미국 언론은 10일 (한국시간) NBA 휴스턴 로켓츠가 제레미 린을 필라델피아 세븐티식서스로 보낸다고 전했다. 이로서 린의 말도 많고 탈도 많았던 휴스턴 생활은 정리될 전망이다.
비록 로켓츠 시절 기복 심한 경기력과 잦은 실책, 에이스 제임스 하든과의 호흡문제로 논란의 중심에 선적도 있지만, 뉴욕 닉스 시절 “린새니티(린+insanity)”라 불렸던 린에 대한 한국 팬들의 관심은 여전해 보인다.
2011-12시즌 당시 부진하던 닉스에 구세주처럼 등장해 연승을 이끄는 등 전세계 언론의 관심을 받았던 린이지만 한국에서 가장 큰 이슈가 된 점은 그가 아시아계라는 것, 그리고 미국 최고 명문인 하버드 졸업생이라는 점이었다.
하버드는 스탠포드 등 다른 명문 미국 대학과 달리 체육특기자 장학생이 없다. 즉, 하버드에 진학하는 운동부 학생들은 험난한 입시와 농구부 활동을 병행해야 하는 것이다.
이와 같은 린의 이력은 “운동부는 수업을 받지 않는다”는 인식을 갖고 있던 한국인들에게 큰 충격을 주었다.
운동과 스포츠 두 마리 토끼를 모두 잡은 이는 린 뿐만이 아니다. 전(前) 미국 상원의원이자 민주당 대통령 후보 경선에 참여한 적이 있는 빌 브래들리는 성공한 정치인 이전에 농구 명예의 전당까지 오른 “레전드” NBA선수였다. 매년 NBA 유명인사 경기 (celebrity game)에서 맹활약하는 미 교육부 장관인 아니 던컨 (Arne Duncan)은 호주에서 프로선수 생활을 한 적이 있다.
미국에서 고등학교까지 야구부 선수생활을 했던 이든 씨 (35)는 “미국에서는 학생선수라고 해서 수업을 빠지는 등 특별 취급을 받지 않는다”라며 이는 이른바 “스타선수”들의 경우에도 마찬가지라고 설명했다. 대다수 미국 고등학교에서 운동부는 클럽 스포츠로 구분되며 성적보다는 즐기는데 초점을 두고 있다. 가입과 탈퇴도 대부분 자유롭다.
학생이 아닌 ‘운동선수’로 취급받는 학생선수들
반면 한국 운동부 학생들의 경우 성적에 대한 압박과 고된 훈련에 시달린다. 한 고등학교 농구부 출신 남성에 따르면 학창시절 새벽 6시에 기상 후 훈련, 아침 낮잠, 오전운동 후 점심식사, 그리고 낮잠, 3시부터 오후운동, 오후 운동 후 저녁식사, 이후 야간운동이라는 고된 일정이 주말을 제외하고 1년 내내 반복되었다고 한다.
이로 인해 인간관계가 협소해진다는 지적도 있다. 서울소재의 한 고등학교에서 선수생활을 했던 김모(29)씨는 운동부들이 “공부하는 학생들”과는 거의 어울리지 않았다고 전했다.
서울강남의 야구와 농구명문으로 알려진 한 중학교의 졸업생에 따르면 운동부 학생들은 수학여행이나 수련회 등 행사에도 종종 빠진다고 한다.
이러한 “특별대접”은 교사나 학부모, 심지어 학생 본인들조차 스스로를 학생이라기보다는 운동선수로 간주하기 때문이기도 하다.
한때 농구부 유망주로 주목 받았던 임용석(34)씨는 “시합으로 인해 수업에 참여를 못해 (교수에게) 전화를 드렸는데도 귀찮다는 말투로 받은 적이 있다”면서 “아이들도, 코치나 감독도 ‘애들이 운동해야지. 공부로 성공할게 아니다’라는 마인드를 갖고 있다”고 지적했다.
<관련 영문 기사>Will Korea ever have ‘Linsanity’?Student athletes struggle in narrow career options, missing out on many chances they deserve
By Yoon Min-sik
A 16-year-old boy, towering over his classmates at 188 centimeters, walks in the classroom. He bows to his teacher, goes to the back of the class and slumps over his desk, falling asleep as the class goes on.
According to one college student who played basketball in high school for two years, this was how he and just about every high school athlete he knew “attended classes.”
He said they would get up 6 a.m. to go hiking in the nearby mountain, have a quick nap and start training around 9 a.m., take another nap around noon and start an afternoon workout that lasted until late in the day.
