John Urschel recounts his journey from the NFL to MIT The former Raven talks about his new memoir, ‘Mind and Matter,’ driving a Versa and why there are so few blacks in higher mathematics

As a young boy, John Urschel would amuse himself for hours solving puzzles and breezing through math workbooks. By the time he was 13, he had audited a college-level calculus class.

He was also no slouch on the football field. A two-star prospect out of high school in western New York state, Urschel was a low-priority recruit to Penn State. He worked his way into the starting lineup and later became a two-time All-Big Ten offensive lineman. He won the Sullivan Award, given to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the country, as well as the Campbell Trophy, recognizing college football’s top scholar-athlete.

Urschel completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics while at Penn State. He even taught a couple of math classes while playing for the Nittany Lions. After college, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft and signed a four-year, $2.4 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens.

Urschel loves football — the fury, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush — and he enjoyed knowing that he was playing at the highest level. But he loves math, too, and he wanted to pursue that passion as far as his ability would take him.

Urschel got a taste of how difficult it could be to do both when he suffered a concussion during his second NFL training camp. The brain injury kept him off the field for a couple of weeks. It took longer than that for him to regain the ability to do math again. Still, the following spring he passed the qualifying exam that allowed him to enroll in a full-time doctorate program in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Penguin Press

It was a great achievement, but it also meant he had two demanding jobs. By his third year in the league, he was spending more time taking stock of his life. What did his future hold? How long would his body hold up to the brutality of football? How good a mathematician could he be if he devoted himself to it full time?

He was fine financially. He earned $1.6 million over his first three years in the league while driving a Nissan Versa and living with a roommate. His big expenses were math books and coffee. He estimates that he lived on less than $25,000 a year.

In the end, he retired from the NFL at age 26 to pursue becoming a mathematician. Urschel, now 27, has about one year left before he earns his doctorate at MIT. After that, he has his sights set on a career in academia.

Urschel chronicled his uncommon journey in a new memoir, Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football, co-written with his wife, Louisa Thomas. The Undefeated recently talked to the former lineman about his new book, his view of college sports, the safety of football and his twin careers.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Why did you write this book?

I really wanted to write something that conveyed mathematics in a very beautiful light. The publisher kept pushing me to put more of myself in it. At the end of the day, the final product is a memoir that also describes my relationship with both mathematics and football.

What do you hope people take away from it?

I hope they take away a number of things, not least of which is that it’s OK to have multiple interests, it’s OK to have multiple passions, that you don’t just have to be one thing. Also, I hope people take away a newfound appreciation of mathematics that might feel a little different than sort of what they experienced in school.

Who do you see as your primary audience for the book?

First of all, I would really like to reach middle school to high school kids who may be athletes but might have some interest in academics and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] in some sense. Second, I would say anyone who simply enjoys football and math, because there’s a lot of both in this book.

Did you ever feel pigeonholed coming up?

Yes, I think I was, but I really didn’t pay too much attention to it. These things might bother some people, but I just usually viewed these things as an opportunity to change people’s mindsets.

Do you think there was some skepticism because you’re a football player, that this guy can’t be so good at math?

There initially was some skepticism, which I think was healthy. I completely understand why there was skepticism, and I think it was a reasonable thing.

Do you consider yourself a genius?

No.

What is a genius anyway?

I don’t know, and that’s why I don’t really consider myself one. Listen, I’m someone who is very good at math. I’ve been very good at math ever since I was little. A lot of hard work has gone into me being at the place where I am in mathematics today. With respect to football, I was a decent athlete. I don’t consider myself an extremely good athlete. I considered myself extremely hardworking.

Were you ever discouraged from pursuing high-level academics while playing football at Penn State?

I didn’t get any pushback from my teammates. I did get some pushback from Penn State football early on. But I do want to clarify the sense in which I got pushback, because I think I got pushback in a very good way. It wasn’t like they were saying, ‘Oh, John, this is going to take up way too much of your time.’ It was more of them saying, ‘John, let’s not take such a hard track so early on. Let’s move slow and steady, because college courses are a lot tougher than high school classes, and you think you are good at math from high school, but college is different.’ After my first fall semester, the academic advisers really picked up on the fact that, yeah, they don’t need to worry about me.

“There are brilliant, brilliant young minds being born into this country, but either they’re being born the ‘wrong’ gender or the ‘wrong’ color or into a household that doesn’t have the same opportunities as some other household.”

Do you think college athletes should be paid?

Of course they should be paid. That’s not an unbiased opinion. I’m extremely biased. Something is fundamentally wrong with the system. That’s obvious. But what’s the answer? I don’t know. Should all sorts of football players be paid? Certainly not. I don’t think the football players at, let’s say, the University of Buffalo are being exploited. Sorry. Does this football program make money? But we look at the Alabamas of the world and, well, clearly these football players are really contributing a lot and they’re the source of a great deal of revenue. How can we give them more? Because I do think they deserve more, but the right way to do it is sort of uncertain to me.

What do mathematicians do?

What a mathematician does is he uses the tools of mathematics to try to solve very complicated and important problems in this world. In some areas of mathematics, mathematicians try to solve fundamental ideas in physics. In some areas of mathematics, mathematicians are trying to understand and perfect those things in machine learning, which have great practical importance on our world. You have mathematicians who are working on Wall Street. The only thing they’re making is money, but they’re making quite a lot of it. Mathematicians work for Google. They work for Amazon. They’re the people who help come up with the technology and the algorithms in your iPhone.

How did the fear of concussions and the prospect of CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] factor into your decision to retire from the NFL?

Very nominally. It is something you have to take into account, but the risks were something I had been aware of for a large part of my football career. But I also wanted to create more time for mathematics. I wanted to spend more time raising my daughter and I wanted to be in good overall physical health. You know, I want to be able to walk around when I am 60.

Did you really live on $25,000 a year while playing pro football?

Yeah, maybe even a little less than that.

You’re kidding me. How is that possible?

I’m still a very frugal person, and frugal might not even be the right word. Even people around me will tell you, it’s not like I’m attempting to save money. I don’t do things like budget. I do the things I enjoy and I buy things that bring me joy. The things that bring me joy are typically like math books, maybe coffee at a coffee shop. Yeah, I guess luckily for me, both of those things are incredibly cheap.

