On the other hand, a great many universities still cling to the proposition that the student athlete is a treasure to his school, able to excel in both the classroom and in his chosen field of sports. It should go without saying that this extra-rigorous challenge to young men and women develops their toughness, perseverence, and team spirit in a way that greatly enhances their future work experiences.
But though Mr. Bissinger claims to have done thorough research at a few schools, he certainly cannot claim that all schools abuse the student athlete system. I know for a fact not only that my husband and his teammates were required to make the grades academically, but that the entire professor brigade at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, held an unspoken resentment of athletes — especially football players — and made the players’ academic lives even more demanding.
Our son wrestled for four years at Northwestern University, all on full scholarship. I’ll never forget that before his coach could even recruit him in high school, our son had to formally apply and gain acceptance on a purely academic basis. For four years, I watched our son travel across several states to wrestle another Big Ten school, get a few hours’ sleep at most, then make it to an early morning quiz and a full day of classes, followed by several hours of rigorous practice, several more hours of equally rigorous study, only to get up the next morning and prepare for the next weekend’s contest. No one can tell me that college athletes don’t better prepare for the rigors of adult life than the average student. Our son’s business success and post-graduate degrees add weight to my theory.
It is no secret that football garners enough money for most universities to fund their entire smorgasbord of other sports. No, the minor sports — though they greatly benefit their participants and admirers — usually do not even pay for their own scholarships or travel expenses. When asked about the role of sports in college life, Bear Bryant said, “It’s kind of hard to rally around a math class,” to which he might as well have added that no one is going to pay to watch students take the math quiz either.
Nearly all of the female university sports lose gobs of money — which must be gotten somewhere, if those athletes are to be given the equal-opportunity advantages mandated by the federal government. It seems strange that such a liberal-minded man as Buzz Bissinger would want to see college football’s millions gutted by large payoffs to those stars, when it would be all the other college athletes who would suffer first and foremost.
Which brings us back to Cam Cameron, the winner of this year’s Heisman Trophy. Buzz Bissinger wrote his column for the Daily Beast in defense of one father’s greed, suggesting that because Cecil Cameron sought to enrich himself, son unawares, on account of Cam’s quarterbacking prowess, the entire system of college athletics ought to be turned into a professional enterprise. Worse, Bissinger brought a racial element into the mix, insinuating that exceptionally talented black athletes would never amount to anything later in life, their short-lived athletic gifts the only thing these students had to offer the modern university. To which I, the old Mom, say poppycock! Let me give Mr. Bissinger and all the condescending racist liberals a clue here.
Take all the liberal dream schemes of school busing, affirmative action and racial quota systems, add them up, and ask what quality of integration and racial harmony they produced in the end. Urban schools are now more segregated than they were in the ’70s. Affirmative action and quota systems have produced nothing but the wholesale destruction of the scholarly and meritocratic standards to which liberals pay such lip service.
On the other hand, college sports, along with the military, have arguably produced more integration and racial harmony among players, student bodies, fans, and sportscasters than any other American endeavor. On the football field — or the wrestling mat or the basketball court or the baseball field — integration is based on the one thing money can’t buy and governments can’t coerce: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.