Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed 8/6/2003 7:46 AM
Random Thought: Sports In Education

Not only is the academic season about to begin, so is the sports season. Talking about the sports season, I've had something stuck in my craw for a while that I just have to cough up and spit out. In these stringent, cost-cutting economic times when everyone is tightening their budgetary belt and when everyone is talking about "leaving no child behind," the local high school bragged that it has just constructed a brand new $100,000 weight room. Our teachers are not getting a raise, but the high school boosters raised $100,000 for a first class weight room. Our teachers have to buy classroom materials out of their own pocket, but local townspeople paid for a brand spanking new $100,000 weight room out their own pocket. The educational budget is being pared down by the Board of Education, but we have a Class A, $100,000 weight room. No one is screaming publically that we don't have a first class educational system, but everyone is loudly applauding that our $100,000 weight room will give us a first class football team. That hit a raw nerve.

On the high school and collegiate levels, coaches violate rule after rule after rule. Fans rationalize away, if they don't ignore, minor and serious infractions. Coaches and ADs lie on their resumes. School administrators turn their heads the other way, if they aren't active conspirators. Coaches saddle up to co-eds privately or at riotous parties. Faculty offer "special considerations" to athletes. Advisers and tutors wink at or participate in "academic irregularities." Coaches cut corners to recruit players. Admission officers bend or suspend entrance requirements for sought after athletes. Overzealous boosters don't know what a rule is when it comes to recruiting and under-the-table payments to athletes. Too many others on and off campus seem satisfied or scared into silently going along to get along. Too many care more for their own careers and their own institutional take, and are careless with the lives of the athletes. And athletes think they are not subject to the normal rules of legal, moral, and ethical behavior, and become menaces to both themselves and others. What's going on?

Then, I heard the tail end a quick commentary on this subject on the car radio the other week that got me thinking. I wrote a letter to the local newspaper. In it I said that the answer to my question may be the rampant adulation of playing a good game rather than the deep admiration for living a good life, that getting that score on the field is often more important than getting that score on a test, that making the grade on the team is more important than getting that grade in class. There's more concern with what kind of players the athletes are on the field than with what kind of people they are off the field. Coaches are paid big bucks, very big bucks, to win and bring in the big bucks, often at whatever cost. They are not paid to develop the character of their players if it interferes with their players playing. They are paid to hone physical skills and talents. They are not paid to cultivate virtuous people. Oh sure, we all know that sports build character. Lately, I'm beginning to think sports creates and perpetuates more characters with weakened if any character than it builds character. The character traits the coaches and most everyone else emphasize are usually limited to those on-the-field "no pain, no gain" aspects needed to bring in the roaring crowds, bring home the championship trophies, and rake in the big bucks: perseverance, endurance, self-discipline, self-confidence, self-reliance, dedication, commitment, pursuit of excellence, resilence.

Coaches and their ardent supporters claim that sport enhances life. That may be true as far as it goes. They don't seem concerned with preparing athletes for life, especially life after sports. After all, who is demanding that these on-field character values be taken off-field? Far too many, coaches seem rarely inclined to value other character values that make for a good person, a good citizen, a good spouse, a good parent, a good worker, a good business person, a good government official, a good friend: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, honesty, integrity, authenticity, compassion, respectfulness, and fairness.

Understand that I am not anti-athletics. To the contrary, in my collegiate youth I was a student-athlete. I honestly believe sports have a role to play in our schools no less than theater or music or art, a balanced role. I'll repeat that, a balanced role. And, I admit that maybe, probably, I'm stepping into the realm of hyperbole and overgeneralization. After all, there's Dean Smith, John Thompson, Coach K, John Wooden, Joe Paterno, Roy Williams and some others who believe they must prepare people for life as much as or perhaps more than merely coaching athletes to win games. Then, I ask myself, "Are they the exceptions to the rule? If not, why are they constantly and so dramatically held up as the models to be emulated if they were the norm? And, why do so many of our 'look up to' sports gods seem unworthy residents for Olympus?"

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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