Baltimore Ravens offensive guard John Urschel blocks during a game against the New York Jets at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in October 2016.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

So, no bling for you. No big Land Rover.

No, no. My car was a used Nissan Versa I bought in college. I kept it my whole career, although I’m not that sad to say I did let the Versa go because, well, I’m in Boston now. What do I need a car for?

In what ways do you miss football?

One of things I do miss about football is being on a team, being close with a bunch of guys, going through the whole deal of pursuing a common goal.

How do you replace the rush that you derive from football?

Yeah, that’s just something you can’t replace. You’re just not going to get that feeling from mathematics. As much as I love math — and there’s many amazing, beautiful things about math — you’re not getting that from mathematics. You’re getting a very different feeling, but it’s also quite amazing: this feeling of fighting against the unknown, this feeling of sort of trying to sort of go where no man has gone before, this idea of trying to solve problems that no one has solved before.

Why are there so few African Americans in math?

You look at, let’s say, all of the elite mathematicians at MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Cal Tech, Princeton, and maybe there’s like one or two African Americans. It’s not because these places have decided we just don’t like hiring African American mathematicians. The fact is that there’s just not many of us. And the sort of root of this, I believe, is not anything that happens in Ph.D. programs. The large part of the damage is done before a student even steps foot on a college campus. The large majority of American mathematicians in the United States, they are Caucasian, they are male and they generally come from pretty good backgrounds. And, I mean, it’s a sobering realization that there are brilliant, brilliant young minds being born into this country, but either they’re being born the ‘wrong’ gender or the ‘wrong’ color or being born into a household that doesn’t have the same opportunities as some other household. And these brilliant minds are being lost. I do believe a large contributing factor is sort of educational inequality.

One final thing: Would you allow a child of yours to play football?

I would, in high school. But not before then. There’s a big focus on college football players, NFL players and health in a number of ways. But the thing that people don’t talk about enough is young kids playing tackle football, contact football, before their bodies and brains are even developed. And that’s something that me, personally, I’m not a fan of. But in high school? Certainly. I think football is not for everyone, certainly not, but if it’s something that you think you’re interested in, I think it’s an amazing sport.

Micha Powell: A student-athlete’s experience with perseverance and living in the moment A weekly series from the sprinter on balancing sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the 2017 World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan, at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400-meter sprinter.


Week 5

I am so fortunate to have had the most exceptional and rewarding experience of my life so far as a student-athlete at the University of Maryland. As I conclude this chapter of my life, I reflect on the past four years and all of the moments that have shaped who I am today and the people who have driven me to reach my full potential.

When I first arrived at the University of Maryland in 2013, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from myself (having only one year of competitive racing under my belt), but I knew that I wanted to leave an impact. I didn’t come into the track program as the fastest or the strongest sprinter, but I was eager to learn and grow. After my first few months at UMD, I quickly developed good habits, which enhanced my recovery rate between workouts and made me a better athlete. My nutrition and sleeping regimen elevated my training and eased my transition into being a full-time student and athlete. My greatest achievement was earning straight A’s in all of my courses and competing at both indoor and outdoor NCAA championships my senior year of school.

However, throughout the year, as I started to add more pressure on myself, there were some days when I didn’t think I would be able to achieve everything I had planned. The stress of maintaining a 4.0 GPA my last semester at UMD, racing with the hopes of bettering my personal bests and planning my future became a weight so heavy that it kept me paralyzed with fear. It brought forth irrational fears and doubts that made me wonder whether I was fast enough, smart enough or even a good enough person to compete for Maryland. I have to credit the guidance of my coach, Andrew Valmon, and assistant coach, Danielle Siebert, for reminding me that it’s OK not to be perfect all the time and it’s OK not to accomplish everything I want all at once. They made me realize that I had to be grateful for all of the things that I have already done for the program and remember that I am still so young to the sport and have more time to improve.

Realizing that I had the power to positively affect other people just by being a student-athlete alleviated a lot of that stress. In the airport, I would run into strangers who would wish me good luck in my future competitions, and I could feel how proud they were to see another generation continuing the athletic legacy of the Maryland Terrapins. Some of my favorite conversations I’ve had as a student-athlete happened when I visited elementary schools to talk to young kids about the importance of athletics and living a balanced lifestyle while in college. Every child would ask me innocent questions like what I ate at school and if I got to see my friends a lot. These interactions made me realize that I had to let go of my anxieties and worries about not being the best and focus on what I had in the moment. These children’s points of view made me realize that no matter how stressful life can get, if you take a moment to appreciate the simple pleasures in life and not obsess over what is out of your control, your life can be uncomplicated and absolute.

Within four years, I have become the indoor and outdoor 400-meter record holder at the University of Maryland, a three-time NCAA All-American and a 2016 Olympian. Being a student-athlete has taught me the value of perseverance. If I don’t succeed the first time, I’ll try again and again until I reach my goal. Even if it takes longer than I intend, it’s the journey that helps me realize how far I’ve come and keeps me hungry for more. I look forward to taking the wonderful experience of being a track Terp with me to international postcollegiate competitions and always representing UMD track and field in my heart.

Daily Dose: 9/26/17 Kyrie Irving claims he was trolling with his ‘flat earth’ theories

Tuesday’s another TV day, kiddos. I’ll be on Around The Horn at 5 p.m. on ESPN. Bob Ryan’s on the show today, so the likelihood of career win No. 2 is pretty low, alas.

Donald Trump is not an NFL owner. He’s the president of the United States. He wanted to be a sports owner, but that didn’t really work out. It’s a shame, too, but he actually probably would fit right in with those guys. Alas, they don’t want him and Monday they showed him that. Now, he’s saying that he thinks the NFL should create an actual rule to prevent players from kneeling during the anthem. Seriously, Puerto Rico is about to get washed off the face of the earth, and this is where we are in the White House.

I drink a lot of milk. This is a known fact. Every time I show up in a meeting room with a quart of it, people recoil in horror as if I’m somehow doing something not considered reasonable in polite society. Anyway, milk comes from cows, and I drink it in the “whole” variety. But these days “milk” doesn’t even really mean much, outside of something being a form of dairy liquid squeezed from another product. Almond milk is surely something you’re familiar with. Cockroach milk might be less familiar to you, but that, I can live with. But pea milk? NOPE.

