Friday, April 06, 2007

You Can't Fix A System Designed To Be Broken, Part IV.

Here are Parts I, II, and III of the prior deconstruction of Jason Whitlock's multi-column "solution" to fix men's college hoops and college football. And Part IV (hopefully final) is a doozy, because now he's dug himself so far into the hole that he won't be able to dig out: his final grand proposal is to scrap Title IX, calling it a welfare system. Not new, not particularly revolutionary, but incredibly reactionary and stupid, and is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Let's get started.

Today, I drop the other shoe. I point out the benefactors of the continued exploitation of these directionless athletes and how fixing football and basketball players will end the gravy train of other non-black athletes.

Great. So the goal is to completely scrap the athletic opportunities for students who (gasp) are actually at college or university to go to school and get a degree in order to see that black men get one, even if they may not necessarily be aiming for it? If this is your idea of improving the lot of black men (which I am in favor of in general), count me the fuck out.

You could argue, and I will here, that the NCAA is in the business of recruiting impoverished, poorly educated black athletes for the purpose of securing gigantic TV contracts so that its schools can fund sports primarily played by white kids. The NCAA, rather than take a portion of the revenue it generates off its football and basketball players and invest in those athletes' intellectual and academic development, chooses instead to divert those revenues to volleyball, softball, baseball, golf, tennis, women's basketball and track athletes and their coaches.

Because they have resources that already exist in order to invest in their athletes intellectual and academic development: THEY ARE CALLED CLASSES AND ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS. It's very simple. If you stop riding the men's hoops and football players so hard to be pseudo-pros, cut down on the travel schedule, and make sure they go to class and take the exams, then you have what you want in the first place. But no, that cuts down on the gravy train for the universities, and they want to hoard that money. They use Title IX as an excuse, and as far as excuses go, I'd say it's a damn good one.

While the athletes remain eligible, the NCAA cuts deals to get them more and more television appearances on every night of the week. It's a vicious cycle that has produced the mess we have today. The athletes know they are being used for money, and they express a hard-to-digest hostility and sense of entitlement because of it. The NCAA, NBA and NFL ignore the athlete (who did not choose his environment or dysfunctional upbringing) and allow him to rot until age 18, and then wonder why he is hard to bring under control at age 23 or 24 when he's been handed several million dollars.

It is not the responsibility or job of the NCAA or any of the professional leagues to educate and develop an athlete before the age of 18, regardless of what you might think. That is incumbent upon parents and teachers at the lowest levels, and at higher ones, local, state, and federal government. I shall repeat my notes from prior installments: EDUCATION IS NOT SOMETHING YOU CAN EMBRACE BY DEMAND. That love has to be developed and nurtured. It is not the responsibility of an athletic association to educate its athletes. If they truly are students, then it is incumbent upon their universities, and the NCAA accounts for this, however flawed the standards are (and they are highly flawed) for men's hoops and football.

The intervention process must happen much sooner. Major League Baseball builds academies in foreign countries hoping to develop future major leaguers. But we can't build outreach programs to help our young football and basketball players develop academically and socially? We know there is a need for this. We know it's the right thing to do.

Yes, it is. Then ask your local school district, get your city councilman's attention, get the state house or assembly, the state senate, the mayor, the governor -- make it your mission to be active and demand these programs that help academic development for all children who need it, especially those in impoverished areas. I cannot repeat this enough: Whitlock aligns himself indirectly with a generation of American society that got theirs and said "fuck you" when it came to standing up and advancing the causes for equalizing funds in public education or advocating alternatives such as adequate vouchers (I'm not a voucher fan, but at least it's something.)

I am not in favor of paying college athletes money. Has money solved TuPacman Jones' problems? He needed counseling at age 12 and 13. He needed a strong alternative from hanging with the boyz 'n the 'hood at age 14. The NCAA and professional sports leagues should have given him an alternative long ago.

Please see the above response again. My blood is boiling over this now. Just because you don't want to pay them doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to earn money on the side, take a job. If the sport is a full-time job, then they should be able to get a bit of a stipend for it. Didn't you just advocate such a stipend in part three, saying the NCAA should give a poor student-athlete a $2,000-$3,000 stipend based on academic effort? Either you want a stipend or you don't want to pay them. Pick one.

A portion of the money that these athletes generate should be invested in the athletes who generate the money. Many of the non-revenue sports should be club sports. What we have now is a comfortable welfare life for Olympic athletes. I'm not knocking those athletes. I'm suggesting there's a lot of fat in their budgets. Why should any of them ever compete in an event that requires them to get on a plane or stay in a hotel?

