College Athletes Should Not be Paid!

College Athletes Should Not be Paid!

DON’T PAY COLLEGE ATHLETES! I repeat. DON’T PAY COLLEGE ATHLETES! Leave your thoughts as a comment. I’d love to read your opinion.

This week, Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, passed the Fair Pay to Play Act allowing college athletes in California to be paid for their likeness. It’s going to open a Pandora’s Box of problems we can’t even begin to imagine. It’s the beginning of the end of college sports as we know them today. 

Does that sound dramatic? Sure it does. But being a former student-athlete myself, I know first hand what goes on behind closed doors on a college campus. And I know for a fact that scholarship athletes have more than enough provided for them (legally) to have a pretty comfortable life while they help generate billions of dollars in revenue. 

Tim Tebow went off about this topic during a recent interview. While I typically don’t love the guy, I agree with his point of view that collegiate athletes shouldn’t be paid. Jason Gay, sportswriter in the WSJ, has a differing opinion and doesn’t think this new law is a bad idea. Jason writes a decent column and I typically enjoy it, but he’s dead wrong on this one. 

I hear the arguments all the time. “Why should everyone else make millions of dollars and the players can’t?” Another good one is “Athletes are the only students on campus that can’t make money. No other students are forced to pass up being paid.” Those arguments don’t hold water. I stayed on campus all four summers to work out with the team while playing college football. Each summer I got a job and saved as much money as I could to give me spending money I needed for the rest of the year. Nothing was stopping me from getting summer job and earning money. The money I saved, in conjunction with the money I received through my scholarship allowed me to make it through without going into any debt. How many kids coming out of college today can say they have zero debt? Not many. 

After college people enter the capitalistic real world. There’s still a major disparity between people at the top and the bottom. The average CEO made 287 times more than their workers in 2018. Is that right? Maybe not, but college athletics isn’t the only place on earth where the worker bees generate massive wealth for people at the top. Also, we must remember, there is a major value to getting a college education paid for and that value continues to rise. Essentially, as college tuition increases, the value student-athletes are receiving continues to rise as well, at a much higher clip that income percentages.

One major difference between college and the real world is that college is putting athletes in a position to have options, to get to the top, to be that CEO one day. Student-athletes get the opportunity to get their education paid for. Maybe I’m naive, but getting my degree, learning how to save, and working hard during the summer has put me in a much better financial position today as I enter my 40s than a few thousand dollars would have done for me while I was in college. I say a few thousand because I was an offensive lineman. I can’t imagine companies are salivating over spending millions on a bunch of Hoggies. “Sour grapes huh, Jake?” Not really, but I’m sure offensive linemen would love to see their starting QB roll up in BMW while they cruise into camp in their Chevy Corsica.

Even if I did get cash handed to me, I likely would have done something stupid with the money that caused me to miss a class or two. It might have caused me to lose focus on school and sports altogether, thus getting me kicked out of school. Remember…Pandora’s Box. When players start missing classes and practice for a photo shoot, coaches are going to love it.  

What we might want to consider is some additional investment in classes about financial responsibility. Most college kids are terrible with money. This is yet another reason not to throw more at them. Some might say, “Sure Jake, you were lucky. You had parents that could send you money.” I love my parents dearly, but if you knew them, you know they weren’t throwing money my way. They raised me with a good head on my shoulders and I didn’t go without what I needed. That’s true. But I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My dad was so excited when I got my scholarship, he retired from the fire department at age 52. He has lived just fine ever since, but he wasn’t shipping me his retirement checks. If they never took me out to dinner after a game or sent me a couple dollars when they could afford to now and then, it wouldn’t have been the reason I didn’t make it. 

Part of the right of passage into being a successful adult is struggling a little. It’s ok to not have everything you ever wanted when you’re in college. It’s ok to have to buy Busch Light 30 packs on Saturday before you go out and spend as little as humanly possible at the bar. It’s ok to go to Jimmy John’s and get an extra loaf of day-old. I still do that today!

Yes, being a student-athlete is tough. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  But there are also pretty great benefits to being a student-athlete. While it may not be right, my teammates and I got preferential treatment everywhere we went. On top of getting school paid for, we didn’t have to wait in line anywhere. We got free food and drinks all the time. People, yes mainly girls, were overly nice to us. We literally lived like kings for five years. I don’t see every kid on campus getting treated like that, even the rich kids with their parent’s credit cards.

