Feb

2

The Dumb Column Factory

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My first Spectator column of the year came out Monday, and I proved myself to be a royal idiot. Soon after, I sent a mea culpa to the Spec sports staff, the athletic department, and a few angry student athletes — see after the jump.

But before the jump … please don’t call me a racist and resentful of economic diversity. Just say I’m insensitive to athletes or an asshole or something resembling the truth.

Earlier this week I wrote a column that assailed lower academic standards for athletes and the notion that winning teams were crucial to fundraising. I argued this patronizes and isolates athletes, resulting in academic underperformance and a more splintered community.

Or so I intended. But the column I wrote, “The Dumb Jock Factory,” came across as an attack on athletes, not specific policies.

For starters, the title was a bad idea. I wanted to drive home that Columbia’s policies expect athletes to do poorly in school, resulting in systemic underachievement. This, combined with pre-existing stereotypes, encourages the existence of “dumb jocks,” though jocks aren’t.

I did not mean that athletes are stupid, but for a reader there’s no escaping a first line that screams “Columbia wants dumb jocks.” My column criticized reflexively treating athletes like idiots, but it mainly indulged and amplified those stereotypes.

The worst offender was comparing a coach’s attitude to a zookeeper’s. I wanted to depict unnecessarily low expectations; instead, it implied that athletes are monkeys.

To make another strained metaphor, the grenades I threw exploded in my face.

I reject the claim that sports must be overhyped to boost endowment. I believe it regards student-athletes as mere fundraising tools. Yet my tone had discredited my argument even before I told dissenters to “stop bitching.”

I asked, “why do the wrestlers sit together at the same lunch table all the time? This applies to everyone. Why do Jews? Asians? Columnists-who-write-before
-they-think?

Comfort level matters: we (read: I) find friends with similar worldviews, despite plans to expand our horizons.

Crossing that worldview gap is hard. We want school to impart skills, not make life awkward. And soon a cycle of stereotyping begins.

My column reinforced that cycle. That is my fault. But I stand by my argument: Columbia’s policies also reinforce it. Both of us are in the wrong; I’m just the bigger jackass.

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3 Comments

  1. Russerl

    Instead of 'Columbia wants dumb jocks' you could have said 'Columbia is willing to take lots of dumb jocks for the sake of tradition and for the money it hopes to profit from it'. There is a difference, but I think being willing to take dumb jocks is also objectionable. First, as you say, using athletes to keep the flow of donations going is exploitative (given that lots of students and other people disagree with athletes being here). Second, because this is the sort of tradition that forward thinking universities should have abandoned long ago.



    I have nothing against sports, but we need to look at the resources Columbia has. Being in New York City, we will never have the facilities that out-of-town universities of similar wealth can have. Moreover, Columbia has some of the best academic resources in the world (not the least because we have the Met, Moma, Carnegie Hall, etc. so close by). Given these resources, we should endeavor to get undergrads who will actually have the time and inclination to use them. People who are great at sport should go to good colleges, but there are perfectly good colleges that lack Columbia's academic resources which would work equally well for them. Columbia should use the money it pours into its athletic program and put it towards more important causes. We should give more financial aid to poorer students (NO students should turn down Columbia because they feel they can't afford it). We should use money to step up the drive to get the best minority students to Columbia, by holding summer programs for high schools and by sending Columbia alums out to schools to promote Columbia and encourage people to apply. Remember, every place at Columbia taken by an athlete could go to someone who will use Columbia's academic resources and who would greatly benefit from them!


  2. Alyona

    Responding to Russerl, I believe that the student-athlete at Columbia has a very unique set of problems that they have to deal with. Specifically, many of these pressures are self-inflicted by the frustration that they cannot get the most out of what Columbia offers because they are always in training.Many athletes at Columbia find it difficult to assume the "student-athlete" role without a certain amount of guilt: with time still limited to 24 hours a day, either the "student" or the "athelete" parts of their dual-identity have to be sacrificed. The sudent-athlete feels proud to be at Columbia, because many of them used high-quality athletics to supplement their application to Ivy League academic institutions, guarenteeing if not great amounts of financial aide, at least a definite job after graduation. They want to succeed, to make friends, enjoy the fullness of CU life, but they cannot due to committment to training. Yet, most feel honor-bound to stay in the program because it was how they got into the school. Thus, the student-athlete sacrifices much of their time to sleeping, classes and sport. Their social circle is limited to friends from John Jay or Carman floormates or teammates.

    My major criticism of the athletics offered at CU is that the athletes tend to come from very similar socio-economic backgrounds: no extra financial aide if offered, so most atheletes are from the classes whose parents could afford to support their chuld in increasingly expensive sports programs.



    Is there a solution to this problem? No, because CU will never give up its quest to present a balanced academic and atheletic portrait to donors. CU will never rescind its membership in the Ivy League in order to entice atheletes from more varied socioeconomic backgrounds with scholarships or financial aide. What really needs to be done is reorganization of the entire program of CU's athletics so that students involved can participate fully as students and athletes in the CU Community. I do not know where I would begin with this endeavor: from experience, there is much information and support given to athletes by the admn, but very little of it is utilized (in the tradition of ALL CU students, may I add.) One issue that could be tackled is socializing and utilizing the academic opportunities around town to athletes: I would recommend many more trips organized by the admn to which atheletes could invite their OTHER friends, so that horizons can be broaded , etc etec, and that the athletes would perhaps become less insular. Any other suggestions to how the problem could be fixed? This issue comes up every year, and may debate and talk about the problem, but very few solutions are offered.

  3. Russerl

    Alyona says, 'Is there a solution to this problem? No, because CU will never give up its quest to present a balanced academic and atheletic portrait to donors. CU will never rescind its membership in the Ivy League in order to entice atheletes from more varied socioeconomic backgrounds with scholarships or financial aid.'



    We don't need to lose our status as a balanced institution. We should still have well-funded teams, but we shouldn't recruit for them at the expense of students who are significantly better qualified academically and otherwise. If we don't have lower admissions standards for athletes can we still be in the Ivy League? I'm not sure (it's not like we're dominant even with our current athletics program). But who says we would lose out if we didn't actually play in the Ivy League? I'm sure people would still recognize that Columbia is old and that rich important people have gone here. If we got rid of the current athletic program, people might also see Columbia as institution with the integrity to arrange things on the basis of what is just, not on the basis of what keeps with tradition and gives superficial prestige (I'm assuming it's more just that the athletes place at Columbia goes to someone with the time and academic ability to use Columbia's resources). Stanford, MIT, and Caltech have shown that the prestige of being old and Ivy are hardly essential to establishing a big repuation. These universities have far better faculty and students than Ivies like Cornell, Dartmouth, and Brown. What's important is that Columbia shows itself to have something more than other institutions, and this sort of integrity and forward thinking is one way to show this.

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