This is an article I wrote for www.socalsportshub.com. I'm unusually proud of it, so I'm going on a self promotional rampage right now. Besides, I like you's guys more than I like that site, so I'm just bring the product straight to you. Hope y'all can generate some good controversy out of it. Have at it.
I’m not a huge television watcher. For a sports fan, that’s definitely a weird paradox. Even when my Spurs or Cowboys are playing, I’ll often be found doing something besides watching them on TV. About the only time you’ll ever catch me watching any TV is late at night, when I catch the dregs of that day’s Sportscenter. One of the benefits (or detriments?) of my subdued television habits is that I can usually avoid being part of the outcry at whatever current event is sparking nationwide chagrin. This definitely comes in handy during an election year, as I am notoriously apolitical, and couldn’t care less about who said what or what have you. Still, even I can find it in me to get worked up over something getting beamed over the boob tube every now and again. Who knew that this time it would be an eight year old kid?
Marquise Walker is good at basketball. That much is obvious after even the most casual of glances. During one of my nocturnal ESPN sessions, I was fortunate enough to catch the Outside The Lines feature about him.Being no stranger to child prodigies (I actually was one… I had a twelfth grade reading level in second grade), I looked at Marquise as objectively as possible. What bothered me the most about Marquise’s obviously high level of talent was the fact that I immediately noticed something under the surface of the entire thing. I’m not taking too much stock in my detective work because the segment possessed the subtlety of a jackhammer, but I was quite disturbed by what I was seeing. It follows an unfortunate trend that has become increasingly prevalent throughout my short life.
Marquise Walker is a product. At eight years old, young Walker is already being advertised as the proverbial “next big thing”. Never mind the fact that there about thirty of these during any given period of time, because that really isn’t the underlying rub. The fact that his dear old dad is the one propagating Marquise is. Chikosi Walker isn’t necessarily in the wrong for wanting the best for his son. That is what parents do. But there is a fine line between wanting the best for your children, and living vicariously through them. Early on during the segment, Chikosi talks about noticing Marquise dribbling a kickball when he was two. Starting by having Marquise only dribble to the count of three, Chikosi smiles when recalling how soon it was that he could no longer keep up with his budding money tree. This is where I immediately sensed that something was off about the whole thing. When Chikosi remarked that “I might have something special on my hands”, he says it like a fisherman who just hooked a monster bass. He says it like someone who saw a kid dribbling sacks of money instead of a raggedy kickball.
Before long, Chikosi had met the acquaintance of Lamont Peterson, a basketball trainer who works with college level prospects. The operating words here would be “college level”, an age that would seem to be decidedly above eight. Peterson evidently saw an opportunity to jump onboard Chikosi’s money train and encouraged him to promote his son onYOUTUBE… Before long, Chikosi and Lamont’s viral campaign had plastered Marquise’s young face and skill set all over the internet, under the banner “The Nation’s Top Kindergarten Prospect”. When Chikosi says this on the segment, he gets a gleam in his eye like Scrooge McDuck used to on Duck Tales. It really is about as disturbing a thing I’ve seen in recent memory.
The marketing plan was a simple one. Chikosi would pose his son with top level NBA talent, and have them testify that he was indeed the real deal. The are videos of him with Luther Head, Lebron James, and several other players. The link between each of these videos is telling. Each of these NBA stars has a look on their face that screams about how they have better things to do than shill for some kid. The whole thing just speaks to how much of a scheme this is for Chikosi. He isn’t the only one.
