I’ve been amazed and appalled by the notes at the bottom of the daily sports pages. Each day, it seems, a different college football phenom is being arrested for some sort of vicious crime: assault & battery, rape, resisting arrest, selling and possession of drugs, drive-by shooting, etc. You name it, it’s happening.
But, why is it happening, what real damage is being done and who should be responsible? In terms of image and reputation, the player’s image takes a momentary hit. But, the coach is always there to defend the star as "innocent until proven guilty." And, the team takes a temporary hit when it loses its star stud before the big game with "State." But, the NCAA always seems to come away smelling like a rose. And ESPN, which lavishes amazing "game day" coverage each Saturday, also glosses over the crime sprees except, as noted before, if it means a key quarterback or lineman will miss an upcoming game. Then, their expert analysts will debate what the "key player loss" means to the team.
Now, juxtapose all of this nonsense against an old 1960s episode of "Leave it to Beaver" that I happened to catch on TV Land not too long ago. In the episode, the "Beav" had gotten in trouble for making a funny face that threatened to mar the entire class photograph (ah, for the simpler times). Anyway, the photo had already gone to the printer and it seemed there was little that anyone could do to rectify the situation. Beaver’s dad, Ward Cleaver, rushed off to the Grant Avenue Elementary School to meet with Beaver’s teacher (the always attractive Miss Landers) and the school principal. He assured them he’d take full responsibility for the incident, pay to have a new pic snapped and severely punish the Beav (who, as it turned out, was grounded for a week).
So, what’s all this got to do with today’s college football? Just this: I think in a lot of cases, the players’ parents are at fault for today’s horrific, criminal behavior. These athletes were allowed to run wild at an early age. The parents abdicated authority to the schools or the coaches who, because the kids were gifted, turned a blind eye to their transgressions. The result? The jocks grew up thinking society’s rules and laws simply don’t apply to them.
So, who loses? We all do. The players’ careers can take a nosedive (just think of Maurice Clarett of Ohio State), the school’s images take a black eye (think of the University of Miami a few years back) and, worst of all, our kids are hero-worshipping thugs and degenerates.
I’d like to think things will get better and the next generation of parents will assume more responsibility for child-rearing. But, the daily sports pages tell a different story. As long as a gifted young football player can run the 40 in 4.3 seconds, he’s got an open field to rape and pillage at will.
Oh, and by the way, as was always the case, everything turned out fine for the Beaver. The photographer was able to "mask" Beaver’s funny face and the 8th grade photo came out just fine, thank you.
Josh: I hear you. With two kids of my own in college, I’d like to think you’re 100 percent right re: the vast majority of college kids doing the right thing.
I hear what you’re saying, Steve, and I don’t disagree that there is a problem with the behavior of some student-athletes. There are a lot of people in mainstream society who do terrible things and make poor decisions, but I truly believe the majority of people are good. Because Division I and major athletics programs get the majority of media attention (and scrutiny), folks who read the papers think that ALL student-athletes are doing the wrong thing. The truth is, however, that we only read about a minute percentage of athletes. We rarely read about the kids in Divisions II and III. Division III is the largest division and boasts programs such as Williams, Amherst, Emory and the University of Chicago. It’s important to recognize that most kids do what they should – go to school to receive an education, participate in intercollegiate athletics and many times, give back to the community. The notion that many or most of the almost 400,000 NCAA student-athletes are bad apples is just not true.
Good post. What’s worse: the really talented kids are able to have their skills carry them on to professional sports. Once that happens, an even larger audience sees and then models their behavior.
I don’t know how much blame I would place on society. By the time these athletes are on the field, is society really going to make a change? No, it should start at birth; go through childhood and adolescence, then adulthood. By the time “society” catches on, the damage is done and irreversible. Just look at Clarett, Chris Henry (or any other Bengal), Phillies pitcher Brett Myers, etc.
You’re absolutely right that there have been rotten apples in collegiate sports for some time. But, in my mind, it’s reaching epidemic proportions. Josh: I’m sure you’re right that the media are, indeed, focusing on the bad guys because, well, bad news drives ratings. But, c’mon, there are SO many incidents nowadays that it’s tough to keep track. It seems like every team has one or more kids either suspended or serving time. That sort of thing simply didn’t happen when I was growing up watching collegiate sports in the 1970s.
I agree that there are too many off-the-field incidents and too much lousy behavior from some of our student-athletes. I do believe, however, that your view is entirely too pessimistic. When you open the sports pages, you are reading the stuff that the media wants you to read. If you dig a bit deeper, you will recognize that there are almost 400,000 student-athletes and the vast majority of them are doing exceptional things on and off the field. The traditional media pays attention to the Maurice Claretts and other high-profile deviants because it sells papers. You’re not going to hear about the 100+ student-athletes who gathered in Kansas City this past weekend for the Division II Leadership Academy. You’re not going to hear about the NESCAC swimmers who raised thousands of dollars for cancer research by their participation in Swim Across America. The New York Times will tell you about Maurice Clarett’s day in jail, but it won’t tell you about Plattsburgh State’s student-athletes raising money for the Special Olympics. I’m not arguing that the picture is perfect, but it’s certainly not what we read about in the papers.
I’m surprised, Rep. You talk about this like it’s something new, when this is something that’s been going on for years. I remember my own college days long ago where I spent a semester at Cal State Fresno (just don’t ask why) home to the Fresno Bulldogs. Our stellar basketball team, under the leadership of one Jerry Tarkanian, aka Tark the Shark, boasted a graduation rate of 0% and team members recruited straight from the state penitentiary. In that semester alone, I knew of one team member firing a gun in a dorm, three team members arrested for domestic violence and a few assault charges. That’s just one team, in one semester. But did we have a great record…you betcha, which is really all anyone cared about then, and all anyone cares about now.
At the end of the day, sports teams (especially winning teams) bring in a ton of money for schools, and as long people (alumni) are willing to throw their dollars behind teams that win, despite the criminals and thugs on them, it’s not going to change. So yes, while parents are responsible for raising their children to be good citizens, society needs to shoulder its own share of the blame for supporting a system that has continually allowed this sort of behavior.