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America’s Next Sweetheart…Eventually

Leave it to the NCAA to shatter dreams before they even begin.

We’ve always defined swimming by the men and women that swam the events.  Especially on the women’s side.  First it was Janet Evans.  Then, Summer Sanders.  Recently it was Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin.    But now that they’ve moved on to new parts of their lives and new swimmers are stepping up to take their place.  No one has snatched that mantle more than a smiling, bubbly teenager by the name of Missy Franklin.  She should be America’s next sweetheart…if the NCAA would allow her.

Ninety percent of the population will never compete in the Olympic games.  It’s impossible for us to know what it’s like to put that medal around your neck and win.  I know we focus on gold, but if you’ve won a bronze, you’re still ahead of the game.  Missy Franklin is a 17 year old swimming wunderkind who blistered the world to the tune of 4 gold medals and a bronze.  Even Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time (I dare you to argue that), hadn’t won squat at 17.

Franklin should be America’s next darling.  The next Mary Lou, the next Wheaties box.  But she won’t be.  Maybe after the Rio games, but not now.  Not for lack of desire, but because she’s always worked to maintain her amateur status.  She loves swimming and still swims on her HS team (how’d you like to face her in a meet?)  and has said she’d like to swim on the college team (wherever she attends college).  There’s an ambitious gal, huh?  Sure, she’s won gold medals, but she wants to ride the bus with a bunch of other college aged girls.

She should be able to do both.  She should be America’s sweetheart, appearing in commercials, on wheaties boxes, on Letterman, and more.  But if she wants to swim in college (which might help her stay really really good but balance it out with some normalcy) , she can’t.  Thanks to the NCAA, who is convinced there’s a difference between amateur and professional athletes these days.  I mean yes, one group gets paid and the other doesn’t, but how much sense does it all make?

I mean, after all, the NCAA isn’t exactly hurting for money.  It’s not like the athletic teams at the Division 1 level are hurting for money.  Yet the NCAA will come down hard on any athlete who does something no different than a non-athlete…earn a little cash.  What’s wrong with that?  She’s accomplished something that others will never achieve yet she’s bound by some asinine rule because the crusty ole NCAA wants to ensure she’s somehow not gaining an advantage.  I’m sorry, did you not see her 5 Olympic medals.  Sorry, she’s got an advantage…it’s called she’s better than other swimmers.

Wouldn’t it actually be beneficial to the NCAA to have her not only endorse products but also be picture with the logo of YOUR school?  If you’re the NCAA, doesn’t it sound like a good thing that an Olympic gold medalist is swimming in your meets an drawing attention to sports OTHER than men’s basketball and football.  Not that college swimming is going to somehow rival basketball or football, but maybe, just maybe it’d get a few people to show up.  You should want that.  She’s special and wants to be a part of your swimming events, you should allow her to do so without sacrificing the rewards of the hard work she’s already put in.

Remember Jeremy Bloom?  The US Skier who was working to qualify for the 2002 Olympics in mogul skiing, but still wanted to play football for the University of Colorado.  Well, skiers live on sponsorships.  They NEED them to survive and be able to train.  The NCAA barred Bloom from playing for nearly 2 years.    He wasn’t a GREAT football player, he just wanted to play.  He was a walk on player who happened to be good enough to get on the field.  The sponsorships were a seperate issue, but the champions of reason, the NCAA, cost him a football career and may have screwed with his skiing career as well (he never medaled).

Franklin’s going to have plenty of time to swim at at least 1 or 2 more Olympic games.  She’ll make her money, but that doesn’t mean she should defer the attention, the rewards, the profit.  That’s ridiculous.  She’s worked hard and there’s always reward for a job well done.  She’s supposed to get $150K for each of her gold medals.  She EARNED that.  Yet, if she takes a dime, the NCAA will step in and say “oh, sorry, you can’t swim in our meets.  You’re a professional.”  Doesn’t that seem dumb?  Of course it is, this is the NCAA.

The NCAA wants its blood money first, taking every penny from Franklin’s talents first.  They’ll promote the living hell out of her as long as she’s in school and tout her as a champion student and athlete.  They’ll rest on the “student athlete” laurel, acting like they really care about what the students are doin in class.  Then they’ll sit back and count their money from all the new attention that has poured into their swimming pools.  They’ll pat themselves on the back once again and the whole process will begin again.

Missy Franklin is everything right with sports.  She’s always smiling, seems to be in awe of the moment and loves to compete.  She’s a fierce competitor and a winner.  She earned rewards untold and unlike anything most of us will ever know.  This should be her time to capitalize but the behind the scene, living in the shadow, pounce at the wrong moment NCAA is watching her every step.  Waiting, watching, ensuring that America’s next sweetheart doesn’t get the reward she rightly deserves.

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