Tag Archives: athlete

When Points Destroy The Game

In 1956 my Jamaica high school basketball
team played Far Rockaway, a league rival. At the end of the first quarter I had
19 points and our team was ahead by twenty. The result of the game was already
determined. I felt confident of breaking the school scoring record and perhaps
the city record as well, but to my dismay the coach took me out of the game. I
was furious. Yet in retrospect, he was right.

Had I broken the school record, it would have
come at the expense of a marginal team. Moreover, it would have embarrassed the
other players. My coach understood what I did not.

Now we hear the story of Grinnell College
sophomore guard named Jack Taylor who scored 138 points in a recent game
against First Baptist Bible College. While this point total obliterated the
college record and even pro stars like LeBron James are eager to see the video
tape, I find this story depressing. Why didn’t Grinnell’s coach, David Arsenault
bench his star player who took 108 shots – missing 56 – in a game won by 75 points?
 

The once decent standard of not embarrassing
a rival has been interred along with giving bench-warmers a chance to play in a
one sided victory. “Kicking” an opponent when he is down was something college
athletes were once told to avoid. That, of course, was yesteryear when
competition counted and records were set that had real meaning.
 

As I see it, there isn’t anything reasonable
about one player taking 108 shots in a game whose outcome was not in question.
Whatever happened to sportsmanship in college sports? Instead of applauding
this performance as television hosts have, it should be criticized. Imagine
“pressing” all game in a 75 point margin of victory.

During college basketball and football games,
there is the ritualistic suggestion by the NCAA that athletics build character.
After this performance at Grinnell that bromide should be a source of
embarrassment. It is bad enough that players routinely preen in front of the
television camera after a dunk. It is sickening to hear players curse at one
another and engage in verbal intimidation. Exploiting weak athletes by piling
on is yet the latest perversion in college sports. My guess is Jack Taylor will
be a model, a source of emulation. And a coach, who should know better, is also
likely to represent a new bench standard.

College basketball is a game that can build
character when talented players restrain personal ambition for team goals. It
happened last season at Kentucky with six teammates drafted into the professional
ranks. Of course, at Kentucky academic life is a meaningless after thought
since what happens on the hardwood is all that counts. Yet Coach Calipari,
despite his reputation for challenging academic standards, does teach something
about team play.

Jack Taylor, by all appearances, seems to be
a sensible young man. Perhaps he is embarrassed by all the attention. He should
be. The game in this instance was converted into a gladiatorial event with the
opposition gored into submission. Some may call that basketball; I call it
exploitation.

It’s Not Just the Athletes Who Can’t Read and Write

Tar
Heel alums may be embarrassed over the scandal involving the amazingly low
academic standards for “student-athletes” at the University of North Carolina,
but for the rest of America, it is the gift that keeps on giving for its
insights into the true priorities of our higher education leaders.

This
recent
article
in the Raleigh News & Observer nicely summarizes the mess at
Chapel Hill. We learn among other things that Mary Willingham, a “reading
specialist” employed by the university to help athletes, says that she knew
from their diagnostic tests that many of them simply were not able to do
college-level work. Some admitted “they had never read a book and didn’t know
what a paragraph was.” Yet one of America’s “public ivies” so felt the need to
pile up wins on the gridiron and basketball court that it admitted students who
by objective standards ought to have been returning to about fifth grade after
graduating from high school.

Some
other student-athletes were better prepared for college, but just wanted to
save time on academic work to have more time for their sports. When Willingham
told one student that a paper she wanted to submit in a class was a plagiarized
“cut and paste” job, she was told to look the other way. The student “earned” a
B.

It
would be a serious mistake, however, to think that the problem of ill-prepared
students who don’t want to be bothered with reading and writing is confined
just to athletes. Evidence abounds that this phenomenon is widespread.

I
recently finished reading The
Shadow Scholar
by Dave Tomar. He admits – without any apparent remorse
– that he wrote thousands of college papers for students over the span of a
decade. His business of enabling students to cheat began while he was an
undergraduate at Rutgers, a university that U.S.
News
rates as “more selective.” But Tomar found many of his classmates to
be pathetically weak in their basic academic abilities.

