Football vs. Education

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A very interesting debate is taking place on the Liberian football landscape – one that could determine whether the face of Liberia changes or remains the same.

Liberian Football Association (LFA) Chair Musa Bility has decided that youths who are not actively enrolled in institutions of learning will not be allowed to take part in the annual county meet.

Mr. George Weah, an internationally acclaimed Liberian soccer legend, has disagreed with Bility. Weah’s position is that young people whose parents cannot afford to send them to school should be given the opportunity to make something of themselves, even as he (Weah) himself did.

Both men have valid points. Bility’s position could change the face of Liberian, yea African football. Having a squad of educated men on the national football team could make for increased discipline, something Liberian football has been sorely lacking. It would also send the important message across Africa that education and football are not mutually exclusive. That means that a player does not have to – and must not – choose between football (or any sport for that matter) and education.

As many former American basketball stars have learned, a sports career is not a substitute for education. A young man can sign a multi-million dollar contract today, suffer an injury on the court and lose his career in six months.

Due to lack of education and discipline, a talented young man with money who knows nothing about investing can follow the wrong crowd, spend his money on drugs, drinking, material possessions and women, and have nothing to show or leave to his children by the time his life is over.

Mr. Weah may have been very fortunate to have had strong personal discipline as well as good mentors who gave him sound financial advice and taught him how to invest. Today, long after his sports career is over, he is not begging for scratch cards and living off women.

Even so, however, Mr. Weah will admit that with all of his wealth, he himself has twice hit the glass ceiling that has stood between him and the one dream that constantly seems to evade him – the Liberian presidency. With no shortage of campaign financing, Mr. Weah twice lost the presidential elections to a woman whose education opened the door for her to acquire the requisite experience voters looked for in a president. That education and experience enabled her to speak for her country on an international stage, which earned Liberia’s credibility in the comity of nations and hence a seat at the table of decision making. Has she made mistakes? A ton. But Liberians were more willing to take the risk with education and experience than without. By contrast, the majority of those who voted for the less-educated candidate were themselves mostly uneducated.  We have to change that dynamic so that the entire voting population is able to make educated choices and decisions.

Notwithstanding, Mr. Weah, clearly has a heart for the less fortunate, which stems from his own experience. The only problem is that his experience was more the exception than the norm. We cannot have a whole generation of children thinking they can all grow up to be King Pele. Out of a population of 3.5 million, everyone cannot play for AC Milan. We need to disabuse our children of that notion. We need to disabuse them of the notion that football is their only ticket out of poverty.

The wonder of education is that it gives a man/woman options. If he breaks his leg today, once it heals, he can go into business.  Education also gives a man the keys to his own destiny. Without it, he cannot even read his own contract. Only his managers know exactly how much he is really worth.

Weah has proposed that if only youths enrolled in schools are to be allowed to participate in the inter-county meet, then school should be free for all children. We disagree. The point is for our children not to lose focus on their education every time the meet comes around. They must understand that there are no short cuts to success.

A young man from Paynesville grew up with a natural talent for soccer. He became a rising star and a member of the Lone Star’s U-20 team. One day, the coach announced that a select number of the group would be traveling to Greece. Elkhart Davis, as this young Liberian came to be known, was one hundred percent sure he would be selected. He would go to Greece and become a star. In the final lineup, the coach chose his son, a far lesser player. Elkhart Davis became a drunkard. All of his eggs were in the soccer basket that crashed.

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