Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that University of Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie has offered a scholarship to a California basketball player named Michael Avery. The surprising element of this is that Avery is an 8th grader, and has committed to play for UK beginning with the 2012-2013 season. Several uncertainties are in play here, as mentioned in the article: Avery, a 6'4" guard, has perhaps peaked athletically; he may suffer a serious injury; and who knows where Gillispie might be coaching in 2012?
Many ethical issues are raised by this turn of events, but I'd like to focus on one contained in several articles within a recent section of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport devoted to children and philosophy of sport, namely, the right of children to an open future. Joel Feinberg describes this right as consisting of a child being entitled to having as many options open to her as possible upon becoming an adult, so that she will be able to exercise autonomy maximally as a competent adult. It is not clear to me that Avery's right to an open future is undermined by his commitment to Kentucky, given that he can opt out of the commitment in the future. However, I would argue that it is safe to say that such a development is troubling. Should 8th graders be making such commitments, and moreover should college coaches be seeking them? While this might not, strictly speaking, unduly limit Avery's present and future autonomy, it does seem to tighten the openness of his future in significant ways. The pressure to excel in basketball might cause him to forego other options that should still be live options at his age: other sports, music, art, scholastics, and free time to just be a kid, to name a few. Even if these factors do not obtain in this specific case, they could and likely would in other cases if this practice becomes more widespread. Is this a cause for concern, or am I merely making much ado about nothing?
If anyone has thoughts on this, please post them in the comments link below.