Kyrie Irving ain’t fooling anyone. A while back, when he said during a podcast that he believed that the Earth was flat, most people believed him. Why? Because most people aren’t in the business of lying about basic scientific facts as a way to call attention to themselves. Now, he’s claiming that he only did that as an “exploitation tactic” — whatever that means. First of all, I don’t believe this, whatsoever. But even if I did, it doesn’t change how I feel about flat-earthers, anyway.

If you paid players to play major college sports, you’d have way less controversy. But, alas, this is the world we live in, so when the FBI gets involved to tell us that a bunch of schools having been paying players for years, we’ve got to act like we’re outraged. I, for one, am not. But folks are getting arrested, including big-time people from big-time sneaker companies. Of course, if all this is true, it fundamentally changes the entire purpose of the NCAA, which is fine by me, too.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Oh, and if you’re wondering why people are protesting at NFL games, look no further than Pittsburgh to explain. A fire chief in Pennsylvania posted on Facebook that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was a “no-good n—–,” which should give you an idea of how old that guy is.

Snack Time: If you’re looking for a hockey team to root for this season, you might want to take a look at the Winnipeg Jets, who we can say at the least, are very woke.

Dessert: Mark Cuban wins the day, y’all.

An experience of a lifetime: The World University Games in Taipei A weekly series from the sprinter on balancing sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the 2017 World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan, at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400-meter sprinter.


Week 4

I boarded the 13-hour flight to Taiwan from Vancouver excited but nervous to face what experiences the World University Games had in store or me. I had never been to Taiwan and was only familiar with Taiwanese foods like bubble tea and dumplings. I really had no idea what to expect from this Asian country.

After crossing the Pacific Ocean, I stepped off the plane and made my way to the bus that would take the entire Canadian track and field team to the athletes village. A gust of hot and heavy air stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know such humidity could exist. I was certainly not in Canada anymore. Lucky for me, I favor hotter climates because my warm-up time gets cut down significantly and my lungs open up easier when I race. Hopefully, this would be the case at this competition.

When I first arrived at the village, I was struck by how many people were already there. The World University Games didn’t officially start for another two days, but there were thousands of athletes already settled, conversing in their native languages, distinguished by their jackets that were engraved with each of their respective country’s name on the back. The cafeteria in the village was essentially where everyone could congregate and interact with one another. There is a tradition in multisport international events where athletes trade pins from their country with one another. I traded with people from foreign countries that I had never been to, such as Sri Lanka and Brazil. It was a wonderful way to break the ice and learn more about another athletes’ culture, which I would normally not get the chance to do back in Canada. Having the opportunity to make friends with athletes from all over the world made me so grateful for choosing a sport like track and field.

During the first few days of my two-week trip, I had to get accustomed to waking up at 5 in the morning to go to the stadium, where I would race the first round of the 400 meters. Fortunately, my roommate was also running the long sprint at this meet, which made the process of waking up early a little less grueling.

It was 4:50 a.m., and my alarm had not yet gone off but I was already awake. I was too eager to wait for my alarm to tell me when to wake up. We arrived at the stadium bright and early, ready to compete. We were the first event of the meet, which felt a bit daunting since we would be the first athletes to compete on the fresh track and be the first to break it in. After my hourlong warm-up, then being held in the call room for another 30 minutes, my heat was ushered to the track. I set myself into my blocks, took a deep breath and let go. Less than a minute later, I made it through the first round and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I lived to fight another day.

I packed my belongings quickly and made my way back to the village knowing that I had to utilize every minute I had before the semifinals and try my best to recover fully.

Unfortunately, the semifinals were the very next day and my legs still felt heavy from racing the 400-meter trials. I tried my best to push through my race and make it into the finals, but I came fourth in my heat and did not qualify for the last round. I still had another event to go, with the 4x400m relay ahead, and I felt more determined than ever to run my best in these upcoming races.

Only two days had passed since the 400-meter semifinals, and I was once again at the track warming up for my race. Except this time it felt different. The crowd was electric. During my 400m rounds, there were barely 100 people in the stands, whereas this night there were thousands cheering so loudly I could barely hear myself think. It was unnerving to realize that I would be competing in front of the largest number of spectators in my life. That is, until I decided to have fun with the crowd. I took a powerful stride down the straightaway and smiled at all of the spectators as I made my way over to the start line.

I was chosen to run the anchor leg, which meant that I held the responsibility of keeping or gaining a better position for my teammates who ran before me and try to cross the finish line first. The semifinal round went by smoothly. I got the baton from my teammate in third and solidified our position by clocking a time that would have us go into the finals with the third-fastest time overall. This meant that we were in the running (no pun intended) for a medal.

The final day of the meet came so quickly. I could barely fathom how I had already run three 400-meter races and had only one more left. We were lined up once again and introduced to the stadium. Once they announced our country, the crowd roared. I felt like my heart was about to leap out of my chest. A few minutes after the introductions, all of the runners were positioned according to their relay legs. I was running anchor once again.

The background music stopped, and there was absolute silence. The start gun went off, and the crowd was up on their feet cheering. Three of my teammates went around the track, indicating that it was now my turn to run. I grabbed the baton from my teammate at the same time as the Mexican team did their exchange, and it became a battle for third place. I sprinted as hard as I could to secure my position. I swerved to the inside of lane one to make it harder on the Mexican anchor leg to pass me on the inside; however, she swung around me to put herself in third place. With 200 meters still to go, I tried to pump my arms and get back our chance at medaling, but I couldn’t find an extra gear.

Realizing my season had come to an end at that moment was bittersweet. I would not have to run another 400m until indoor track season came around, but I didn’t want to end my outdoor season with a fourth-place finish. After walking off the track, I started to put things into perspective and gave myself more credit for finishing a full eight months of running and not giving up even when my hamstring had been bothering me all season long. I came to Taipei to represent Canada with the best of my abilities, and that was exactly what I accomplished.

Participating in the closing ceremonies was a perfect way to officially end my track and field outdoor season. I felt a sense of joy being able to celebrate with my teammates and reflect on the journey that brought us all together on the same world stage. The closing ceremony was a colorful and vibrant showcase of Taiwanese customs. From famous singers to intricately decorated 10-f00t-tall figures, the event was a spectacular display of Taiwanese pride and culture. If training almost all year round and having to bear a few uncomfortable races allowed me the chance to travel around the world and gain priceless experiences, then I look forward to pushing myself beyond my limits and leaving an indelible mark in the world of track and field.