One
of his first clients was “Rich Kid Sid.” Sid regarded himself as better than
Rutgers. He intended to transfer as soon as possible to a more prestigious
school with the long-run goal of getting into law school. He didn’t want to
waste his time with the expository writing course required of all freshmen. The
problem was that his initial in-class writing assignment had been graded as No
Pass. Sid needed to do better, but wasn’t interested in accomplishing that
himself, so he paid Tomar to rework the assignment.

How
bad was the writing of this typical (and non-athlete) student? Tomar writes,
“It was a jumble of words slapped together uncomfortably, standing next to one
another with an air of remoteness, like strangers in an elevator…. Punctuation
dotted the landscape of his work almost randomly, as though he had written the
paper first and then gone back through it indiscriminately inserting dots and
dashes.”

Sid
thought he was a good writer. Tomar observes that no teacher had ever told him
otherwise. That’s a common problem with young Americans. Many of them coast
through twelve years of schooling without ever learning how to write, as Ellen
Finnigan, an online writing coach, explains here. In
college, a few improve their writing, but many others get by with cheating or
just because professors don’t want to take the large amount of time necessary
to work with students on their writing. Professor Murray Sperber made that point
during a Pope Center event last year.

College
leaders say that they’re committed to educational excellence, but their actions
speak otherwise. They admit many students who are hardly ready for high school,
much less college, and then allow them to graduate even though they have made
scant progress in basic skills like writing.

Shirley Tilghman Leaving Princeton

Shirley Tilghman, who has just announced that she will step down as president of Princeton at the end of the academic year,  was chosen as the successor to former president Harold Shapiro in part because the powers that be thought it about time that the university had a female in that office.  She was the first president of Princeton not to have been a former student (graduate or undergraduate) and she didn’t come with extensive administrative experience.

Among her accomplishments is the increased financial aid package that Princeton now offers to students from lower and middle income circumstances.  Undergraduates at Princeton overwhelmingly come from upper-middle-class and affluent families, and there has been a push under Tilghman’s watch to bring in students (including whites) from less affluent backgrounds student body. The idea is a good one and Princeton has enough money in scholarship aid to pull it off.

And under her presidency the undergraduate student body expanded by over 500 through the addition of Whitman College (named after benefactor and Princeton grad Meg Whitman).  The big advantage of this is that the ratio of recruited athletes to other students goes down.  While racial affirmative action still prevails, in keeping the number of athletes constant while increasing the total number of students admitted, a higher proportion of students who get into Princeton now make it on their brains, not athletic ability.

One of her biggest mistakes: Her claim in the face of the Larry Summers affair that “the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences is nonexistent.”  This is ludicrous.  Textbooks (e.g. Diana Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognition, and Doreen Kimura’s Sex and Cognition) have provided exhaustive data. Only the wilfully blind could ignore the facts.

Another dubious decision: her refusal to allow the student Love and Chastity group to set up a center on campus that would be comparable to the feminist-oriented Women’s Center and the LGBT center.  The purpose of the center would be to present a haven from the campus hook-up culture and a place for students of traditional values regarding sex and marriage to have a place where they could share ideas and feel comfortable talking with students of the opposite sex.  The students even offered to pay for the center with donations from supportive alumni but Tilghman nixed the idea.  Her response, an open letter printed in the student newspaper, seemed remarkably weak. Shirley Tilghman is a nice person without a strong political or ideological compass. In academia, this indicates someone who will almost automatically absorb the secular leftism of the dominant campus ethos and the New York Times editorial page.

What Yale and the Times Did to Patrick Witt

Remarks delivered at a Manhattan Institute luncheon, March 28, 2012 in New York City. Professor Johnson and attorney Harvey Silverglate, whose talk will be presented here tomorrow, spoke on “Kangaroo Courts: Yale, Duke and Student Rights.”

                                                                                       ***

Silverglate and Johnson.jpgBefore the Patrick Witt case, I had some experience writing about how the New York Times handles cases of sexual assault allegations against high-profile college athletes–the Duke lacrosse case. After all that damage had been done, and after more than a hundred articles had been published in the New York Times, two Times editors, including Bill Keller, issued some half-hearted apologies for how the paper had mishandled the case, and “mishandled” is a generous word for what the Times did.

I had always worked under the assumption that when an institution
apologizes, it also takes steps to ensure that it doesn’t commit the
same kinds of mistakes again. But the Times obviously has a different
standard of apology than I do. And in the Patrick Witt case, the same
sorts of mistakes were made in coverage — a presumption of guilt when
the allegation is sexual assault, and a decision to ignore critical
procedural issue — because they don’t fit the preconceived storylines.

