What do you want to be when you grow up?
That question is almost never answered with “I want to be a CPA” or “I want to be a personal injury attorney” or “I want to be a dock worker.” Yet most of us work as CPAs or attorneys or dock workers or something similarly as crucial to society, but not nearly as glamorous as the more common answers.
I want to be a music producer.
I want to be an NFL quarterback.
I want to be a movie star.
To make it in any of those professions is an extreme long shot. But dreams can come true.
That’s what last weekend’s NFL Draft was all about. Yes, it’s about football and which teams are going to improve their chances of winning the Super Bowl. But at its core the draft is about beating the odds and becoming one of those rare kids who never had to come to grips with the idea that being a CPA can provide a good life, even if nobody will ever fill an arena to watch you balance a ledger account.
The 32 players who were selected in the first round last Thursday night will each earn a signing bonus of at least $5 million. For No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns, that signing bonus number is $21.85 million. The total value of his first deal is an estimated $32,683,750.
For the four players chosen from The University of Alabama in the first round, their first NFL contracts are set to pay $16.5 million for No. 11 pick Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Miami Dolphins, $14.5 million for No. 13 pick Da’Ron Payne of the Washington Redskins, $11.6 million for No. 22 pick Rashaan Evans of the Tennessee Titans and $10.9 million for No. 26 pick Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons.
Fitzgerald, Payne, Evans and Ridley make 26 players in the last 10 years selected in the first round from Alabama. Among those 26 are Mark Barron from St. Paul’s, C.J. Mosley from Theodore, Julio Jones from Foley and D.J. Fluker, who played at both McGill-Toolen and Foley.
Of course, you don’t have to be an expert in statistics to know these astronomical paydays for first-round picks are only slightly more likely to be achieved than winning a Mega Million lottery jackpot.
But there’s a huge difference between working to realize an NFL dream and trying to strike it rich at the local convenience store.
For every person who reaches his NFL goal, there are thousands who learned the value of hard work, persistence, teamwork and goal setting while falling short of their ultimate dream. I was one of those kids who was good enough to play quarterback just like Baker Mayfield — except for the part where he completed most of his passes to his receivers while most of mine went to the opposing team, and the part where he won a bunch of games and became nationally famous while I … didn’t.
But the point is that, like thousands of kids playing in park leagues and junior highs and high schools around Mobile, my dream, even if it died 14 levels shy of the NFL level, propelled me to learn how to work toward a goal. In my case, it led to a career in sports that didn’t depend on my extremely minimal athletic ability.
But even if I had become a CPA or lawyer or dock worker, I know the lessons I learned playing sports — and yes, pursuing a multimillion-dollar NFL contract — would still benefit me every day.
To this day I use the skills I learned being part of sports teams just as much as I use what I learned in high school classrooms. And one of those lessons was that you don’t always get what you want or believe you deserve even if you work really hard for it.
It’s why when I hear a kid say he or she wants to be a music producer or NFL quarterback or movie star, I don’t feel tempted for a second to say “Yes, but what’s your backup plan?
That’s because any backup plan is going to be enhanced simply by pursuing the less likely goal. And, who knows, somebody’s got to be the next Baker Mayfield. There are plenty of examples to prove that kid could be from right here.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.