Paul Hewitt Talks with US Congressman Steve Cohen About Cohen's Comments

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJune 9, 2009

ATLANTA - MARCH 12:  Head coach Paul Hewitt of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets reacts to a call during day one against the Clemson Tigers of the 2009 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 12, 2009 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Last week, we talked a bit about Steve Cohen, a congressman from Tennessee, and the letter he sent to the NBA regarding their age limit. Cohen, in my opinion, was completely, 100 percent correct in his conclusions about the NBA's age limit.

But for a congressman, Cohen probably could use a lesson in being a bit more politically correct.

He may have gotten one from Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt.

In an interview with the New York Times, Cohen had some pretty inflammatory things to say:

“It’s a vestige of slavery. Not like the slavery of 150 years ago, but it’s a restraint on a person’s freedoms and liberties.”
“There’s something wrong with keeping kids, who are more likely to be African-American than not, from playing professional basketball and football when they can help their families and communities immediately. They’re forced to go to school when they have no desire or interest in going to school.”
“I think the odds of either of them coming back and getting a degree is probably less likely than the Grizzlies winning the N.B.A. title next year.”
“He [referring to former Georgia Tech player Thaddeus Young] could have gone straight to the pros. I don’t think he’s going to be an engineer. It’s just kind of a mockery.”
Thaddeus Young was at the center of a controversy involving comments
made by a Congressman from Tennessee.
(photo credit: SoulHonky)

First of all, I don't think I even need to mention the problems with Cohen, who is white, comparing anything to slavery.

I understand the point he is making, and I am not disagreeing with it, but to compare "forcing" a student-athlete to attend college for free for a year because he can put a ball through a metal rim to slavery is down right absurd and completely inappropriate.

It makes it worse that the people he is referring too are, in general, African- American youths.

That isn't the quote that upset Hewitt. It was the other three, specifically the way that Cohen spoke about Thaddeus Young. Young, who happens to hail from Cohen's district in Tennessee, was a 4.0 student in high school and left Georgia Tech in good academic standing.

It wasn't just the fact that Cohen blatantly insulted a former player of Hewitt's. Cohen also basically said that getting an education is worthless endeavor for these kids, and that the majority of them simply do not care about schooling. Again, I don't know what he was intending when he said it, but even I got a sense of racial undertones when reading it.

Not surprisingly, Hewitt was upset when he learned of these comments and demanded an apology from Cohen (follow the link, Hewitt's comments are long and, for the most part, scathing in nature).

"Saying a young man choosing to go to school at Georgia Tech, whether it’s one year or four years, is a mockery, I just didn’t think that was an accurate statement and I thought it was somewhat damaging," Hewitt to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We know what we have here and the type of kids we bring here.

...The value of an education for a college basketball player is as significant as for anyone in the country, and I don’t think we should ever downplay that."

Hewitt and Cohen spoke over the phone, and apparently they were able to hash out their differences peacefully. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, Hewitt said that he was "satisfied with their conversation", but didn't get into what was actually said.

The most ironic part of all this?

Hewitt and Cohen agree on the age issue. Hewitt supports a system similar to that of baseball, where players can go straight to the pros, but if they go to school, they need to spend three years there (personally, I say two years, because it will mean more talent will end up in the college ranks, but the three year argument makes it very easy for a kid to earn his degree in that time if he attends summer classes for each year).

This is what I will leave you with. The gist of what Cohen was saying was essentially correct, and if those quotes came from a group of friends (regardless of race) talking sports, then it is what it is.

But if you are a congressman representing a region that no doubt has a black population, then you cannot be quoted in the New York Times using such rhetoric.

The bottom line is that there is a perception that "jocks are dumb", which isn't entirely untrue. But there are plenty of kids playing a Division-I sport at a very high level that are incredibly intelligent and that could succeed in another career path, just as there are plenty of morons out there that simply are not athletically gifted.

People drop out of college all the time. Musicians, actors, construction workers, and even guys like Bill Gates leave school before earning their degrees to pursue careers. There are also a lot of professional athletes that go back to school to earn their degrees.

Remember the uproar over Vince Carter's decision to go back to North Carolina to graduate during a playoff series?

So while the NBA's age limit is an exploitative rule that is in place to allow the NBA (and, to a certain extent, the NCAA) to maximize their profit margin, using stereotypes and generalities to argue the issues is not the way to go about changing it.

There is a silver lining, however. Maybe this little dust-up will bring the problems of the 19-and-1 to the forefront, and will help in eventually getting it overturned.