UAAP: The human question
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2014 - 12:00am

The UAAP has finally decided to end the participation of foreign athletes in all its sports programs within the next two years. The reason given was to benefit Filipino athletes and give them more opportunities to have scholarships. On paper, it truly sounds like a noble justification. After all, who would want to deprive an indigent student-athlete of his or her only chance to get an education? And why not choose our own ahead of anybody else?

That’s all well and good, and the UAAP is entitled to do whatever it thinks is best for what is actually a very small group of people. But upon further reflection, it doesn’t answer several bothersome questions. First and foremost is whether or not the new regulation is discriminatory to another group of students, those who choose to study in the Philippines, and those who are capable of playing for their schools. From this writer’s understanding, varsity participation is open to all students of a school, regardless of their citizenship. Why are we turning away people who would be helped by athletic scholarships simply because of citizenship? Don’t schools vow to take the best possible care of all the children when they enter those halls of education?

Of course, it’s easy to see other reasons why the change would seem logical. Some schools simply have more resources than others, and this makes them more attractive in terms of recruiting athletes, regardless of sport and regardless of nationality. The more consistently successful schools are able to attract more foreign students, and thus more foreign athletes. Wouldn’t the solution, therefore, be to grant more scholarships or find more tuition sponsors, instead of cutting out those who, athletically, deserve to be on the playing field? For example, why not allow more players on a roster to solve the scholarship issue? Athletes bring in more income to the school in terms of alumni support and scholarships, anyway.

What are we saying to our students? We are patronizing them simply because of their nationality. We are not teaching them to be globally competitive. Rewarding mediocrity is not an act of patriotism. It is sending the message that it is okay to achieve less, simply because you are a Filipino. It is condescension. Elsewhere in the globe, you see student-athletes contributing mightily to their school programs even if they are foreigners: Japanese leading the way in judo and karate, Koreans doing likewise in taekwondo, Cubans in baseball, and so on. What is wrong with that? We are teaching the next generation to feel entitled. Entitlement already plagues our country in politics and business, which is why we have term limits and anti-dynastic laws, even at the price of lumping together good eggs with the bad.

If we were to follow the same argument, then many Filipino athletes would have been similarly deprived of their own scholarships, and it would have derailed otherwise promising careers. Most recent examples are Japeth Aguilar (Western Kentucky University) and Gian Chiu (Oberlin), who were able to receive education in the United States, and play for US NCAA Division I and Division III programs, respectively. Are we now saying that whatever UCLA is offering Kobe Paras should be given to an American student-athlete, instead, simply because he is American and Paras is not? We would then raise hell if that happens, wouldn’t we?

Sports is the acknowledged laboratory of life. What we learn there reveals who we are. If we play fair, we are fair in our other dealings. If we take shortcuts, that same belief permeates our life later on. As the saying goes, adversity introduces a man to himself. If we coddle our athletes and don’t allow them to face the reality of adversity while they are sheltered in our care as students, where will they receive the guidance when that same kind of challenge hits them out in the real world? Life will not take it easy in you simply because you’re Filipino. It treats everybody the same way. We all have to work for it.

The Philippine Basketball Association itself wisely recognized that. In commissioner Chito Salud’s words, “Fans are more globally aware now.” We know where we stand in the global marketplace of sports, which is why making the FIBA World Cup was a big deal. It affirmed our belief in our capabilities as basketball players. It showed that we can do, even with one naturalized player, which is allowed by FIBA rules, anyway.

When I asked PBA legend Abe King what it was like to guard imports, he said: “Oh, it was really hard. You couldn’t make mistakes. It was unfair to you because they got the ball 60 to 80 percent of the time. They were taller and stronger. I had to be at my best, to be prepared, all the time.”

It’s funny that almost the exact same words came out of the mouth of Manny Paner, the all-time great who, at 6’2”, played center against the likes of Abet Guidaben and Ramon Fernandez, who were both 6’5”. But this made his achievements even more remarkable and impressive. Perhaps we have to show the same amount of faith in our homegrown student-athletes, that they will find a way to win, looking at it from another perspective, if we allow them to play against bigger players now, we are preparing them for their future, when they will have to compete against bigger athletes as professionals or even national athletes. In the 10 years between Benjie Paras’ two PBA Most Valuable Player Award, the league went from having 6’5” centers to 6’8” centers. But Paras still found a way to prevail. There’s a lesson there.

What our college sports authorities don’t realize is that they are doing more harm than good, we are showing Filipino student-athletes that, if they have a backer, if they have a group behind them, they can get away with being less than their full potential. If our athletes truly aspire for greatness, then they have to strengthen their resolve and face these challenges now. In school, they have their classmates, teammates, cheerleaders, fellow students, alumni and family as a support system. If they face this kind of adversity later on, they may not have the same support, and they will crack. If they are not allowed to confront playing against taller, more athletic opponents, when will they learn?

Being a Filipino is a privilege achieved by birth. Being the best is earned by hard work. Being an underdog makes it sweeter.

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