Friday, April 25, 2014

Professional Amateurs, Amateur Students

America's bizarre obsession with college and high school athletics continues to puzzle me.  I'm perfectly willing to go along with Aristotle's basic concept of the Golden Mean. You should be strong in body and strong in mind. But that isn't what high school and college athletics are all about.

A tiny percentage of the student body actually engages in these athletic events. It does nothing to increase the physical capacity of what is often as much as 99% of the student body.  One could even argue, quite convincingly, but it actually weakens the student body by encouraging them to become passive spectators of others' physical activities.

At least in the case of basketball and football, there is an explanation. The colleges make a huge amount of money by exploiting the activities of these "student" athletes. In a nation which continually attacks and is highly suspicious of higher education and which  consistently under funds this investment in our future, colleges and universities must seek funding sources where they can.

However, no one is fooled by this unconvincing façade.  We all know the scandals which regularly plague the system are not exceptions.  They are just the cases where the university or college was caught.  Let's just allow them to hire professional athletes and use them appropriately.

I doubt there is anyone who actually believes that student athletes are, for the most part, serious students. There are exceptions, and those young man should be greatly admired, but let's be honest, most of these students are students in name only.

Furthermore, our national habit of labeling athletes as great heroes is deeply disturbing on an entirely different level. As a professional, you are paid millions of dollars to play a game which you love to play. Wow!  How heroic can you get?

When I first heard about this publication, I was disturbed by the idea that another book come out about the Duke University Lacrosse team. I was angry, because I assumed that the matter was going to be raked over the journalistic coals  long after it was settled. The athletes in question were treated badly. They were innocent. The matter was ended.

It turns out that the book is taking a very different viewpoint. It brings up questions about the whole obsession with student athletics and the incredibly bad behavior of college authorities and, because of their permissive attitudes, the athletes in question.

A few facts from the NY Times book review:

One professor described '...some of the athletes as “openly hostile” to intellectual endeavor.'

The author "...reports the astonishing fact that while members of the team amounted to less than 1 percent of the total student body, in the year of the rape case they accounted for 25 percent of the university’s disorderly conduct cases, 50 percent of its noise ordinance violations and one-third of all open-container violations."

Need we say more? Tell a group of impressionable young men that they are great. Say repeatedly that they are above the law. Demonstrate through cover ups that they have the right to misbehave because they are so superior to everyone else. Guess what the results will be?

The answer is American higher education.

1 comment:

  1. Further insight into the book has come my way. The things I've said above are true, but it is also true that the author was indeed trying to relitigate the case. And he was doing so from a very prejudiced viewpoint that assumes that the wealthy college athletes just had to be wrong and that, if you just could dig far enough and twist the facts enough, you could find some way to blame them. And he did.