When I was younger, I grew up down the street from a group of brothers who played sports (any sport…) with a tenacity that was discomforting to the other kids in the neighborhood. Two hand touch was never just two hand touch when you played with these kids. They played not just to win, but to mentally scar you with a lasting image of how badly they beat you. I had the good “fortune” of playing Little League with the oldest, and my younger brother played flag football with the younger two. That was when I got a glimpse of the brains of the operation. I had never seen two parents so into what their kids were playing. During timeouts or between innings, BOTH parents would seek out their demon brood and give them pep talks separate from the rest of the team. They wanted their kids to receive the notes that THEY had been taking about the opposition. “The shortstop plays close to the bag, so hit it to the gap.” They would say to their son, as the rest of the team thought about what sno-cones we might get at the end of the game. “The next time you get the ball, you stick behind the guard until you can break free.” It was disgusting. These parents (both of whom had an extreme Napoleon Complex) made no qualms about their desire for their own clan’s success. Their kid’s were going to be stars at NOTRE DAME! STARS!!!!! They were, to be blunt, THOSE parents.
As the segment rolled on, Lamont remarked at how Marquise had become credible upon hearing that Chikosi had footage of Marquise with a Lebron James that couldn’t have looked more disinterested and fake about the whole situation. The used car salesman smile is too telling. Still, Marquise was “credible”. The way Lamont said this was enough to make the viewer think that mass production of Marquise Walker Nikes was imminent. I should probably use this time to reiterate that the child is only eight years old.
Perhaps this is what alarmed me so much about watching Chikosi beam about young Marquise. He had already, in effect, proclaimed his son to be bigger than the game, another epidemic plaguing sports as a whole. We see it everywhere we go. On MTV Cribs, in video games and movies. Everywhere. Sports have become the new American Dream. Sports aren’t just a game, no matter how old you are. Sports=Money, Fame, and Status. This was something that was evident when I was a child playing with the All Star Bros, and it’s evident when you listen to Chikosi speak about his son. I’m suspicious as to whether or not attempts have been made to change Marquise’s name to “Meal Ticket”. This whole situation is bad for so many people, in so many ways. Hearing an eight year old child say that his goal is to “get to the NBA, and just make money” is a sickening thing to hear. When I was eight, I was worried about whether or not I’d be getting Street Fighter II for Christmas. I can count on exactly NO fingers the times I was pressured as a toddler to make an NBA roster. This current attitude has set a bad precedent, and Chikosi Walker is perhaps the culmination of it all.
Chikosi answers statements from the lone detractor in the segment with a conviction that holds as much water as a hula hoop. He falters and stutters while assuring the cameras that he would rather his child deal with the pressure of playing basketball well, than have to deal with the pressure of not having a life, an opportunity. Instead of making excuses though, he should’ve realized early on that basketball should have been merely a gateway, an enabler, to that opportunity. Chikosi neglected to mention to his son that basketball could be one of MANY ways that he might get into a college, at which success would give him the opportunity to do ANYTHING he wanted. Instead, he put the blinders on his child and told him essentially that basketball was the only way out. Wrong. Very wrong.
In asserting to Marquise that basketball was his lone shot, Chikosi set the prospect of failure into his unknowing child’s mind. He also placed him into a sweepstakes where the odds are ludicrously against him. What will happen if Marquise focuses so much on basketball that his academics fall far behind? What if he injures himself badly in high school? What if he peaks at to early an age? What if he just plain doesn’t grow? There are too many uncertainties and pratfalls to put all of your eggs into the basketball basket, and Chikosi managed to conveniently ignore that while he had dollar signs in his eyes.
Though I am not a parent, I have a hard time believing that I will want things this way for my child when I do become one. Like I said in the beginning, EVERY parent worth his or her salt wants the best for their child. That said, there is a right as well as a very wrong way to insure that they achieve their goals. One way to go about insuring their well being is to make sure that their goals are not YOUR goals in secret (or in Chikosi’s case, not so secret). It is not the parents’ job to force their child down a path by disguising and twisting their own attempts at redemptive success as a child’s “love” for that one thing. Who loves basketball more, Marquise? Or Chikosi?
I sincerely hope that Marquise does indeed make it to the NBA, because for how it looks now, his father might have done him the ultimate disservice by taking away the one thing each parent does give their children, a chance to do anything…