What I find interesting is that as soon as athletes are out of college, I don’t hear anyone barking about the job a former athlete may or may not have gotten. More than 98% of us don’t go to the next level. Do people really believe the money an athlete can make in college is going to put them on the path of success for the rest of their life? I can assure you it’s not. Even the majority of pro athletes are broke soon after they leave their respective sport. “But Jake, these guys can’t even afford to go to the movies.” I’ll say it again, it’s ok to struggle a little. We need to focus our energy on preparing student-athletes for life and stop worrying about the short window in time that is college. 

I could literally write about this topic for days. I could go into the problems money could bring into the individual locker rooms between different units. I could discuss how this could make the divide in college football have and have-nots even larger than it is today. I could discuss the impact this would have on gender inequality. How would you even begin to think about financial equality across the football team at Ohio State and the figure skating team at Western Michigan? The discussion is endless. I think healthy debate is good and there are definitely actions that can be taken to further invest in our college athletes, but putting money directly into their pockets the way it’s being proposed is going to be a problem. 

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment. This debate is just getting started. 

 

Life at the Lake

Life at the Lake

Growing up in Indiana shaped much of who I am today. After leaving at 18 for college, I moved around a bit. I’ve lived in Indiana, Michigan, South Dakota, California and currently in Illinois. Each stop along the way brought about significant change in my life, but there’s always been one place, one constant that holds true, that’s Chicagon Lake in the U.P. of Michigan. It’s God’s country.

My parents bought a piece of property in 1983. I was three years old. Circa 1985, they

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Nephews, kids, grand-kids

began to build a small log cabin that would become the single most familiar place in my life for the next 35 years. It became affectionately known as “Gasaway’s Vacation Station.”

When I was little, we’d spend weeks at a time there during the summer. My mom was a teacher and my dad was a fireman; so they were able to schedule their work to be away from for long stretches. It was at the lake I learned how to water ski, tube, cut wood, build a campfire, fish, drive a boat, ride four-wheelers and all the other fun things a kid can get into in the North Woods. There were times I would even complain to my mom that I wanted to go home because we were there too long. If I could go back and smack my younger self in the head for those complaints, I would. I would give anything to be able to spend the kind of time up there I used to. It’s just hard for a young kid to understand how important a place like that can become in a person’s life.

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Teaching James how to fish

As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t been able to get up there as much. Life has taken hold. It’s not just as easy as jumping in the car or taking weeks off work to head up to the lake. It takes a lot more planning and effort, but it’s well worth it to take my kids up there to help them gain all those experiences I did.

For over 20 years now, with the exception of a couple here and there, my buddy Josh and I have gone up for the 4th of July. We’ve been going up together since high school. We took our girlfriends, that became our wives, and now we take the kids as well. It’s

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Some of the crew on the 4th in 2016

something I look forward to year in and year out. This year is no different. We’re actually getting to go up for bit longer than usual and I cannot wait. Nearly all the kids are old enough now to make the memories I did and hearing the excitement they have when we go out on the boat or when they catch a fish helps me further understand what a place like that can mean for families.

My parents welcome everyone to their cabin and it’s a place people go to come together and enjoy time away from the rat race of “normal” life. I can’t thank them enough for having the forethought to build such a special place we can always visit. It’s become such an important staple for so many people through the years and we continue to make memories that will last for lifetimes to come.

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James with his favorite treat

There will certainly be a lot of change in the future and life isn’t going to slow down any time soon, but there’s something that will remain constant for years to come and that’s the cabin on the lake. See you soon!

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Drone shot above the pontoon

 

 

Priorities Change

Priorities are interesting. Two years ago I set out to blog once a month. Here I am, over a year since my last post, writing for the first time in 2018. #FAIL

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Think about it for a second. Is there something you recently wanted to accomplish and you put it at the top of your list to get done? If so, you probably crushed it. If it wasn’t at the top of the list, it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere; figuratively or literally. That’s how it goes. If it’s important to you, it gets done. But there’s only so much time in a day and typically a Netflix binge seems way more important than going to bed early.

I’ve been blessed with two additional children since my very first blog, so there’s that. You see what I did there? I gave a not-so-subtle reason for why I haven’t blogged as much as I planned. Some might call children a legitimate reason for re-prioritizing. Some might call using them as a reason, an excuse. I can boil it down to prioritization. I just flat out haven’t prioritized writing highly enough to get it done. In other words, writing is not that important to me at this point in my life. I have to be honest with myself when things change. The next time someone tells you they don’t have time, go ahead and substitute their statement with, “It’s not that important to me.”

Take a look at what people do with their time and you’ll clearly see what is important to them. Some people watch sports, work, read, travel, work out, or eat. Some people even eat for sport. However you slice it, what people find important, they focus on. Sometimes that’s a benefit and sometimes, a detriment.