Fine. No more athletic championship tournaments for golf, tennis, gymnastics, fencing, etc. Then, watch as there are no more Olympians come every couple of years. Every golf phenom will go the Michele Wie route of turning pro at 16 rather than the Tiger Woods route of spending a few years learning how to win at Stanford. Kids who are good at their sports, but have lesser to no expectations of going pro will have no opportunity to test their skills against the best in the country, and figure out what it means to win at a higher level.

You think amateur sports are professionalized enough? Just wait. With this solution, we'll be digging into high schools more and more as the NCAA funds its version of the AAU camps, and athletes in other sports enter tournaments at younger ages because they know there's no quarter for them in college.

Here's another analogy for you: you run a university that produces scientific scholars and patents that bring in lab funding and research money, so you give all your money to that department, and pull it out of the humanities by de-funding history, English, or music (no new desks, new building, or re-tuning the pianos in the practice rooms in the hall). That's what this is akin to -- screwing over a bunch more students than you started with.

It's called welfare or Title IX or stupidity or exploitation of football and basketball players who just happen to be primarily black, poor and in desperate need of the resources being funneled to white kids and their even whiter coaches.

I bet very few of those football and basketball players or their families are that stupid. The NCAA created a system, the coaches and players are trying to make their futures in it with "advisers" and "consultants" -- just don't call them agents, but that's what they are. This is the "posse" you decry so much, that apparently takes advantage of them -- these kids are not as dumb as you think they are, Whitlock; teenagers never are.

Black football and basketball players are not alone in having their hands out. They just happen to have sufficient justification. We need to do whatever it takes to put education in those hands long before they ever hit a college campus.

Sure. But stop making it incumbent on the NCAA, NBA, and NFL -- these organizations are utterly amoral when it comes to education, and it's probably better that way -- they'd screw it up or run it like AAU without the middle man. Here's an idea, expressed often, but worth repeating one more time: if you care so much about the downtrodden black student-athlete, then why not help his local city, state, and country care about him as a student and a black man rather than an athlete? Because that would dare to venture into the bigger picture of politics and the precepts we blindingly accept as part of American society (so you're poor, you can't afford school supplies, and your history textbook is ancient history of its own? Bootstraps, people!), and Whitlock either can't or won't bring himself to tackle those sacred cows. Minority students in urban areas get shafted because good schooling costs money, whether you move into good schooling in the burbs or pay for it in private schools, but that doesn't seem to matter too much -- the prism is still so small for him; looking at the politics of education, anything that might force him to take his focus off of sports and onto the context in which sports exists is clearly over his head.

Proposing a fix for a broken system like the NCAA while refusing to look at the bigger picture of education and money in American society as a whole is akin to calling yourself an expert in Shakespeare or Joyce after reading the Cliffs Notes.


Harriett said...

Awesome takedown and exactly on the mark. You can't decry the failings of the NCAA without examining the road that the athletes took to get there. If they're coming out of poor neighborhoods with bad schools and crime-ridden streets, then they are survivalists who've learned that they must take what they can when they can. And they know that the pragmatic choice is to take a million bucks after 1 year of sliding through college courses. They will only learn the value of education and good citizenship if they are nurtured with those values--whether by their parents, in grade school, or in society. That's where the intervention should begin.

Whitlock's column is a classic example of the system turning on the players: He ignores the overarching socioeconomic inequalities that forced the athletes into asocial and ruthless behaviors just to survive; and then, instead of acknowledging this fact and working from there, he just wants to castigate the player for those qualities and either inflict harsh penalties or force them into inadequate programs.

Now this certainly doesn't excuse the bad behavior of the players. But Whitlock needs to wake up: By the time these kids get to college sports, we're WAY past the stage of allocating more resources to black kids. These are full grown adults who should be treated as such, and given the monetary tools (I'm definitely in favor of stipends) and appropriate guidance to make the best decisions for them and their families.

Signal to Noise said...

Thanks, Harriett.

His "Real Talk" isn't that real, if he can't extend his analysis into the world that affects sports.

D-Wil said...

Excellent series. Someone should print it out and shove it up "Mr. Chitlins" - well, you know. It's the only way he'll realize that's the orifice from which he speaks (it's so nice to be able to comment about Mr. Chitlins on someone else's blog so I don't have to hold back my feelings about this fool!).

Signal to Noise said...

D-Wil - thanks much. At this point, it seems Uncle Ruckus (I thought Paulsen's comparison of Whitlock to the Boondocks character seemed most appropriate) is beyond help; the myopia is all-encompassing.