Micha Powell on her comeback and making the Canadian World University team A weekly series from the sprinter on balancing sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the 2017 World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan, at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400-meter sprinter.


Week 3

I was driving with my mom back home to Canada on a lengthy 10-hour trip after moving out of my dorm. It felt anticlimactic. I had first arrived at the University of Maryland not knowing how fast I would run, but hoping to leave behind a legacy. I left my dorm room feeling slightly underwhelmed. Questions filled my mind as the car glided on the freeway. Had I accomplished enough? Should I have trained harder? Could I have prevented myself from getting hurt? These questions weren’t constructive in the slightest. In fact, they were filled with self-doubt, overanalyzing and self-criticism.

Four hours into the drive, I checked my email with only one measly bar appearing on my phone, indicating that I was far from any city life. I saw the subject line and immediately had to read it over just to make sure I wasn’t manifesting a message that was not even there. It read: FISU TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT PROPOSAL. The International University Sports Federation had selected me for the World University Games team. I had been given a second chance.

Before I could fully rejoice, I still had to prove fitness. Proving fitness is a protocol administered by your country’s athletic federation to determine whether you are “fit” enough to compete at the elite level. With the World University Games only one month away, it was safe to say that I questioned my body’s capability to fully recover in time. With treatment from my superb Canadian national team physiotherapists, we were able to conjure a plan that would get me back on the track in time for the big trip to Taipei. This plan would consist of cross-training exercises such as pool and bike workouts, AlterG sessions, acupuncture, readjustments — all before I could step back onto the track and into my spikes. (AlterG is an anti-gravity treadmill that allows an athlete to run at high speeds with less body weight by creating a chamber around the legs that reduces the harsh impact the body endures when the athlete usually runs on a hard track surface or on a regular treadmill. I used this machine to facilitate my transition onto the track by easing my muscles into speed workouts.)

Finally, one month of extensive physical therapy and cross-training later, the big day came. It would be my ultimate test of mental and physical strength. Today was the day that I would run my 300-meter time trial to prove my fitness level and once and for all determine whether I would compete in Taipei. I had a great dynamic warm-up that made my muscles feel loose and springy at the same time. It was drizzling outside, paired with a thick layer of overcast skies threatening to metamorphose into a thunderstorm. I was so nervous before getting on the starting line that I had to tell myself whatever happens next, I came to the track, unafraid, with every intention to run well and earn a spot on the national team.

I ran the time trial as fast as I could with only one goal in mind: to make the World University Games Canadian team. After a few hours of deliberation from the head coach of Athletics Canada and my physiotherapist, they all came to the conclusion that I was healthy enough to run in Taipei and represent Canada. My patience and dedication had paid off. I was going to run on the world stage again after all.

Olympian Micha Powell runs a different course: Embracing failure as a means to success A weekly series from the sprinter on balancing sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the 2017 World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan, at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400-meter sprinter.


Week 2

After I was named to the Canadian Olympic team in 2016, I thought that everything in my life would fall into alignment. I was going into my senior year of college at the University of Maryland as captain of the track and field team and on course to graduate with a B.A. in broadcast journalism in the spring. Also, with my new title as Olympian, I had an edge over my college competitors, having experienced the pressure of being selected to represent my country on the world stage. I felt prepared to dive in, headfirst, into my most intense year at Maryland. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would be the most mentally and physically challenging season of my track career thus far.

I had been chosen to represent Canada at the 2016 Olympics based on my personal best (PB) time of 51.97 seconds in the 400 meters that I clocked at the 2016 East Regional Championships in Florida. At the beginning of my 2017 outdoor track season, I became transfixed with my best time from the previous year and was determined to run an even faster PB. I had dropped a second every year since I joined the UMD track team and was hoping to continue my streak. That was until I experienced my first substantial injury. Over spring training, I ran a tuneup 200-meter race to increase my speed and suddenly felt something not uncommon in the world of track and field: a hamstring strain. This slight hiccup quickly turned into a recurring pain that no amount of treatment (up to three hours a day) could quickly fix.

Regardless of this setback, my plan was simple. I would go to physical therapy until my body readjusted itself, and then I would be back running in time for my Canadian Championships, where I would run a world standard qualifying time to secure my spot on the World Championship Canadian team. My one-dimensional thought process led me to assume that I would make the Canadian team this year simply based on making national teams in the past. I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge the truth about my circumstance. I had to sooner or later face the fact that I could not rely on last year’s outcome to predict my coming track season.

My athletic trainer, Anthony Benyarko, concluded that my symptoms were a result of lower crossed syndrome (LCS). I did not want to admit that I had been running with LCS because of its association with muscle imbalance, which I interpreted as a weakness. I wanted to put on a brave face and not tell anyone the severity of my pain in the hope that it would go away. Call it pride or arrogance, but I thought if I didn’t speak my injury into existence, maybe I would still be able to run fast. After two months of rehabilitation exercises, Benyarko helped me master these new strengthening movements and my confidence came back full-fledged, and I was eager to get back into my spikes.

After I was cleared, I had a breakthrough toward the end of my outdoor collegiate track season at the 2017 East Regional Championships in Kentucky, when I ran a 52.15 (0.05 seconds off the world standard time). However, it came at the expense of my hamstring feeling like I had shredded it coming out of the blocks. I was too determined to not end my senior year without trying my hardest to qualify for NCAAs, so I kept pumping my arms throughout that race and did my best to ignore the excruciating pain in my leg. Wanting to make it to nationals and get the world standard so badly to race at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics in London blinded me to the fact that I was still running hurt.

In June 2017, my leg held up just enough for me to earn second-team All-American honors at my last NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Oregon. I was still favoring one leg, but I told myself that I could last a little longer until my Canadian track and field trials for the world team in July.

After weeks of training in the muggy Maryland heat with my coach prepping me for the Canadian Championships, I believed — no, I wanted to believe — that I still had another faster time left in my legs. The moment had come, and I was mentally ready to compete at my third senior-level Canadian national competition. I only had to convince myself that I was physically ready to leave it all out on the track. I made it through the semifinals with a time of 53.69 but considered scratching the finals because of the immense discomfort I was still feeling in my leg. I made my final decision during my warm-up before stepping onto the track for the 400-meter finals. I looked to my coach, the great world-record holder, Andrew Valmon, and decided I wanted to race one more time to honor all the work we’d put into training.

