August 25, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

School Sports

...filled me with an ineradicable distaste...for every variety of calisthenics, so that I still begrudge the exertion needed to climb in and out of the bathtub, and hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense. If I had my way no man guilty of golf would be eligible to any office of trust or profit under the United States, and all female athletes would be shipped to the white-slave corrals of the Argentine.

H.L. Mencken

I think that it was in the late '30s or '40s that a movie was made that spoofed college football. It stared Jack Oakie as the star of the football team of Winsocki University. It was complete with a college fight song called "Buckle Down Winsocki," which had characteristic original lines such as:

Buckle down, Winsocki, buckle down

You can win Winsocki if you knuckle down, will make them wrecks etc.

Even in those days there were problems with star athletes who really had no business being in a university. Oakie had to pass an exam in order to be eligible to play. The professor asked him one question, "Name a means of locomotion?" He hemmed and hawed until someone asked him "What do you do to get ready for a game?" He replied "train," and he passed the exam and was eligible to play in the big game.

The stereotype of the dumb jock is just that, a stereotype. Like most stereotypes it just isn't true. I recall a first string football player at the University of California at Berkeley dropping off a Rose Bowl team because it was interfering with his studies and he wanted to get into a medical school. It was after World War II and the competition to get into professional schools was very stiff. As with any other group of people, some athletes are fairly bright and some don't have the brains to know when to come in out of the rain.

Hypocrisy is something that should be expected in colleges and universities. While the professors make a big outcry about scholarship and academic freedom, what the president and board of directors are concerned with is money. Big time sports brings in lots of money. It also consumes a goodly amount.

I once read a fictional letter from the head of the English department asking the football coach to put a student on the football team because he needed some sports experience in order to qualify for a Rhodes scholarship. He suggested that the coach let him "bounce a football; or whatever one does with a football."

Now Minnesota's governor Jesse Ventura has gotten into the act by stating that he didn't see any reason for athletes to participate in the academics of a school, or something to that effect. I agree. What I have a problem with is the pretense that an athlete is supposed to make it look like he is in college for some reason other than sports. Colleges and universities are the training ground for the professional teams and the players often expect to go from there to a professional team and make big bucks.

Someone once said that the alumni are interested in sports and the faculty's main concern is parking and tenure. There are many reasons why students are in a university, not the least of which is getting a credential, which is a fancy union card that qualifies someone for a higher paying job.

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