Continue reading What Yale and the Times Did to Patrick Witt

Patrick Witt and Yale’s Disastrous Failure

Patrick Witt.jpg

Richard Perez-Pena’s New York Times article on Patrick Witt consisted of little more than dubious inferences and negative insinuations. But the story did, unequivocally, feature one revelation: someone (presumably either in the accuser’s entourage or a Yale administrator) violated Yale’s procedures by leaking existence of the “informal” complaint against Witt–with the motive of torpedoing his Rhodes candidacy. In combination with the Times‘ irresponsible reporting, this violation of procedures caused enormous damage to Witt’s reputation. Yet there’s no sign that Yale has undertaken an investigation as to whether a university employee violated Yale procedures and Witt’s due process rights, and an e-mail to Yale’s P.R. office asking if such an inquiry was planned went unanswered.

In a thoughtful essay, espn.com’s Jemele Hill examined the fallout: “Real due process in this case was destroyed by whomever shared the story to the Rhodes Trust and The New York Times,” and as a result “Witt’s reputation has been irreparably damaged.” Hill, one of a handful of reporters or columnists to issue a genuine, public apology for having rushed to judgment about the Duke lacrosse case, condemned both Rhodes and Yale for “hiding behind confidentiality and an unwillingness to comment,” leaving Witt with no avenue for regaining his reputation. Hill concluded that “with so much confusion between the reported timeline and Witt’s version, either the Rhodes Trust or Yale is obligated to clear up whether Witt’s scholarship campaign ended at his request or theirs.”

Hill’s hope that the Rhodes Trust will bring transparency to what happened (which would include revealing the improper leaker’s identity) seems far-fetched. But Yale’s silence is harder to excuse. Even if (as is likely, given campus politics) the Yale administration is afraid to be perceived as caring about Patrick Witt, the university’s silence about such a flagrant violation of the school’s sexual harassment and assault policy stands in stark contrast to the administration’s loquaciousness about the policy in general. Ironically, on Tuesday, Yale president Richard Levin penned a university-wide e-mail hailing Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler for producing a “comprehensive, semi-annual report of complaints of sexual misconduct and related remedial actions.”

Politics, Procedures, Pretenses, But No Due Process?

Levin noted that the Yale administration “thought it was important to provide greater transparency about the entire array of concerns–including verbal harassment and sexual assault–to motivate the Yale community to improve our campus climate.” After some standard boilerplate (“let us join together unified in a common commitment to proper behavior and mutual respect”; “there is no place for any form of sexual misconduct on our campus”), Levin got to the heart of the matter: “The new procedures and services we have put in place are necessary, but they are not sufficient.”

The Witt affair, of course, exposed to the world the shortcomings of those procedures even as they currently exist. Yale’s “informal complaint” procedure ensures limited or no investigation and allows the process to begin on the basis of an accuser’s “worry.” The university’s formal complaint procedure, meanwhile, promises the accuser “considerable control . . . as the process unfolds,” culminating in judgment by an unfair, preponderance-of-evidence standard.

Yet according to Levin, these procedures, wildly tilted in favor of the accuser, are “not sufficient.”

In her report, Spangler spoke much more bluntly about the “informal” complaint process from which the improper leak sprung. The deputy provost dropped any pretense that Yale seeks to provide due process or find the truth. Instead, she affirmed that the informal complaint procedure’s “goal is to achieve a resolution that is desired by the [accuser],” so that accusers can “regain their sense of wellbeing,” even though the process provides no mechanism for determining whether the accuser is telling the truth. In fact, the process seems all but designed to ensure that the truth won’t be discovered, especially if the accuser is less than truthful. According to Spangler, Yale wants the informal complaint procedure to give the accuser “choice of and control over the process.” This goal is incompatible with providing due process to the accused.

Sexual Assault Statistics

Spangler’s report details thirteen allegations of sexual assault by Yale undergraduates from 1 July through 31 December 2011. Since Yale currently enrolls 5322 undergraduates, the report suggests that 0.24 percent of Yale students reported a sexual assault over this six-month period.

