Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping Your Eye on the Balls

Sports do a lot of good.  I really believe that, done properly, sports can teach valuable skills such as cooperation and team-building.  Heck, I teared up upon viewing The Blind Side.  I'm not heartless.  However, done improperly, sports can also teach that bullying the weak and uncoordinated is good, that physical prowess makes you better and deserving of special treatment, and that the ability to hit, kick, and/or catch a ball somehow is a direct measure of your worth.  Mind you, I am no advocate of the "everyone gets a trophy!" mindset.  Not everyone has athletic ability, just as not everyone has artistic or intellectual ability.

I think it's always a good idea to follow the money and there's just too much money in sports.  We no longer build cathedrals to the Divine, but we pass bond referendums to finance sports palaces for multimillionaires.  We expect our children to learn in trailers propped up on cinderblock foundations, but Booster Clubs find the cashy money for a new field house.  Why?  Because there's money in sports.  TV revenues are huge and everybody wants a piece of the pie.  Student athletes get breaks that ordinary ramen-noodle eating students don't.  (Sorry, but in my world, if you live out-of-state, that scholarship should be valued at the out-of-state price and if that means the school gets fewer of them, oh, well.  Blame geography.  Or better yet, teach geography!  [Side note - highest paid geography major?  Michael Jordan.  Seriously]).  At the same time, those student-athletes put their still-developing bodies through the wringer for a school that's making a fortune off of their efforts, yet they receive no compensation if their ACL blows out, thus ending their careers.  And college is just practice for the meat grinder that is professional sports.

It becomes easy to ignore the wrong.  The player who gropes girls.  The student tutor who has too much of a hand in the term paper.  The wealthy booster who gives a car to a prospective star player as an enticement to attend a particular school.  And then there's Penn State, which goes so far beyond "scandal" that a new word needs to be coined.  (And The Citadel is expressing "regret" for its lack of action.  Same story, different day.)

Sports aren't bad.  Slavish devotion to them is.  John Scalzi explains this better than I could, so I'll re-post him here.  The language he uses is a little harsh, but  (in my opinion) completely justified in this case.  As an occasional reader of H.P. Lovecraft, I was delighted to receive a sweatshirt for Miskatonic University as a gift.  But I never, never want to be an alumna of Omelas University (look at Scalzi's post - it'll make sense then).

Paterno was a great coach.

And that excuses absolutely nothing.

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