They’re called student-athletes, but many youth advocates – including psychiatrist Gary Malone, are concerned that the emphasis is on “athlete.”
“Anyone who follows sports knows that college-level and professional recruiters are looking at recruits –
children – at increasingly younger ages, and it’s not because they want to ensure these athletic students get a
well-rounded education,” says Malone, a distinguished fellow in the American Psychiatric Association, and
coauthor with his sister Susan Mary Malone of “What’s Wrong with My Family?” (www.whatswrongwithmyfamily.
“In my home state, Texas, a new high school football stadium is opening that cost $60 million dollars and
seats 18,000. That’s all funded at public expense. We constantly read of districts across the country cutting academic
and arts programs and teachers’ salaries due to budget shortfalls. How can this make sense?”
As a high-performing student-athlete throughout his own high school and college years, Malone says he appreciates
the benefits of extracurricular programs.
“But the NCAA.’s own 2011 survey found that, by a wide margin, men’s basketball and football players are
much more concerned about their performance on the field than in the classroom,” he says.
Malone reviews how the imbalance favoring athletic pursuits can damage student-athletes and the family
• Life beyond sports: Only 3 percent of high school athletes will go on to compete in college; less than 1
percent of college athletes turn pro, where the average career is three years with risk of permanent injury, including
brain damage, for football players. Even if they’re among the successful elite, wealth management is
likely to be a major problem; some studies show that up to 78 percent of NFL players go broke after three years
of retirement. Is this the best future for a child?
• Misplaced parental priorities: A parent’s obsession with a child’s success in sports can be extremely damaging
to a child, to the extent of bordering on abuse. Parents who look to their children to provide them with
the validation, status or other unfulfilled needs don’t have their child’s best interests at heart. Parents who tend
to be domineering can be especially dangerous in the face of an athletic success obsession.
• Siblings left behind: When the family values one child’s athletic prowess over the talents and gifts displayed
by his or her siblings, the latter children risk growing up without a sense of personal identity, which
leads to co-dependency problems in adulthood.
• Pressured to play: Especially in the South, but throughout the entire United States, football is huge. Basketball
dominates inner cities and regions like Indiana; wrestling is big in the Midwest and parts of the Northeast,
and hockey might be the focus for children throughout Northeast and upper Midwest. Children, especially boys,
may feel obliged or pressured to play a particular sport even if they have no talent or interest in it to the detriment
of other talents that might have been developed.
“Athletics can be extremely beneficial to a young person’s life, but I think we have our priorities backwards,”
Malone says. “Imagine how much better off our country might be if, instead of football, we were obsessed with
our children’s performance in science and math.”
About Dr. Gary Malone, M.D. & Susan Mary Malone
Dr. Gary Malone is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern
and a teaching analyst at the Dallas Psychoanalytic Institute. He is a distinguished fellow in the American Psychiatric
Association with board certifications in general and addiction psychiatry. He has worked in hospitals
and private practices for more than 30 years. Dr. Malone is director of Adult Chemical Dependency Services at
Millwood Hospital in Arlington, Texas.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novel, “By the Book,” and three
nonfiction books, including “Five Keys for Understanding Men: A Women’s Guide.” More than 40 of the book
projects she has edited were purchased by traditional publishing houses. She is Dr. Malone’s sister.