Thursday, July 13, 2017
Stay Pure, Daniel Faalele
The story is a month and a half old by now, but I was intrigued by this Sports Illustrated write-up of Daniel Faalele, and it appears there have been no major updates to his story since then.
For the uninitiated, Faalele is a offensive line prospect from Australia whose superhuman frame (6'9", 390, but surprisingly lean) could revolutionize the offensive tackle position.
Does he have the skills? To what extent can the skills be taught to a 17-year-old? We're going to find out the answers to these questions, because although he is already raking in high-major offers, he has yet to play a down of American football in his life.
That's right. They didn't suddenly start playing American football down under. Faalele will spend his senior year of high school in the sports work farm of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where he will play the first downs of his life.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about this whole story, and similar stories like it. First, my concerns: I feel weird about the entire existence of a high school owned by sports management company IMG, although I note it is a non-profit. I think there's something to be said for kids to have a genuine, typical high school experience that unremarkable kids get from Sloan, Iowa to Macon, Georgia, as opposed to 24/7 pro athlete grooming with fellow athletic freaks of nature.
Then there's the whole matter of plucking kids out of their home countries because they are of a physical specimen coveted by big money American sports. I mean, couldn't Faalele's size also mean he could revolutionize rugby, too, which is actually popular in Australia? How did he end up on the radar of college football scouts? I suspect the answer has something to do with money.
There's a circus geek show light to it. "From the deepest, darkest outbacks of Australia, come see the Australian offensive line — man! $5 gets you up close, $10 gets you a picture with him!"
All of that said, I can't come out against the practice completely. In this particular case, Faalele seems to really be enjoying the process and this seems to be what he legitimately wants to do. He shouldn't be denied that over my political tut-tuts. Doubly so, since it is a way that poor kids from underdeveloped countries (which obviously is not Australia, but equivalent examples from third world countries abound, even if American football is usually not the sport in question) have a chance to pull their whole families out of poverty. Who the heck am I to tell them not to do that?
But the best reason I can think of to not condemn the status quo is thinking of Manute Bol (RIP) and Dikembe Mutombo. They grew up in Africa, became American basketball stars, and really made the absolute most of both their riches and their platform to make the world a better place. Their tireless humanitarian efforts have been so life-changing to so many people, their good really cannot be understated, and it would not have been possible if they didn't join the American Sports freak show.
Faalele seems to be going about this in the right manner. He's taking his time and hasn't even narrowed down his schools of choice to a top 10 yet. Good. To him I say: always remember that American sports is, first and foremost, a business.
It's a business, but you're not. You're a person. And from the looks of it, a pretty good one, too. So do remember that, and try to stay that way. Cheers.