The Tragedy of the Young Prodigy

History tends to repeat itself in the sporting world.

Many presumed that a lanky red headed football player named Todd Marinovich would be the best quarterback to ever play the game.

In the late 80’s, he began to blow up on the national sports scene. He broke several records, including the all time record for yards, by passing for 9,914 throughout his high school career. He was named a Parade All-American, Offensive Player of the year, and won the award for the Touchdown Club’s high school player of the year.

He went on to play at USC, just as his father did, and had an incredible freshman year, leading the Trojans on to win the PAC-10 conference. He was drafted to the NFL after two college seasons.

But, he never made it much past that.

He played two seasons, and his professional career was unfortunately cut short by a drug addiction. Drugs evidently became his coping mechanism for the failure he was experiencing, and the stress of being so closely watched.

At the beginning of his career, every single aspect of his life indicated that he was on a path directly toward success as a professional athlete. His father trained him using methods that were before their time. The kid was an incredible athlete.

However, many would say that he didn’t even fulfill a fraction of his potential.

Marinovich is perhaps the greatest high school athlete turned flop that pre collegiate sports has seen. His must serve as a cautionary tale for a nation that often sorely miscalculates the likelihood of success.

Right now, there’s something amazing going on in the world of basketball.

One family — the Balls, are dominating the conversation at every level of the sport.

Lamelo Ball is a high school prodigy, and is said to be the best recruit of the class of 2020.

Liangelo is on his way to UCLA, where he’ll have the tough task of following in the footsteps of his brother.

And Lonzo Ball, just recently had his first professional game.

In our day and age, we have the unique opportunity with social media to keep up with our stars, and peer into their personal lives. As a result, we create narratives that might not have otherwise existed.

Currently, some believe that all of the Ball brothers are league bound. They’re talked about on nearly every single sports show, and fans are anticipating a day when all of the brothers are playing in the league together.

Their father, Lavar Ball is known for his outlandish commentary and charisma. He claims to have created the perfect basketball specimens, who will all out perform Michael Jordan and live on to be some of the best basketball players in history.

What a standard to live up to.

The problem with young prodigies is this; the fans watching their every move and the ones seeking to prepare them for success might actually be doing more harm than good.

Consider for example that Lavar Ball made headlines earlier this month for his controversial decision to pull his youngest son, Lamelo, out of school, so that he could homeschool him and train him himself. He blamed the school’s poor environment and coaches, claiming that this justified his decision to train him alone, rather than to expose him to the competition of his contemporaries.

Sports talking heads went crazy. It was perhaps the biggest scandal since Lebron James got his hummer.

The most challenging part of the situation lies in that potential disappointment that the Ball brothers could turn out to be. Personally, I support them; I’m a fan of their style of play and their attitudes.

However, they have more riding on their shoulders than maybe any sporting figures I’ve ever seen. Imagine being in the shoes of one of the Ball brothers — people thinking you’ll come and play for your home professional team after you play for your university, and that all the while, you’ll be one of the best, and your brothers will make it with you.. The brothers have an immense stress on them, and this is what has befallen many athletes like them.

The constant praise and adulation that they receive might be more of a curse than a blessing. Sure, people will buy their $500 shoe, but fans also expect something insane in return for all of this unwarranted hype.

It’s more likely that only one of the ball brothers will have a truly substantial NBA career, while the other two turn out to be “alright” players. Maybe neither of the other two will get drafter. Who knows. But what we do know is that right now, the Ball’s are playing for a lot more than themselves.

They’re playing for fans, they’re playing for social media and the news, and they’re playing for the fantasy that fans have built up around them. That’s a lot of pressure, and pressure has its consequences.

That, is the tragedy of the young prodigy.

Culture writer featured in Noteworthy, The Writing Cooperative, USA Today & Olustories. Comedian & Musician. Thinker.