Stephen A. Smith: Harper's rise a clear case of hypocrisy

Top draft pick Bryce Harper , with agent Scott Boras, skipped his last two years of high school in order to play pro ball.
Top draft pick Bryce Harper , with agent Scott Boras, skipped his last two years of high school in order to play pro ball.
Posted: June 10, 2010

Major League Baseball is en route to having a kid wonder in the nation's capital. You might have heard the news. At the moment, he's just 17 years of age. He's known for smacking 500-foot home runs. As a catcher, he can throw runners out from his knees. On the mound, his fastball has been clocked at 96 m.p.h. And in a perfect world, devoid of the self-righteous and sanctimonious, that is all any of us would ever know about Bryce Harper.

Except that's not all we know about MLB's top overall pick in the draft earlier this week, is it? We also know the wonder boy from Las Vegas who dropped out of high school to get his GED did so to expedite his ascension to the majors. So while it's one thing for Harper and his parents to elect to do so, wisely exploiting his potential in ways that make America great, it's quite another for MLB to allow such flagrant circumvention of our educational process by a minor, no less.

Particularly, as most of us sit idly, saying virtually nothing.

Forgive me for wondering why, exactly, that is the case?

The proverbial elephant in the room is entirely too fat to ignore, so there's no need to avoid the obvious questions: If Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James caused a moment of pause when they elected to bypass college and go straight to the pros, what was all the mumbling about? When a Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose or John Wall leaves college after one year, what's the problem? And if someone can make a salient argument - let the record show there's no way on Earth I'd agree with any of them - then where's the uproar now that a kid sensation like Harper decided to join the party?

You want to jump up and address the issue of race, here's your chance. Go on. Be big, bad and bold. Act like one has nothing to do with the other. Just don't forget to acknowledge the flagrant hypocrisy you're trying to disguise with those blinders covering those eyes.

If Harper were black - Yes! I said it - most folks would be bantering about those three letters, GED, attached to his name.

Few would care that Harper does volunteer work, that he possessed a marvelous 3.5-grade point average, that he attended religious-education classes before he dropped out. Or that his parents decided that, strictly for eligibility purposes pertaining to MLB, that GED, combined with a stint in junior college, would suffice for the Washington Nationals' most recent No. 1 pick.

Just like there was appropriately no uproar over the $15.1 million deal the Nationals present phenom, Stephen Strasburg, signed last year, there is a large silence now that Harper is about to do the same.

Money is here to be made in America. For those with the ability to earn it legitimately.

The exception appears to be when you're young, gifted and black. There are always questions when the three intertwine. And the time has now come to discuss it candidly, lest we collectively decide as a nation to shut our mouths once and for all.

Is race really the issue? Is it really as simple, or troublesome, as a young black male earning more money playing sports than most will earn in a lifetime? Or is it something a bit more complicated as this: a segment of our population fearing a trend will be established, creating a system of dependents filled with lost souls who thought they'd make the big time, fell short and now rely on our tax dollars as a fallback plan?

"I actually think that's a part of it," one former NBA executive told me months ago, pondering the ongoing collective-bargaining talks. "You've got a 19-year-old in Eric Bledsoe who had to play one year of basketball at Kentucky before being eligible for the pros. You've got the rules in place in football, too. But when you look at tennis, golf, baseball, hell . . . corporate America, what's stopping them from being all they can be?"

Deep in the crevices of our soul, we know the answer. Whether we're willing to admit it or not, let's say there's a better comfort level with Harper and leave it at that.

The silence surrounding his path to the big leagues is alarming, but amusing, which says something.

I love Harper's skill set. But I love his ability to keep speechless even more.


Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillynews.com.

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