The announcers presented the lineup, and the track was closed off to everyone but the eight of us sprinters who qualified for the finals. I settled myself into my blocks, and within an instant the starting gun went off and I didn’t look back. I crossed the finish line only to realize that I had been disqualified for a lane violation near the 300-meter mark. Realizing I was not going to run at Worlds was devastating, to say the least. I felt like I had let down my coaches, family and friends who had come to see me race at what I thought would be the highlight of my season. I reflected back on my past five years in track right then and there and thought, Did I do all of this for nothing? I felt hopeless and did my best to mask my sadness. My mind kept going over my new reality. There would be no postrace interviews, no world team nomination celebration and no chance for me to show the world what I’m capable of doing around a 400m track in London.

I had to come to terms with the truth. My path had been altered. I was going to either accept this change in course or dwell over everything that didn’t go right in my track season. I decided on the former and promised myself that I was going to focus on getting my lower back and hips stronger to alleviate the pressure it was putting on my hamstring. I have to hold myself accountable, and only then will I be able to come back and run stronger than before. The best way I can grow and learn from this experience is to accept that success doesn’t come without failure. I refuse to let a setback prevent me from going after my goal of being the best Canadian 400-meter runner. It won’t be an easy road ahead; however, I know that disappointment from my shortcomings filled my heart with more desire and a mindset void of complacency.

Student-athlete and Olympian Micha Powell’s guide to thriving in college A weekly series from the sprinter on how she balances sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a B.A. in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

I have both my parents to thank for my athletic genes. My father is Mike Powell, UCLA alum and the long jump world-record holder, and my mother is the 400m hurdles Canadian record holder. I guess it’s kind of fitting that I’d end up a student-athlete in the States with roots in Canada.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the World University Games in Taipei at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400m sprinter.


Week 1

I have never been afraid of a challenge. I switched sports my senior year in high school, going from hitting serves on green tennis courts to racing around a red rubberized track. I decided to embrace my parents’ Olympic genes and put them to good use in the 400 meters. After receiving a track and field scholarship to the University of Maryland, I then moved away from my family in Canada in pursuit of a higher education and with the hopes of leaving behind a legacy.

Looking back on my four years in college, I had to adapt to many changes, including attending two-hour classes right after running up hills at 5 in the morning, all the while maintaining a balanced social life and remembering to take a deep breath once in a while. The adjustment from living with my mom in a quiet apartment to moving in with five other college roommates was drastic, but I was able to embrace my new surroundings by developing these three key habits:

Time management

I enrolled in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland knowing that I was going to have to learn to work on deadline and take most of my assignments on the road with me when I traveled to track meets. The fast-paced nature of the program forced me to plan ahead and communicate with my professors. If I had a track meet that coming weekend, I knew I had to finish an assignment by Thursday to avoid any additional stress. I also made sure to add some downtime with my friends and go to D.C. for some sightseeing or just stay in and watch some of our favorite Netflix shows.

Sleep takes priority

I aim to get anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. If I can be in bed before midnight, I know that I’ll wake up the next morning motivated, rejuvenated and less stressed. However, I’m not perfect. During finals week, I had my fair share of “almost” all-nighters that left my mind drained. The best way for me to get a consistent amount of sleep is to keep a routine. As long as I continue to practice self-discipline, I’ll keep a healthy sleep habit that accelerates my muscle recovery and improves my mental health.

Nutrition & home cooking

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Nutrition is an essential part of my preparation not only for executing a great race but also for my overall well-being. Whenever someone asks me if I follow a strict diet, I explain that I don’t have to but I naturally gravitate toward leafy greens and lean proteins because it is simply what my body craves. I see eating healthy as the most beneficial way to reward my body for all of the hard work it does in one day. By eating fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and protein, I train my body to expect nutrient-rich foods after a hard workout, which encourages it to recover at a faster rate and readies it to go through the entire cycle again.

Before practice and post-workouts, you can be sure to find me in my kitchen cooking up everything from spinach and turkey bacon-filled omelets to curried tilapia with steamed zucchini spirals. I always make sure my fridge is filled with whole foods and my spice cabinet stocked with seasoning. I’m known on my track team to always have a different meal on my Snapchat and often get messages that read “Pleassee send me the recipe!” or “You should write a cookbook!” Maybe I’ll consider it now that I’ve graduated and have a little bit more free time on my hands. Cooking is not a chore for me but rather a habit that guarantees my body will get enough nutrients for the week, and it also brings familiarity and the comfort of home back into my life.

My grandmother is originally from Nigeria, and I remember growing up in her house, back in Montreal, smelling the peppery air and immediately recognizing the thyme and cayenne fragrance that was brewing in one of her traditional and tasty Nigerian dishes. Although I can’t make as good an okra soup as my grandmother does, I consider myself fortunate enough to have inherited her cooking skills, which have helped me prepare the majority of my meals that fuel me for the day.

UNC symposium informs athletes on how to build wealth and share it ‘The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy’ gave insight and a chance for student-athletes to network with pros

For athletes, building wealth, securing a future after a playing career, and developing the ability to give back start with early and strategic planning. Those were just three of the big takeaways from a panel of authors, academics, former athletes and financial professionals at the Center for Sport Business at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

University of Houston professor Billy Hawkins kicked off the conference on April 21 by sharing a slide noting the popular NCAA slogan that:

  • Of 480,000 student-athletes, “most of them go pro in something other than sports.”
  • Fewer “than 1 percent of the athletes generate more than 90 percent of NCAA revenues,” and “on average, 60 percent of the athletes are black males.”

“It’s a poor business model when so much of the revenue is generated by such a small percentage of workers,” said Hawkins, who is the author of The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly White NCAA Institutions.

“The black body is used for institutional development and capital expansion,” Hawkins said. But too often, the athlete is not getting the same wealth-building advantages out of the multibillion-dollar industries of college and professional sports.

That is the complex problem that discussions such as the one on April 21 are seeking to solve.

The discussion, titled “Investing in Futures: The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy,” often delved into strategies to drive former student-athletes to a position where they would able to give back.

