USC saw over 4,000 graduates walk across the stage and receive their degree this past week, 35 of which played for its Division 1 football team. The class of 2015 saw players that belonged to different squads spanning over a decade, with team members from 2001 to just this past year completing their undergraduate education. Players received degrees across multiple subject areas, from Theater to Business Administration.
For a school that has also had the most players drafted into the NFL in the past 10 years, this is an amazing achievement.
While thankfully this isn't a completely new or unheard of trend - star college athletes returning to complete their degrees or managing to obtain them before joining a professional team - it's also not specific to just the NFL. NBA star Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers just graduated from Weber State, all while preparing for a playoff run. Major League Baseball player Curtis Granderson earned his degree in Business Management and Marketing soon after being selected by the Detroit Tigers in 2002, and NHL defensemen Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets made a similar promise, returning to his home state school the University of Michigan to attempt to complete his degree. While just a few examples, this occurs at the pro level all the time, but with a frequency that definitely leaves some room for improvement.
Of course, you don't technically need a college degree to run down a field or a court or a rink, or execute a play effectively. However, it looks to be pretty helpful in the long run. After all, professional sports careers are notoriously short, and once you're done the question remains, what to do with the rest of your life?
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Entire television programs have been devoted to this subject. The 30 for 30 documentary Broke focused on the economic aspects of a post-pro sports career life, while the recent HBO special State of Play: Happiness focused on the mental and emotional fall out of this major life change, specifically among NFL players. This all comes on the heels of recent statistics claiming that 78% of NFL athletes two years into retirement are bankrupt, unemployed, or divorced.
It's complicated for sure, and I don't know if I personally take one side of the debate over the other, whether sports or academics should have the greater place of importance in our higher education system. That's not a value judgment I'm qualified to make. I think we all have things we're good at in life, things we're willing to work hard for in life, and things we wish we could do in life, and sometimes these things overlap and sometimes they don't.
But this story isn't just about that. It's about the collective and individual triumph of these 35 young men, who gave the USC football program their all on the field, and then came back for round two and gave USC their all in the classroom. They already impressed the world in more than one way, by committing to a top caliber Division 1 football team, and then on top of all that preparing for the draft and professional careers. And now they've added to what I'm sure are already long lists of personal achievements, and are prepared to face the world in more than just one way.
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This year's graduating class included Shaun Cody, a critical player from the Pete Carroll era, and Chauncey Washington, who spent five years in the NFL and now looks towards a career in TV Production. This is not to mention the six young men who worked towards their degrees while preparing for the draft or free agency, among them J.R. Tavai and Buck Allen, just to name a few.
All 35 football program graduates have set an example for not just their teammates, but also the countless kids that look up to these guys as heroes and role models. It is undoubtedly an amazing achievement, and one that I'm sure all Trojan supporters can admire.
Below is a video put together by USC Athletics, showcasing some of the recent grads and their experience returning to school. While motivations vary, from personal desire to fulfilling familial promises, it's clear they all really, really wanted this, and achieved something that would make anyone proud.
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