(NNPA) — Recently, I had a chance to be a representative of the National Alliance of African-American Athletes (NAAAA) at the Florida State-Georgia Tech ACC Championship football game in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and championship quarterback, “Famous” Jameis Winston. I was also offered an opportunity to meet Winston and his family. So I took the occasion to enjoy a very interesting and eye-opening evening of football, academics, business and relationships.
Starting with the football game, the Alliance had great seats in the middle section of the stadium, right below the luxury boxes at the 50-yard-line. That made my view crystal clear to watch Winston work his Earvin “Magic” Johnson-like “gift” on the field again, willing his Florida State Seminoles to rally from behind and overcome a very determined Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team and crowd for a 37-35 win. That’s now 26 straight games that Florida State has yet to taste defeat under Winston’s uncanny leadership.
Once the game reached the fourth quarter, stadium security was less concerned about seat assignments, so I was invited to sit closer to the field and meet the Winston family. In the lower seats off the corner of the end zone, I met a joyously animated father who stood, yelled and joked with the surrounding fans throughout the game, and a calm and observant mother who sat quietly in the cold and watched the game on the giant jumbo screen above the goal post.
I pinched myself and asked, “Is this the real mom and dad of that talented young man out there with the sexual allegations, stolen crab legs, loose cannon mouth, autograph infractions and gigantic football ego, who may or may not go pro next year?”
All of that came to mind while standing beside them. You can’t help it. Jameis Winston has been all over the news since 2013, with everything he says or does. Yet, his parents were as normal as any other parents I’ve been around in youth football, basketball, baseball, track and field or soccer. I’ve been around supportive parents and families ever since I started playing organized football in West Philadelphia nearly 40 years ago, with my own mother loading her car full of excited, cleat-wearing boys for our Saturday morning games.
So I immediately related to them. However, the Alliance related because Jameis Winston had maintained high academic standards throughout high school, and they had formed their non-profit, educational resource to help African-American scholar athletes to maintain their academic standards, while competing on the university level. That’s why we’ve never heard anything negative about Winston’s academics. The star athlete maintained a 4.0 GPA in high school and a reported 3.7 GPA at FSU, joining the ranks of Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle; Duke’s Shane Battier; Ohio State’s Tedd Ginn Jr.; Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy; North Carolina’s Ronald Curry; Washington’s Lorenzo Alexander; and many more who have come through their program.
The search committee for the NAAAA continues to seek talented, self-motivated African-American kids at the high school level to work diligently with the coaches, parents and athletic directors for the best student athlete results.
The Alliance Assistant Director Tyrone Tate explained that their mission is to help athletes and their parents to navigate an increasing tough terrain of university issues in academics, conduct and business. Like it or not, these talented athletes are now worth billions of dollars in annual sports and television-generated revenue.
So at the end of the night, parents and family members lined up in a restricted meeting area near the team busses to safeguard the lifelong investments in their kids with continued encouragement, love and support, while realizing that some of their guys will be worth millions of dollars as professionals in the years to come.
As expected, with his media interview requests after the game, Jameis Winston was the last player out of the locker rooms. I shook the young man’s hand with a brief introduction and couldn’t imagine myself going through the consistent parental monitoring of such a rare and special talent. I would rather my two sons learn how to become men on their own, with my guidance needed only from a distance. But neither of my two boys are Jameis Winston.
As Tyrone Tate explained it, “If you don’t take it upon yourself to protect your kid from the agents, hangers-on, girlfriends and everyone else who try to meet them after the games, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of people waiting to take advantage of them. That’s why we’re here to help assist them through the process with our experience and relationships.”
For more information about the National Alliance of African-American Athletes, visit: www.naaaa.com.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist. He has published 27 books. To contact Omar Tyree, visit: www.OmarTyree.com