On Race Relations, Hail to College Sports

I was intrigued by Buzz Bissinger’s column this week in the Daily Beast regarding what he calls the “Heisman Hypocrisy.” Bissinger, the widely acclaimed author of Friday Night Lights, took the NCAA to task this week for supposed hypocrisy in banning the father of this year’s Heisman winner, Cam Newton, from the celebration.

At issue was the substantiated charge that prior to Cam’s signing with Auburn University, his father, Cecil, had demanded cash in the range of $100,000 to $150,000 for Cam to sign with Mississippi State (MSU). According to Bissinger’s logic, the entire concept of college student athlete is not only outdated, but dishonest and immoral. Bissinger wrote that the system itself, which garners mega-millions for successful university athletic programs, is the modern equivalent of a “master-slave” system, in which the athletes get next to nothing and the universities for which they play get rich. Bissinger goes on to write that, at the very least, every college athlete ought to get a financial reward in the amount of the scholarship.

As a mom, I think Mr. Bissinger is as shortsighted as he appears to be dimwitted.

Now, I can find no mention of Buzz Bissinger ever participating in college athletics, either as an athlete on scholarship or otherwise. In that, we have something in common; I haven’t either.

But I did marry a Division I college football player while he was still on scholarship, and we have a son who gained his undergraduate degree on a full athletic scholarship in D-I wrestling. And I count myself among the once hard-core skeptics on the matter of mixing sports with academics.

I grew up in the 1950s and 60s with a twin brother. My brother and I both participated in lots of sports as children. At swim meets and rodeos, I got equal play, won lots of ribbons and medals, and felt quite the accomplished athlete by the time I started high school. But then, everything changed. The only female sport at my large suburban high school was basketball -- at which I was an utter flop. While my brother continued to play various team sports all the way through high school, I was sidelined as a cheerleader. Yes, I always fiercely resented the hoopla afforded the football players. And vowed I would never marry a jock.

Now, forty years after marrying one jock and raising another, I’ve completely changed my opinion. I’m thrilled that young women now have the opportunities to participate which I never had. And I’ve always suspected that a bone of resentment underlies the callous opinions of non-jock commentators, such as Buzz Bissinger. If only he could have made the grade, perhaps he would feel differently.

It’s no secret that some major universities enable poor academic performance among student athletes, some of whom never graduate (much less come out of the experience with a genuine education).