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
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.