Unfortunately, my health has been more on the detriment side of late. Since my athletic career ended in 2002 and I cut about 50+ lbs from my all-time high playing weight, I’ve found a way to let my weight creep up and my exercise regiment slow down. These days, I consider taking 10K steps a day solid exercise. College Jake would choke if I told him walking was how I stay healthy. He would also consider my weight-room routine laughable. Personally, I needed to revisit my priorities.

My wife and I decided it’s time to prioritize our health. We’ve got three great kids (there won’t be a fourth), so we made a joint decision. It’s time to kick the everyday ice cream habit and really figure out our food and exercise plans.

Fortunately, neither of us are in a dire situation or any health danger. We want to make sure it stays that way before one comes up and smacks us in the face. I’ll be 40 years old next year and I have a lot of life in front of me. Not only do I want to stay healthy for my own sake, but I’m a bit on the older than many dads with super-young kids. I want to be able to run around with them for many years to come.

I’m not a person that jumps at shiny objects or latches onto the latest fads. I realize focusing on health sounds cliche, but priorities do change and we’re about to put health at the top of our list. We’re going to crush it. I’m sure we won’t be perfect with our health focus, and from time to time, we’ll need to pull ourselves back on track, but I’m excited as hell to prioritize our health again.

Amazing goals can be accomplished when they get prioritized. I’m knocking on a 40-year-old-door. I’m not looking to walk through it next year. I’m going to kick it down (queue obligatory Rocky theme song).

More to come on this topic. Stay tuned………

Addiction Can Get Anyone

Recently Tiger Woods, for the first time, made me feel bad for him. Never have I had a hint of sorrow for him in the past. As his life was crumbling around him and his wife and golf game left him, I felt like he deserved it for not living up to the squeaky clean image he always portrayed. Then, when I heard he had been arrested for DUI, my first reaction was….good. He’s a bum.

A couple days later, as the smoke cleared, I found out he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, but what appeared to be painkillers. I don’t condone the fact that he was out driving around high on anything, but hearing he was on painkillers gave me pause. As a person that deals with back pain every day because of the athlete I used to be, I can understand how someone can get hooked.  

In May, I went to my annual college football alumni golf outing. At the outing, we did what we normally do. We talked about how good we used to be, had a couple too many drinks and played some terrible golf. But this year I heard something I didn’t expect. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because my closest friends are around 40 now, but several of my buddies have been dealing with addiction in one way or another for a long time. Much of it stems from the early start they got by trying to make it through season after season of pounding on their bodies.

I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I believe the mindset of an athlete that plays at a high level is: “just get me on the field, I’ll worry about the pain later.” This attitude can cause people to take dangerous steps leading to dire consequences in the future, but I don’t think it’s unique to the people I know. I also know the macho mindset of most athletes is they can take on the world themselves and they don’t need help. This is also a slippery slope when it comes to chemical addiction.  

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Dave Gove (Former WMU Hockey Standout)

Of the stories I heard at the outing, one was the most shocking of all. I learned a fellow athlete from Western, from the era when I was playing ball, died of a heroin overdose earlier this year. His name was Dave Gove and he was an outstanding hockey player. Dave was a buddy of mine. We weren’t close, but we ran with the same crowds and frequented the same establishments while we were in college. We hadn’t stayed in touch after graduation as he continued his hockey career, but what I did know of him was that he was a great guy. From what I witnessed, he was a straight arrow and always had a smile on his face. When I heard the news of his death, I couldn’t believe it. Dave was not the guy you would ever expect something like an overdose to happen to.

It’s hard for me to imagine a guy that made it to the top of his profession could struggle with addiction to the extent he would die. It’s hard for me to imagine a person my age overdosed on heroin. And it’s even harder for me to imagine how challenging living with an addiction must be.

I’ve had family members succumb to addiction and their stories seemed to make sense to me, as odd as it sounds. But when I see athletes and former athletes struggle with demons, my assumption isn’t likely dissimilar to theirs. I believe they can beat it. They’re used to winning and beating the odds. They’ve been doing it their entire lives. Unfortunately, they don’t always pull through.

I’ve thought about Dave a lot since the outing. His story is all too common. If there is anything good that can come of it, I hope someone sees it and is inspired to get help when they need it. Dave had a lot of people who cared about him. And I’m guessing that’s the case with most addiction stories.

The idea of my blog is to relate to people that played sports but also to provide young folks a resource for what life can be like after sports end. Hopefully, anyone reading this heavy message can take a moment to understand how serious addiction and drug use can be. We don’t need to ever lose another one like Dave. Rest in peace Bronco Brother. 