“The same process repeated throughout the year except Sundays. We usually only had morning practices on Saturdays but when the coach was ‘pissed off,’ we would get afternoon practices then as well,” he said. “Actually the players have no choice but to sleep, being dead beat after all the training.”
In many Korean schools, student athletes are usually exempt from classes and regular school activities including field trips. As a result, their academic performances are sidelined, leaving few career options other than sports.
In 2012, Jeremy Lin -- then a little-known player for the New York Knicks -- took the NBA by storm with standout performances. His improbable success, dubbed “Linsanity” by the mainstream media, stood out in many ways. One particular aspect that caught the eyes of Koreans was that he was a Harvard graduate.
Linsanity’s startling success is a puzzle for Korean student athletes and their parents, who believe it’s impossible to balance sports activities and academic scores. As far as Korea is concerned, there has been no Linsanity-like success story.
Athletes, not students?
Student athletes practice crossover dribbles and other sports skills, but they hardly get any real chance to learn something useful in school. They are also forced to miss out chances to form friendships with their classmates.
“You know what they say, ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ I used to hang out with other guys in the basketball team, the rugby team, or the soccer team, but not really with other regular students,” said a 29-year-old former student athlete.
“Guys who were marginally interested in studying used to hang out with regular students, but it wasn’t like they were popular. They just had few non-athlete friends.”
Korean student athletes often receive “special treatment,” which means teacher, coaches and other students see them as dedicated athletes that play for the school rather than ordinary students.
“For me, the worst was when the teacher acted like I wasn’t even supposed to be in the classroom. I called him to say I wouldn’t be able to attend because of a game, and he was like ‘why even bother,’” said Im Yong-seok, a lecturer at the department of physical education at Korea University. The former basketball prospect, who even played for the junior national team, was forced to quit playing in his senior year at college due to injury.
“Coaches, teachers and even students themselves tend to think the only way they can succeed is through sports, which pushes them further away from the classroom,” he said. “If the schools considered the children’s future, they would let students interact with teachers, fellow students and learn so much more outside the books. Instead, students are cut off from all sorts of opportunities.”
Not least because student athletes are outside of regular school activities and human relationships with other classmates, they are often subject to violence by coaches and senior players on the team. According to a recent survey by the National Human Rights Commission, 78.8 percent of the athletes in middle or high school said they had experienced some type of verbal or physical abuse.
For all the hardships, student athletes often find themselves stranded in their pursuit of sports career. A research by Korea University showed that only 2.5 percent of the student athletes in middle and high schools eventually get to play sports until the junior year of college.
Narrow path to success
Even if one successfully maintains an athletic career throughout college, the path to becoming the next Park Ji-sung or Kim Yu-na remains a long shot. According to the Korean Olympic Committee, up to 2,500 players attempt to enter a professional soccer team, but only 100 of them make it.
Worse, about a third of athletes last only one year in the pro leagues. According to Huh Haeng-ryang, a professor of social science at Sejong University, the average career spans of professional soccer and baseball players in Korea are 3.29 years and 3.87 years, respectively.
When student athletes hit such abrupt end of their careers, the shock can be overwhelming.
“For 11, 12 years I dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player, I was sure of it. And then, it all disappeared,” said Im of Korea University, describing the experience as “being left alone on the streets naked.”
The toughest challenge was returning to the classroom, Im said.
“I was a college graduate, yet I could not comprehend the classes being taught in Korean. Just sitting there caused me pain, as I never really sat down and focused for more than an hour.”
He went on to get a Ph.D. in physical education and then took a lecturer position at a leading university, but this is an exceptionally rare success case.
Authorities keen to revamp the system
“Under the current system, very few student athletes make it to the pros while the rest are tossed aside. For some, their time spent playing sports can have negative effects, such as the example of former student athletes joining gangs,” said Huh Jung-hoon, a professor of sports science at Chung-Ang University and a member of the Civic Network for Justice of Sport.
Since its foundation in 2002, the group has worked to help student athletes to participate in regular classes.
In 2010, the Education Ministry introduced a new policy barring student athletes who fail to achieve a certain level of academic accomplishment from competing in state tournaments.
The percentage of middle school students in Seoul who failed to make the cut dropped from 42.6 percent in 2010 to 7.8 percent in 2012, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.
As of now, only middle and elementary school students are subject to the new policy, but it will be expanded to include high school student as well in 2015.
Policymakers’ efforts to balance sports and education are raising concerns that the new rules will increase the workload on students athletes already struggling with hectic schedule of training.
“The moment we tell these kids to study as well, it becomes another burden,” said Im of Korea University. “We must change how student athletes are perceived. We must realize that there are a lot of things being sacrificed in their lives, things that they should be enjoying as a student, and as a human being.”