Should a wealthy family relinquish the rewards of hard work?

What if I told you that a graduate of a private college-prep high school, after racking up a 3.75 GPA and a standout career on the varsity football team, chose among many offers and accepted a full athletic scholarship to UCLA? Would this be news?

What if I told you that he weighed offers from several FBS schools before choosing UCLA? Happens every day, right?

Would it matter to you if this student grew up with financial security, and despite his comfortable lifestyle, worked hard to excel on and off the field? Would you be upset if that student were rewarded for his hard work, or would you celebrate him as a breath of fresh air?

What if I told you that this student was the son of a world famous hip hop artist? Would you demand that he give up his full ride scholarship?

Well, that’s exactly what has happened to Justin Combs. The vast majority of Americans probably haven’t kept up with college football recruiting (especially given UCLA’s record in recent years), and likely wouldn’t have heard of him, except for one thing. The fact that he is the son of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs has electrified the internet and sports talk radio this week.

According to Reuters,

The article later states,

It appears that this all started with a blog post on cnn.com:

Should P. Diddy’s son return $54,000 college scholarship?

It’s hard to understand where this question even comes from – after all, it hasn’t exactly been a slow news week, and we still belong to a society that claims to want to reward hard work. Athletic scholarships are similar to academic scholarships in that they are specifically designed to reward students who work hard and maximize their natural talents. This is in direct contrast to need based tuition assistance. There’s something distasteful about the massive backlash that has erupted over this issue. P Diddy is worth eleventy bajillion dollars, and he’s not shy about flaunting his wealth. Conspicuous consumerism is simultaneously revered and reviled in America – just look at popular culture, and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Did Diddy bring this on himself and his family because of his lavish lifestyle? Is this merely the 99% lashing back at a 1%er? Is there a racial overtone to this?

The issues involved in this controversy are subtle and complex, but unmistakable. The real debate is whether we should reward achievement or need. And the underlying message here goes straight to the heart of the debate of big government versus small government, and what we prefer as a society. Should we guarantee equality of outcome, or equality of opportunity? Should we as a society redistribute opportunity from the wealthy, regardless of how hard the individual worked to gain that opportunity? Shouldn’t a truly just society protect all citizens equally? You know, that whole “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” thing …

It’s hard to believe that the achievements of Justin Combs, by all accounts a model kid who worked his tail off, would be the focus of such a ginned up controversy in a society that values hard work – or at least used to. Heck, the fact that he didn’t turn into a spoiled brat despite his father’s wealth should be celebrated by everyone.

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