The event was titled Investing In Futures: The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy.

Courtesy of Kevin Seifert

And much advice centered on solutions to prevent former athletes from becoming broke or “in financial stress” just a few years after their playing days are done.

Charles Way, who earned a civil engineering degree while playing football at the University of Virginia and who spent 14 years with the New York Giants, said that “understanding real estate and understanding the real estate development world” is one potential lucrative path after a playing career.

Way, a former vice president of NFL player engagement, has also served as the Giants’ director of player development. In those roles, he is credited with implementing an array of programs in financial literacy, leadership and career development focused on empowering athletes and their families both on and off the field.

Way and others also pointed out the “deficit” position from which many African-American athletes begin, compared with white athletes.

“Most of the time the black athlete is using his money to have fun, when white athletes are using daddy’s money to have fun,” Way said.

Panelists also agreed that too many black athletes suffer from “the lottery syndrome,” where they blow through wealth that was earned quickly and then resign themselves to going back to their regular means of living.

James Mitchell, director of football development for Duke University, said his student-athletes are introduced to financial planning shortly after they arrive on campus.

“We teach them how to spend whatever they have now,” Mitchell said. “For freshmen, we teach them how to spend food [meal plan] points.”

Attendees were urged to network with business leaders and business owners early on, create long-lasting relationships and seek out professional internships.

William Rhoden, a columnist for The Undefeated and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, addressed the conference via Skype.

“I wrote Forty Million Dollar Slaves to give a history lesson, but also to call timeout,” he said.

Rhoden said the current question is: “Who are new now as black people in the 21st century?”

Rhoden also had a pointed answer for a question from the audience: What does he think about athletes who hold camps and other activities that are out of the financial range for lower- and moderate-income families?

The Impact Symposium was hosted by the UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Sport Business at the Kenan Center on April 21 with Deborah Stroman, director of the center. The event was titled “Investing In Futures: The Complexity and Comfort of Black Athlete Philanthropy.”

Courtesy of Kevin Seifert

“You are either a person who will make sure these things are accessible … or you are part of the problem,” Rhoden said.

Tre Boston, a Tar Heel alum and current defensive back for the Carolina Panthers, also addressed the conference via Skype, advising the conference that “you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a millionaire. You can save like $5,000 a year, and that will add up over the years,” he said.

Unfortunately, Boston said, you don’t often see young athletes discussing wealth-building.

“Guys you see talk about financial planning for the future are seven- to eight-plus-year veterans,” he said.

Phil Ford, a consensus All-American during his playing days at UNC and one of several alums who returned to take part in the symposium, helped shed light on why some African-Americans might not give back to their universities.

“When I left North Carolina, I thought everybody loved their school the way I loved North Carolina,” he said. “But I found out that often was not the case. It comes back to how much you enjoyed yourself when you were there.”

The audience included some Tar Heel athletes, including Jake Lawler, a spring early enrollee who will be a freshman defensive end on the football team in the fall.

“It was awesome,” said Lawler, who cited learning about “the scope of resources that are available.” He and his teammates began networking with panelists during breaks and after the discussions.

“It’s good to see there are people who care about you during your career and afterwards,” Lawler added.

The Center for Sport Business, part of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, drives discussion about economics, education and wealth management for athletics and former athletes.

Professor Deborah Stroman, director of the center and organizer of the event, said, “The purpose of the conference was to hear from academics and business leaders about a very important topic in America: black athletes and financial matters.”

For Stroman, the conference could not have gone much better.

“Today’s conference was a small but a most powerful attempt to touch lives and foster dreams,” she said. “We succeeded in connecting sport leaders — players, academics and businessmen — with an audience ready to hear the truth about the blessing and burden of money and athletic participation.

“Their insights were powerful and so inspirational,” she added. “The students left feeling connected, motivated and ready to take action on their plans for life after sport.”

The Lucas Bros. find laughter in ‘shrooms, Steph Curry and ‘white suffering’ The blipster twins are back with a new Netflix special — and plenty of fresh material

If you’ve never watched an episode of The Lucas Bros. Moving Co., the animated Fox comedy from identical twin brothers Keith and Kenny Lucas, you probably know them also as the scene-stealing twins from 2014’s 22 Jump Street.

Now the 31-year-old nerds have a new Netflix special, Lucas Brothers: On Drugs, and are working on a second. Their jokes range from riffs on feminism and Jermaine Jackson to Steph Curry and the rise of advanced analytics. There’s a very funny breakdown, complete with pie chart, of the factors that contribute to black happiness. The majority of the pie chart is taken up by “white suffering,” and there are jokes about O.J. Simpson, race and fame thrown in for good measure.

The Lucas brothers dropped out of law school to become comedians — Keith from Duke, Kenny from NYU — and their strongest material focuses on the drug war and its effects, complete with cutouts of Richard Nixon flanking the stage as a life-size boogeyman. Though the special isn’t strictly political, the brothers rock campaign buttons for Kerry/Edwards and Barry Goldwater (more on that in the interview). As with Moving Co., much of the Lucases’ humor is weed-based (they’re reformed sativa connoisseurs; now their preference is indica). It’s sharp, smart, insightful and hilarious. For fans of the Lucas brothers’ animation, the special includes a trippy short that examines a world in which the drug war never took place. The brothers are currently developing a new animated project, and they’re also working on a show imagining a wizarding school that’s also an HBCU.

The Lucas Brothers: On Drugs debuts April 18 on Netflix. I’d recommend watching the special before reading this interview, but it’s not entirely necessary.

What do you find so appealing about animation? It’s one of your trademarks at this point.

Kenny: I love animation for a number of reasons. One, it’s a very open form, so you can pretty much go wherever you allow your mind to take you, which I think is an asset when you’re trying to do comedy. The second thing is I love color. I love visuals. I love art. And I always have these vivid patterns in my mind whenever I go to sleep or if I smoke weed, and I feel like with animation you can get that out much easier. Stand-up is hard. There are some comedians who are very gifted verbally. They can paint a picture very well. I think Lil Rel [Howery] is a good example. Richard Pryor, those guys. But with us, I think our biggest asset is our mind, and with animation you can just get so much out there.

