is STILL a lot of money to the average American. And that factors in the average of ALL attorneys with five-to-eight years of experience. Even those in small mom-and-pop operations, or strip-mall offices. Those at larger firms make significantly more once they make partner, usually within seven-to-10 years.

I find it ludicrous that people would publicly ridicule a student-athlete (which, in the case of Sweat, he definitely is) for making a decision with long-term health in mind. Who are we to judge his decision to be a poor one? Is that what we’ve come to? Lambasting someone for taking the pains to ensure they’ll recognize their children in 20 years? To dress themselves? To go to the store and find their way home unaided?

I, for one, stand and applaud Sweat for making what had to be a tough decision, and think that with cognitive abilities like that, his future as a lawyer is much brighter than his future as an NFL backup linebacker would have been.

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