I Love My Minivan!

I Love My Minivan!

I love my minivan! That’s right. It’s a phrase I never thought I’d utter while playing football, wearing my over-sized hoop earrings, getting tattooed and partying in college. Some might even say loving a minivan is like waving the white flag. I have to disagree. This ride is amazing. I could write about it for days…I digress. Yes, this post is about my healthy love for a grocery getter on the surface, but it’s more about a stage of life.

When I look back at my teens and early twenty’s, there’s not much else I wanted

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My first baby, stolen circa 2011

more than to be a “cool” guy. I was playing ball, then it was onto riding my Harley and working for a tobacco company, both of which were a little edgy. But as time has gone on, the want and need to be cool has waned a bit. Sure, everyone wants to be cool in their own way. It may be to impress friends on Facebook or Snapchat, attract that guy or girl you’ve been trying to date, or even fit in with a group of new people. It may even be just to appease the inner narcissist we have down deep in all of us.

I can honestly say (this is important, so pay attention), the only people I want to think I’m cool at this stage in my life live in my home with me. Interestingly, two of them are under three years of age and think I’m the coolest person on the planet. The other one is in her mid-thirties and I’ll be trying to get her to think I’m cool until I die. Crack on my mini all you want. Unless you can get my kids to do the same, it won’t have much impact.

jamesWhen I walk in the door each evening from work, it doesn’t matter how my day went or what I have to do after they go to bed, James and Stella smile as hard as they can and can’t get enough of their papa. My wife tends to roll her eyes every time I attempt to be cool, but she’s used to me at this point.

Stages in life are a tricky thing. They sneak up on us and then are gone in a flash. I often hear college students say, “I can’t wait to get out of school and start making money.” I also hear some young parents say things like, “Once we get through these early years, we’ll be in the clear.” Those comments make me cringe because every stage in life is going to come and go before we know it. I don’t know one person my parent’s age that hasn’t told me to “cherish these times, because you can’t get them back.” I know I can’t stop the clock and I’m all for change, but there are times I wish I could slow things down.

rsz_1rsz_kidsI’m not naive. I realize a time will come that my kids won’t think I’m the coolest person on Earth and the minivan may not be my ride of choice. When that point comes I’ll be at a different stage in my life. Who knows? The inner narcissist may take over and I might even jump on that Harley again. I guess that’s how the mid-life crisis came to be. For the time being, I’m going to focus on being as cool as I can for my kids as long as they think I am. And if you’re not sold on the minivan, come visit me in the burbs….another phrase I never thought I’d say. 🙂

 

Facebook, Football, and the Cotton Bowl

Facebook, Football, and the Cotton Bowl

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love it because it’s an unbelievably effective way to stay in touch with friends and see what’s going on with their life. I hate it because much of the time it’s used to show how perfectly wonderful life is when we all know life is not always “Facebook Fun.” It can also keep us from reaching out to our true friends because we have a false sense of knowing what’s going on in their lives due to their recent posts. I can go on for days about the pros and cons, but I’ll hop off the soap box for now.

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Western Michigan buses heading to the 81st Cotton Bowl

This post is about how powerful Facebook can be for important events in our lives. On January 2nd, 2017, my alma mater Western Michigan University, played in quite possibly the most important football game in our history. We played against Wisconsin in the 81st annual Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a Super Bowl in the past, but I have to say this game, being a former player for the Broncos, topped the Super Bowl for me.

The Broncos had a magical season. They entered the game a perfect 13-0 and unbeaten in their last 15 games spanning two seasons. It was the typical David vs. Goliath story. The MAC vs. the BIG10. While we lost the game, we showed we deserved to be there and, with the exception of a few major mistakes, just ran out of time. Enough about the loss. I might be sick if I write any more about it. I’m so very proud of the team for many reasons this year. They represented the school and their families extremely well.

This is about Facebook and how it played a role in the event. My entire news feed over the weekend was about the Cotton Bowl. People I haven’t seen in years were so excited to be joining the experience. Sharing their journey with other Broncos really gave the sense that the game and trip were as big as we all felt it was.

Broncos from all over the globe were celebrating in Dallas. Families made the trip. Groups of friends made the trip. Many former players made the trip. Even those that couldn’t make the trip were posting photos from their homes about the game experience they were having with their friends and families.  It was awesome and shows how people can not only rally around a sport but also stay connected through technology in a positive way.

