By Nick Westbrooks
Jay Harris aka Jay DatBull
I first read on the Root.com that Jay Harris, a standout Philadelphia high school wide receiver, turned down a football scholarship to Michigan State University to pursue a rap career. That led me to an article and video on deadspin.com that went into further detail about Harris’ decision and provided a glimpse of the aspiring rapper’s talent or lack thereof depending on your taste and preference.
According to the article, Harris, whose stage name is Jay DatBull was considering dropping football and pursuing music for a few years now, but he was afraid to tell his parents. At first, I was led to believe that Harris’ decision was strictly his own, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the football star’s explicit music and videos impelled the school to revoke his scholarship. A Michigan State spokesman says the decision was mutual.
In fact, in Jay’s first single “DatBull 4 Life,” he raps about smoking weed, and in the video, he can be seen enjoying the herbal therapy with his crew. The writer of the DeadSpin article then comments that it’s more difficult to make a living rapping than it is playing in the NFL: “At the start of next year’s season, there will be some 1,700 on NFL rosters. There aren’t 1,700 men and women combined who are making NFL money by rapping.”
But with more than 140,000 views on YouTube within the first couple of weeks and the toxic recipe to create mainstream rap poison that would attract any major label, Jay DatBull has a chance at getting signed and making a living off of rapping. This brings me to my point of critical analysis.
The discussion—and there should be a discussion about this—concerning Jay Harris’ decision to drop college football to pursue rapping should go beyond his likelihood of making a living in either career. It should even go beyond the claim that he can get an education while playing football. And, it’s not about what his parents will think or whether it’s more important for him to chase his dreams or be realistic.
A rap career making music about smoking weed and having sex will bring him big checks to make a living and even enjoy some luxuries for himself, his friends and his family. But what’s missing is his consciousness. Being able to support yourself is necessary, and there’s nothing wrong with owning a few nice things, but in the words of the author and cultural historian Tony Browder, “money without consciousness will usually lead to self-destruction of some form or another.” Being a slave to a corporate record label that’s out to control the artist and his listeners will ultimately contribute to the continual destruction of Black people.
Many people mistakenly believe that money will bring them happiness, but money without consciousness will usually lead to self-destruction of some form or another. -Tony Browder
The sad reality with college athletes is that although they have the opportunity to get an education through an athletic scholarship, many of them either don’t receive an adequate education while they’re in school or they don’t finish and receive a degree. While living in the moment of playing football at a major Division 1 school, student-athletes can lose sight of life beyond collegiate athletics and don’t think of back-up plans just in case professional sports don’t work out. While in school at Howard University, I had a football player as a roommate one year. After telling him about my major and career plans, he told me that he never really thought of life after college football, and I encouraged him to seriously consider it.
Harris’ decision exceeds getting an education on a football scholarship, because earning a college degree doesn’t necessarily ensure that he will experience a change in consciousness when his foresight is already limited to becoming a professional athlete while attending an institution that considers him to be a mere commodity in a billion dollar industry who won’t even receive compensation for putting his body on the line. In addition, he’ll most likely be in a space where he won’t be exposed to his true history and learn that he is much more than a weed-smoker, athlete or entertainer.
Lastly, there’s the small chance that Harris could have made it to the NFL if he decided to stick with football. Playing professional football seems less harmful than rapping about weed and sex, but here again he would be making big money without having any consciousness, which will lead to his self-destruction. You can see it with the many multimillion-dollar earning Black athletes that have gone broke and the scores of others who have gotten in trouble and ruined their reputations for engaging in damaging behavior.
When we’re helping our Black youth plan their futures, we can’t strictly think in dollars and cents. While it’s important to argue which career Harris has a better chance in succeeding at, it’s also imperative to ask how he can use his potential career to improve the condition of his people by first liberating himself from the chains of psychological slavery. Harris can rap; he doesn’t have to play football if he doesn’t want to, but he needs a proper education to shift his paradigm, reach his highest level of excellence as Black man and to advance his people. We must begin to understand that the destructive path of the individual contributes to the destruction of the collective.