The University of Oklahoma's Courtney Paris recently became the first four time All-American in women's college basketball history. That's right, she played for four years, and she was an All-American every year. She also set some 18 records while playing basketball for Oklahoma. However, she will probably be remembered for something she said rather than all that she did while a basketball player. About a month ago, she guaranteed that the Oklahoma team would win the National Championship. In fact, she said that if they didn't win it all, she would repay the university for all four years of her scholarship. On April 5th, Oklahoma lost to Louisville in the semifinals, 61-59. Should Courtney make good on her promise? Is she a braggart or is she someone with integrity? Will the University sue her for the money?
It's not unusual for athletes to boast before a big event. Forty years ago, Joe Namath made his famous guarantee that the Jets would win the Super Bowl. Muhammad Ali used to promise that he would knock out his opponent in a specific round. But I don't remember athletes guaranteeing that if they didn't fulfill their promise, they'd give all the money back. Until now. Paris, the daughter of former San Francisco 49er football player Bubba Paris, had implied that unless she led the Oklahoma Sooners to a championship, she hadn't earned all that the University had given her.
If I were Courtney's father, I'm not sure how I would've reacted to hearing my daughter suggest that she might give back all of her scholarship money. Also, if I were her father, it's unlikely that my name would be Bubba.
Her promise wasn't an easy one to make. Oklahoma was not favored to win. The University of Connecticut, the eventual champions, were the favorites. So it's not like she was a Harlem globetrotter saying he'd give back his entire salary if his team lost to the Washington Generals. This wasn't Julia Roberts saying she'd give back her salary if her latest movie didn't sell one ticket. It's not as if Chicago's Mayor Daley said he'd give back all the money the city had ever paid him if he lost to a Republican. She really went out on a limb.
Quite correctly, the University has said they will not hold Courtney to her promise. They feel she has already earned every penny of her scholarship by bringing attention to the program, by attracting more and more fans, and by playing great basketball. The money is estimated to be at least $64,000. I don't know which is more historic: Courtney's promise or an educational institution turning down money.
Courtney says she's going to pay back all the money no matter what the school says. She doesn't have the money now, but she said she will repay the school even if it takes her the rest of her life.
Most people seem to be writing her off as crazy, a loud mouth, or at best, a kid who foolishly said something that wiser adults should ignore. Maybe she's not any of these things. Maybe she's simply someone who feels that a promise is a promise. As a professional player, she won't make the tens of millions that male pro players make. So it's not like she's going to earn that $64,000-plus in the first two minutes of her first professional game.
Like most athletes, she probably hired a financial adviser after about thirty seconds of her last collegiate game. Maybe he or she will come up with a way that the University can get the money that Courtney feels they're entitled to without causing her any hardship. Perhaps a Courtney Paris scholarship Fund can be set up, and the University will end up getting far more than $64,000. You know, they could name it something like, the "You'd Better Think Before You Open Your Mouth Foundation."
Adults can also learn from young Courtney Paris. Sure, she was boastful, and maybe she made a promise in the heat of the moment. But in this era when some people feel no compunction about accepting huge salaries or bonuses after poor performance, here is someone who is willing to pay back money just because she didn't achieve ultimate success, almost perfection. She's not asking for a bailout, she's offering her school a bailout. She's not saying, "Don' blame me, it was the other people who messed up." In recent months, how many executives have we heard say, "I'll pay back every penny to the people I let down?" That's right, zero.
We might never see another student athlete like Courtney. However, to quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, "We'll always have Paris."