Finally, Facebook sticks out to me above all else over the past weekend because of our Bronco Football group. There are hundreds of former players in the group and many of them were in Dallas for the game. While we all gravitate towards the guys we played with directly, all of us have a bond that transcends generations of players. And we are rarely, if ever, at a single location in the quantity we were on January 2nd, in Dallas.

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Former Bronco Football Players at the Cotton Bowl

We used the FB group to post a quick meetup at half time of Jerry’s World to take some photos and catch up for a bit. I was hoping at least a handful of guys would make it for a few minutes. To my surprise, dozens, maybe hundreds showed up. Players from many decades were there to take photos, talk about how great we used to be, and how amazing the Cotton Bowl experience was for not only the current players but for the old guys like us that shared our Bronco playing days together. After halftime, photos and comments exploded even further and the party continued on after the game.

I was talking with one of the guys about how FB helped make the gathering happen in such an easy way. Getting together like that would have been nearly impossible back in our playing days before cell phones and FB were so prevalent in our daily lives. While sometimes I get frustrated about how connected we need to be all the time, there is no question technology has a major positive impact and this was another example.

Kudos to Mr. Zuckerburg for this one. I’m sure his original intention of FB was not to help a bunch of washed up football players get together to laugh and tell lies. But for that moment in time, I’m glad he decided to change the world from his dorm in Harvard a few years back.

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Bronco Football Alumni at the Cotton Bowl

Row the Boat!

A New Chapter Begins

A New Chapter Begins

Much has changed since my last post a couple months ago. The biggest news is my wife and I had our second child, Stella Violet. She’s just over two months now and it’s still hard to believe I have two children. While she’s been a bit more challenging as an infant than our first, I’m so excited to have her with us. She’s a sweet little girl and her big brother can use a partner in crime.

Interestingly enough, I’m not a young dad. At the end of November, I’ll officially be in my late 30s and fortunately for me, my wife is a powerhouse with our newest addition. I’m sure I’d be dead in the water if she weren’t. This brings me to my next major announcement. I put the toughest professional decision of my life into play last month and took on a new role at Google. There’s nothing like two major life changes in the span of a couple months, huh?

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Google Chicago

The decision to work at Google wasn’t tough. It was actually pretty easy. Google is one of the most innovative and admired companies in the world and I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity ahead. The tough part, which was actually beyond tough, was the decision to leave my “first born,” Stitch Labs. I could write for hours about my time at Stitch Labs and what an amazing challenge and opportunity it was to start a business with two outstanding co-founders, but I’ll save those stories for future posts.

People ask me regularly, how could you leave your own company? It boiled down to life changes. My life is in a very different place than it was nearly six years ago when we started the business. I’m no longer living in San Francisco, I’ve got two little kiddos to consider and I’ve been living the startup life for a long time. I know it’s hard for people to comprehend, but if there were one person that understands more than anyone in the world, it was my cofounder, Brandon.

Startups take every ounce of your being. I’m not saying I won’t give my all to Google, because I give my all in every position I’ve ever had. But it’s different when it’s your name on the door. I love my new job, but win or lose in my new role and I’m guessing Google will probably be ok. It wasn’t that way for years at Stitch Labs and it’s going to continue to be a major battle for years to come.

When Brandon and I sat down to discuss my departure, it was the most difficult professional conversation of my life. But he, as he does, handled it in a way that made me again realize why I went into business with him in the first place. He’s the ultimate partner and I know he’s going to continue to make Stitch Labs amazing.

The good news is Stitch Labs looks very different today than it did when we began with just three people. The much larger team is outstanding. We brought on more and more A-players and the direction the company is the right one. There’s never a good time to leave an organization, especially one you help build, but if there were, now was the time.

Going forward, I plan to still play a role in the success of the company. I love to be an evangelist, be a resource to any of the employees needing an ear, and stand on the sidelines as their biggest cheerleader. As this new chapter of my life begins as a father of two and new Googler, or Noogler as I’m called, I look back on my past chapter fondly and to my future one with great anticipation.

The reason I started this blog was to share what life is like after time on the athletic field ends. If there is one thing I can share with any young person reading this is that there is no blueprint to life. I always thought there was when I was a young man, but I quickly realized there wasn’t, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I never could have guessed I’d live in South Dakota one day or help start a company in Silicon Valley and go on to work at Google in Chicago. None of those are what a kid from the Region thinks about when they’re little. Make opportunities for yourself and be smart enough to take the information in front of you and make the best decisions possible as they present themselves. Life tends to be more exciting that way.

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to everyone at Stitch Labs for being the great people you are. Best of luck as you continue to do what you do. I’ll be the guy on the sidelines cheering my heart out.