Some of these people need to be committed

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By Steve Doyle

There’s a canyon-sized gap in our high school curriculum that has become overwhelmingly obvious: Some of our children don’t know the meaning of the words “commit” or “commitment.”

We speak, of course, of those elite among our students who have displayed such athletic prowess that they are a human commodity for our nation’s colleges and universities.

They will allow themselves to be employed as marketing tools for the schools for four years – more or less – in exchange for a shot at a college degree, including room, board, media exposure and more manservants and handmaidens than Thurston Howell III.

But I don’t think “commitment” would mean anything to them if it were tattooed in reverse to their biceps and only be readable when they were flexing in front of a mirror.

That became neon-bright obvious again when that new national day of adulation, National Signing Day for college-bound football players, came and went.

You probably know how this works:

A coach sees an oversized or overly fast young man of about 14 participate in a summer sports camp. Said teenager likes the school where the camp is held, and he and the coach fall in love.

They exchange love letters, calls, E-mails and text messages as the kid grows bigger/faster in the next few years. Coach visits the family, and the kid tells him something like: “When I graduate, man, your school is where I’m cool. I’m committed to you.”

Except that a school just down the road and another just across the state line both like the kid, too. And, well, he says he owes it to himself to go visit those schools, you know, for fun. But he tells his coach/love: “Don’t worry. I’m still committed to you.”

This goes on for about a year, and then the day to sign rolls around. The kid decides he will be dramatic about all of this. I’m committed, but, you know, this is my moment.

So they assemble all the kids at his school (good reason to get out of class, huh?), the TV cameras show up, and he lines up baseball caps of all those schools he has visited. Then, well, he picks up a different cap than the one to which he was committed.

“Sorry. I feel terrible,” he will say, for some reason. Right.

If you follow this stuff closely like millions of other fans – and don’t count me among those masses – then you know well this futile and feckless fickleness.

Three of the best football players in Kentucky had committed to go to either UK or UofL. On signing day, but they entered their assemblies and announced they would attend neither, choosing in some cases outposts in California or Florida. One chose Illinois, but maybe he skipped geography as well as English.

They are just nearby examples of a trend that has become nationally chic. And I don’t get it.

I don’t get why the word commitment means nothing to these kids – though I’m guessing a girl or two may understand this – and I don’t get why so many of you seem to put stock in the process.

No games will be played for a while. No titles won. No championship banners hung. It’s a decision and nothing else.

Yet fully grown, educated adults will hang on every syllable uttered by these mostly monosyllabic kids. They will think it’s important to believe in what these kids say and do – even celebrate their whimsy – no matter what it all really means.

If you’re a UK basketball fan, you rejoiced when Terrence Jones eschewed his signing-day-hoopla commitment to the University of Washington to renege and sign with the Cats. But don’t you just question for a second the integrity and character of such a kid to do such a thing?

Just last week a young quarterback from Seneca who had committed to UofL decided dramatically that the University of Central Florida was a “good business decision” for him. He said it hurt to make that decision, but he made it.

A kid who had committed to Auburn turned around and faxed his letter of intent to Alabama (ouch). A boy who wanted to go to Ole Miss didn’t know it but his mother sent his letter to another school closer to home.

Fans wept.

I have for decades watched this process and its star-based grading system – sounds a little like grade school, doesn’t it? Well, not one where they teach “commitment” – and its fawning followers.

I have seen the 5-star guys become the biggest flameouts, and I’ve seen obscure little guys who signed late in the summer become megastars and ultimately make millions.

The process does not change, but the real game goes on for years, starting with that camp, that moment of commitment.

When I was at Shelby County High School, back in the pen-and-ink era, I worked in the office during my lunch hours, where my duties included sorting the mail.

And arriving each day, much to my amazement, were letters for athletes from colleges near and far, mail I was instructed to stuff into the boxes of the basketball coaches for delivery to Jim Simons, Mike Popp and Lowell Ashby, among others.

They were stars, all-staters, all-region. They danced their dance with recruiters. They played well and earned their attention from colleges.

And you know what they did? They told a coach they would accept his offer, arranged for their parents and coach to be there and signed that letter in the principal’s office, with someone snapping photos for the scrapbook.

They may not have gone on to glorious athletic success in college and made millions in sports, but they become something more important: successful as men and in life.

Maybe that’s because they knew the meaning of  “commitment.”