Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Diamonds in the Rough

Africa is home to many treasures our country cherishes. Its mines produce most of our diamonds and gold is a hot commodity. A recent new hot export however is of a new sort. The latest hot item is African basketball players. Blessed with natural height and athleticism, several locations in Africa have become hotbeds of potential basketball talent; none moreso than Nigeria.

The Washington Post ran an absolutely fascinating series this week on the African basketball "trade". I would highly recommend reading it entirely. Colleges and the NBA are anxiously trying to get their hands on the best talent Nigeria has to offer, but there are obstacles preventing the impoverished youngsters of that country from reaching those dreams. For many, basketball is the brightest hope of a way out of the poverty their family is wallowed in.

Unfortunately, it does not come easy. There are an extremely limited number of visas available for these guys to come over, obtain a college education, and maybe get a chance at the NBA. As well, it has become obvious to outsiders bent on making their own buck that the players are a commodity. This often means they are exploited. Agents, brokers, and go-betweens are turned to in efforts to get to the United States. One man demands 20% of future earnings. All this makes it much harder for any average person there to attempt to come to the United States.

But exploitation often does bring the players possibilities. To most, if they make it here, it's worth it. At the bottom of this is the fact that these are kids whose dream is big but the simple opportunity for an education would suffice. They hope for a future they don't even understand. They are just poor kids who deserve the best. I truly wish all had the access to make of themselves what they could. Unfortunately the system is causing the problem to worsen and even those who make it big aren't able to provide a meaningful helping hand back to their homeland due to the corruption. And those left behind gain nothing. Often the truly talented ones, that deserve a chance, are denied visas due to the greed of a few. The words of one such youth, written to a broker trying to gain him U.S. access, resound sadly:
Hi Coach. we are all praying over here for a positive answer from the embassy. thanks for the last mail it was very encouraging. coach please, i love hearing from u becos u are the only coach that really encourages me. please sir i need some words of encouragement from u and i want u to be my godfather. coach since i lost my dad i have never seen a man as kind as u, so please accept me as your godson. i will be grateful if my request it granted. please.

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