Keith: It always brings me back to my childhood when we’re able to dabble in animation. It’s just a vivid reminder of what childhood was like. Animation is playful, too. You can talk about serious issues, but when it’s in the guise of animation, it seems more playful. People seem to keep their ears and eyes open when animation’s on screen, irrespective of what that message is.

What were your favorite cartoons growing up?

Kenny: I loved Winnie the Pooh.

Keith: Ren and Stimpy.

Kenny: Looney Tunes.

Keith: Doug. South Park.

Kenny: Pinky and the Brain.

Keith: King of the Hill.

Kenny: Beavis and Butthead.

Keith: Daria.

I was wondering what you guys have learned about yourselves as a result of smoking weed?

Keith: I just don’t take myself as seriously. Before I smoked weed, I guess I worried a lot. I had a lot of anxiety. I used to just be afraid of the future and afraid of death and things like that, but as I started smoking more weed I’ve just been taking things a lot easier. I don’t know if it’s because of weed or because I’ve gotten older, but the two have coalesced together to minimize my fear about the future.

Kenny: Same. When you smoke you have an out-of-body experience where you feel like you’re traveling the universe and you sort of detach yourself from your body, from your ego, and I feel like [by] smoking weed in conjunction with therapy and meditation, you move away from your ego. That’s been a big thing for me. I’m so appreciative of weed.

I’d imagine distancing yourself from your ego is important for you guys since you work as a pair.

Keith: Absolutely. That was an early struggle. Even though we’re twins and we look exactly alike and we had a similar experience, we’re still individuals, and we held on to what we thought was the particular way to do comedy or to live life. As we got into comedy more and worked a little bit more, we started to realize that in order for this to function as a unit, we have to shed the ego.

Kenny: I think you can appreciate the distinctness and uniqueness of a person’s individual character and not necessarily be egocentric.

Speaking of weed’s anti-anxiety properties, have you found yourselves smoking more since the election?

Kenny: You know what? Absolutely. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t. It’s been a huge increase in how much weed I smoke, and I think it’s because 2016 was — even before the election — 2016 was exhausting. It was the most exhausting year I’ve ever had just because of the constant news coverage of Trump and the election. And then you’re like, Alright, it’s over. We elected a president. And then you’re like, Aw f—, Trump is president so it’s going to be even worse now. The only way I’m going to get through the next four years is if I’m stoned outta my f—ing mind. I have to literally detach myself because there’s no other way, really. I’ve looked at everything. If you’re not going to physically leave the country, you have to mentally and spiritually check out. You can protest, but come on.

Keith: You can’t protest for four years. That gets exhausting and you realize, what can we realistically do? You start to feel so small, like the universe is so much bigger than any individual and it doesn’t matter if we protest till we’re blue in the face. He has the capabilities and the power to do whatever he pleases.

Comedic duo the Lucas Bros. have a new Netflix comedy special: “Lucas Brothers: On Drugs.”

Lindsey Byrnes

Aside from the strangeness of doing ‘shrooms with someone who looks exactly like you, what else was that like?

Kenny: Awful. That was the worst. It was not a magic experience.

Keith: You go into thinking it’s going to be the dopest, like O sh—, we’re gonna be on like the sixth, seventh dimension, and you literally just start questioning everything. Like every little thought or belief you ever had, you start questioning it. And then you see your brother going through the same thing, so it’s literally like you’re watching yourself freak out. It’s out of body. If it’s not cool and flowery like the ’60s, then it’s just trippy and scary like a horror movie. It was too intense.

Kenny: I did look at this Woody Allen picture for, like, 40 minutes and he was wearing a dope shirt, so that’s good.

Keith: There you go.

Kenny: The power of positivity.

Is there anything professional that you would consider doing individually, where you don’t come as a pair?

Kenny: President of the United States. I’d definitely take that. If I was asked to host — no. (To Keith) Anything I do, I’d want to do with you.

Keith: Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything I would want to do if it didn’t involve him.

Kenny: Oh! Batman. If they asked me to be Batman I’d do it.

Keith: Oh yeah. If you were playing Batman, that’d make sense.

Kenny: If they said, ‘Kenny Lucas, we need you to play Batman in the next installment,’ I’d be like, ‘All right Keith, I’m sorry. We gotta break up.’

Keith: I would ask if I could play Robin though.

Kenny: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d put in a strong request for you to play Robin.

What was with the Kerry/Edwards and the Goldwater buttons?

Kenny: I think what we were trying to say, is that the political parties are not really that different. Especially when it comes to the war on drugs, because Nixon started it. Carter did nothing to stop it. Reagan expanded it. Clinton expanded it. The Bushes, of course, were big fans of the drug war. Obama — it did so much damage by the time it got to Obama there was very little he could do, and I’m sure with Trump and [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, they’re going to ratchet it up, so it’s like the Democrats and the Republicans are both complicit in the failed policy.

You have firsthand experience with the effects the prison-industrial complex can have on a family. When you see the things that Jeff Sessions says about going after places where weed has been legalized, does that worry you?

Kenny: It troubles me.

Keith: Being a child of a prisoner and being directly impacted, you have a sense of fear. With Trump and Sessions, it seems like they’re taking everything to the next level.

Kenny: Yeah. The mythology that surrounds marijuana, you have to break through it.

Keith: People forget there are real-world implications from locking up a person. Families are destroyed. Communities are ravaged. We’ve lost a generation of African-American men who could have done great things. Our dad was very smart. He had all the talents in the world. He made some bad choices. His whole life was destroyed because of that.

Kenny: You’re not seeing people. You’re seeing statistics. You’re not delving into the particular story of a person.

On a little bit of a lighter note, Keith, I read that you went to Duke. How do you feel about this year’s NCAA national champions?

Keith: You know, it’s an ebb and flow. Duke wins one year. UNC wins the next. I think it’s good for Tobacco Road. You can’t tell the story of Duke without UNC. You can’t tell the story of UNC without Duke. I like to see it as a symbiotic story of two programs that push each other to great heights. But that’s just the standardized, PC version of what I need to say.

I was going to say, that’s mighty gracious of you.

Keith: I hate UNC. They’re a bunch of … cheaters. But! They had a good program this year. They also had a lot of seniors and upperclassmen, so I give ’em props for that. They didn’t try to go the one-and-done route, which is pretty popular in college sports these days.

What is your favorite example of white suffering?

Keith: La La Land losing. There we go. It was amazing.

Kenny: And, of course, to lose to Moonlight. It was like thank you, universe. This is exactly what we needed in the Trump era. Especially when Trump won, I’ve never seen so many white liberals have tears. I felt terrible, but it was great!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Big-time college athletes should be paid with big-time educations Before we discuss paying college athletes, let’s make sure they get a real college education

Education should be the college athlete’s greatest compensation.

Not a slice of the billions of dollars paid for TV rights for their games. Not a pay-for-play contract like their NBA and NFL brethren. The biggest crime in college sports isn’t that the system is rigged against paying college athletes, it’s that money-worshipping American culture is set up against educating them.

The clamor to pay players arose anew this week when North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams earned $925,000 in bonuses after his team won the national championship. “The players got awesome T-shirts and hats,” observed Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds in a viral tweet.

The NCAA collects $1.1 billion per year from CBS and Turner for broadcast rights to the basketball tournament. ESPN pays $470 million annually for the College Football Playoff. Conferences and individual colleges make additional millions during the regular season. Many have compellingly argued for years that, morally and legally, the players deserve to pocket some of that windfall.

They do. But our Money Over Everything society is minimizing or ignoring what’s currently within its grasp, which should last far longer than a six-figure revenue-sharing check.

Right now, college players receive up to six figures’ worth of higher education, plus the life-changing opportunity to elevate intellect and character. Yes, athletes are too often pushed into fake classes to keep them eligible, as in the infamous North Carolina academic scandal that threatens the Tar Heels’ championship, or hindered from serious study by the 40-hour-per-week demands of their sport. But these athletes, and generations of their descendants, would benefit more from reforming their educational experiences than from extra cash.

Let’s look at what those North Carolina ballers receive from their athletic scholarships.

Start with four years of tuition, fees, room and board that total $80,208 for in-state students and $180,536 for those from outside North Carolina. Add the benefit of a diploma from a top institution with an influential and passionate alumni network. UNC is nationally ranked the No. 5 public university and the No. 30 college overall. The name “North Carolina” on LinkedIn or a resume opens doors and gets phone calls returned — and that’s without including “2017 NCAA champion.” And for the majority of UNC players who won’t make NBA millions, lifetime earnings for college graduates are 66 percent higher than those with just a high school diploma. That can be worth more than an additional $1 million.

Then there are the intangibles.

“People ask all the time why I’m one of the youngest college presidents in the country, and one of the only African-Americans leading a private national university,” said Chris Howard, 48, who leads Robert Morris University in suburban Pittsburgh and played football at the Air Force Academy. “I credit a big chunk of that to my experience playing college athletics. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but attention to detail, discipline, teamwork, resiliency, learning how to deal with others, deal with people that are of different backgrounds. It was just a melting pot. It was a leadership lab for me.”

After finishing college, Howard flew helicopters, served in Afghanistan and Liberia, became a Rhodes scholar and got a Harvard MBA. “All those intangibles kind of laid the path. The path was laid by playing D-I football first,” he said.

Rather than an unfair burden, Howard sees the demands placed on college athletes as a down payment on a successful future.

“You’ll be a better human being when you learn to handle that load,” he said. “You’ll be a better father, better husband, better brother, better sister. You’ll be a better professional as an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor, a business manager.”

The pay-for-play crowd loves to holler, “Intangibles don’t pay the bills.”

College athletes certainly should receive enough compensation to cover living expenses. Their families should travel free to games. Some sort of trust fund sounds fair. But the intangible value of higher education is worth more than pizza or gas money.

Martin Luther King Jr. described it while a student at Morehouse College:

“Most of the ‘brethren’ think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses,” King wrote in 1947 at age 21. “Still others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end.”

“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education,” King wrote.

The real problem is, too many athletes are blocked from coming within a Hail Mary of that ideal.

“I would suggest that a lot of these kids aren’t getting an education. They’re just sitting in class,” said Leonard Moore, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who is founder of the Black Student-Athlete Summit.

Moore has tutored, counseled and mentored athletes while teaching at Ohio State, Louisiana State and now Texas. He says most big-time athletes are limited to easy majors and prevented from taking advantage of many educational benefits because “revenue-generating sports are now year-round enterprises.”

“You can’t take a class after 1 o’clock. You can’t study abroad in the summer. You can’t get an internship on Wall Street or Silicon Valley,” he said. “The question then becomes how do these student-athletes take advantage of everything that a place like Texas or UCLA has to offer? I would argue that it monopolizes all their time. The only thing they can do is go to class, go to work out and then go lift, and then go to the meeting and then go to class.”

“I never understood why a football team has to practice in February when their first game of the season is in September,” Moore said.

Money is the biggest reason.

The University of Texas football team generated $121 million in revenue and a staggering $92 million profit in 2015. The business of college sports is so entrenched, Moore doesn’t believe it’s possible to make the players real students again.

“Just because you value education doesn’t mean [the athlete] values it,” he said. “If it’s basketball that got me on an airplane, that’s taken me to another state, that’s taken me out of the country, you know what I’m saying? Basketball has definitely helped me move forward in life. You say a four-year education, that doesn’t mean anything. That’s important in your value system, but it ain’t important in mine.

“Right now, it seems like they value the money and that we all value the money,” Moore continued. “That’s the athletes. That’s the university. Our society values the money, and so we say, ‘Look, they need to be paid. We need to pay them, pay them, pay them.’ Instead of saying, ‘We need to educate, educate, educate.’ ”

Efforts are being made. Over the past 15 years, graduation rates have risen from 46 to 77 percent for all black NCAA basketball players, and from 76 to 94 percent for white players. The NCAA gave Division I schools $45 million last year for academic programs and services.

But ballplayers can still get a sociology degree in three years while reading just one book. The clamor for cash still prevails. Demanding short-term gratification feels better than pursuing long-term goals.

A starting point for reform would be guaranteeing athletic scholarships for four years, instead of one, and providing free tuition, room and board for as long as it takes ex-players to graduate. Freed from the demand to produce revenue, these young athletes could finally obtain the incalculable benefits of a real college education.

Capitalism dictates that college players be paid fairly for the entertainment they provide. If money is life’s ultimate goal, the buck stops there.

Or here: “Capitalism is always in danger,” King said, “of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.”