The FBI crime statistics for the last six months of 2011 aren’t currently available. But during the period from 1 January through 30 June 2011, New Haven, with a population of around 130,000, experienced 25 reports of sexual assault. That means 0.02 percent of New Haven residents reported a sexual assault over this six-month period. Making the not unreasonable assumption that instances of sexual assault in New Haven were about the same in the second half of 2011, per capita reports of sexual assault on the Yale campus were 10-12 times greater than those in New Haven.

How, possibly, could Yale have a rate of sexual assault many times greater than the city the FBI has billed the fourth most dangerous city in the country? Spangler provides an answer, buried in a footnote on the last page of her document: “This report uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than required under federal law (or that any police department anywhere in the country employs). Moreover, none of the 13 Yale students who alleged sexual assault even filed a formal complaint at Yale–much less reported the alleged crime to police. As a result, no medical or criminal investigations of their cases ever occurred. When the allegations remained confidential, this didn’t pose much of a problem for the accused. For Witt, obviously, the outcome was much different.

Tricky Terminology in the Times

When Times readers learned from Richard Perez-Pena that “a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault,” how many of them realized that Yale was actually using an “expansive definition” of this otherwise commonly-understood term? How many readers further realized that Yale had designed the procedure about which Perez-Pena wrote so as to give Witt’s accuser “control over the process,” including limited or no investigation? And how many readers could have dreamed that the procedures guiding the allegation against Witt have produced the extraordinary claim that sexual assault is far, far more common on this Ivy League campus than in the fourth most dangerous city in the country? And since the Times went to print without ever speaking to Witt or (it seems) anyone sympathetic to him in the Athletic Department, didn’t the paper at the very least have an obligation to provide the context that would explain the highly unusual procedures and definitions that Yale features?

While President Levin and Deputy Provost Spangler are cowards on the issue of due process, there’s no reason to believe that they share the indifference of a figure like the Times‘ Perez-Pena or the malevolence of someone like Poynter source/seminar instructor Wendy Murphy. Rather, they appear to have embraced a thesis common among both the professoriate and “victims’ rights” groups: that the way to persuade more real victims of sexual assault to report the crime is to jerry-rig procedures to make it more likely that those who do file reports will prevail, whether in court or before campus “judicial” tribunals. This mindset, however well-intentioned, contradicts any reasonable definition of due process and presumption of innocence. That President Levin seems prepared to further abandon these bedrock American principles, as he implied he will do in his campus-wide e-mail, is a sad commentary on the state of higher education.

 

Second Thoughts About Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno.jpg

Some Penn State alumni, outraged over the Board of Trustees peremptory firing of Coach Joe Paterno, are organizing a campaign to elect three new trustees.  The objective of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship is, ultimately, to oust the current Board.  The Board fired Paterno, two University officials and the University President for not responding forcefully to accusations of child sexual abuse in the football-team shower room.  Many alumni, including hundreds who met with the new President at hotels in the Pittsburgh, New York City, and Philadelphia areas recently, were outraged that the Board had not verified the accusations before acting.

According to indignant alumni, the Penn State Board of Trustees confused two separate, unequal cases.  One case was possible perjury before a grand jury by Tim Curley, the Athletic Director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice-president in charge of the Penn State Police.  The second case was the charge against Jerry Sandusky that he possibly sexually molested a young boy in the Penn State football-team shower room.

Curley and Schultz were suspected of lying to conceal discreditable behavior damaging to the reputation of the Penn State football program.  Guilty or innocent, they face enormous legal costs to mount a defense against the perjury charge.  If convicted, they will probably go to prison.  But the evidence for the indictment for perjury is weak.  It rests entirely on the grand jury testimony of assistant football coach Mike McQueary in the fall of 2011 about what he saw nine years earlier when he was in his early twenties.  McQueary remembered being shocked when he accidentally observed in the shower room of the Penn State football team what appeared to be a former coach sexually molesting a pre-adolescent boy.  Here is how the Washington Post described McQueary’s account of the 2002 incident when called as a witness in a District Court hearing last December 16:

In his testimony at the preliminary hearing for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, McQueary said he believes he saw Sandusky sexually molesting a boy in the shower but was not 100 percent sure it was intercourse.

McQueary said he peeked into the shower several times and saw Sandusky with his hands wrapped around the waist of a boy he estimated to be 10 or 12 years old. He said both were naked, the boy was facing the wall, and that the last time he looked in, Sandusky and the boy had separated.

“I know they saw me,” McQueary said. “They looked directly in my eye, both of them.”

Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have both insisted publicly that, when McQueary told them in 2002 what had disturbed him, he did not mention anal rape, as some newspaper accounts reported.  McQueary had told his story first to Coach Paterno in 2002, and Coach Paterno’s recollection of their meeting characterized McQueary’s report similarly.  Here is what Joe Paterno said on November 6, 2011, about their 2002 meeting:

As my grand jury testimony stated, I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker room facility. It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report. Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.

The grand jury accepted McQueary’s graphic report as a faithful account of what happened and what he told about it to Paterno, to the Athletic Director, Tim Curley, and to Gary Schultz, the senior vice-president.  Curley, Schultz, and Paterno remembered the conversations with McCreary differently.  According to all three of them, McQueary said nothing about anal rape, only that Sandusky and a preadolescent boy were showering together in the shower room and “horsing around.”  Because the grand jury believed that McQueary was telling the truth and that Curley and Schultz were lying to minimize disreputable behavior at the University, it indicted Curley and Schultz for perjury.  Whether or not they committed perjury has nothing to do with whatever Sandusky did or did not do to a boy in the shower room.  (The grand jury did not explain why it did not also indict Coach Joe Paterno for perjury; his report of his conversation with McQueary was identical to the accounts given by Curley and Schultz.)

Questionable Indictments

The Board of Trustees apparently considered the indictments of Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz evidence of guilt.  On the evening of November 9, the Vice-Chairman of the Board, John Surma Jr., made a vague public statement explaining why the Board fired Joe Paterno, the Athletic Director to whom he reported, the vice-president to whom the Penn State Police force reported, and the president of Penn State University itself.

We thought that because of the difficulties that engulfed our university, and they are grave, that it is necessary to make a change in the leadership to set a course for a new direction.

A jury would have to believe – despite an absence of corroborating evidence — that Coach Paterno and the two administrators lied independently to a grand jury about what McQueary told them in 2002 or conspired with one another to lie in order to protect the University from bad publicity.  The jury would also have to believe that reputable University officials chose to cover up the rape of a ten-year-old boy.  More plausible is faulty memories rather than lies.  McQueary stumbled on what seemed to him improper and upsetting sexual behavior between a coach and a pre-adolescent boy, but he did not remember exactly what went on nine years earlier.  Surely the defense attorneys will raise questions about how McQueary reacted to what he saw and what he heard during the 2002 incident.  He did not claim to have heard the boy cry out, “Help!” although he said that the boy saw him. He did not claim to have himself shouted, “What’s going on here?”  All he did was peek into the shower room three times and then go home and telephone his father.  Paterno, Curley, and Schultz all deny receiving explicit information about an anal rape.

The perjury indictments have little to do with football at Penn State, only with the accusation that two reputable University administrators lied to a grand jury (for which they are potentially liable to be given long prison terms).  The collateral damage of the perjury indictments – inflicted by the Board of Trustees — was the firing of Coach Paterno and of Penn State President Graham Spanier. Perhaps a prudent Board of Trustees should not have rushed to administer punishments.  As one of my former students, now a senior executive of an organization in the professional sports field commented about the uproar at Penn State in an email:

Where is the adult in the room who says, “Hold on. We have a legal process and we need to follow it in the most routine cases and even for the most hideous ones. This case is no exception.”

The American system of criminal justice does not usually imitate the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who enunciated the principle of “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”  Maybe current members of the Board never read that criminological classic or understood that Lewis Carroll was ridiculing arbitrary punishments.  Maybe Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship should distribute copies of Alice in Wonderland to all members of the Board of Trustees as well as to the new members they succeed in electing.

Arne Duncan Succumbs to March Madness

1273413503final_four_2011_logo.jpg

The cosmology of ideas to fix America’s supposedly troubled higher education abound. Some resemble comets–small amounts of rock and frozen toxic gas that periodically appear, light up the sky and then vanish only to reappear decades later. Today’s comet-like elixir is directed at the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament (“March Madness”).

The facts are simple enough. First, basketball players are disproportionately African Americans (60%), especially among teams making it to the final four. Second, graduation rates of blacks are shockingly low, far below that of their white teammates. At Kansas State University, for example, all the white players are on the path to graduation compared to 14% of the black players. To be sure, a few teams (e.g., University of Illinois, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt) graduate all players and some graduate more blacks than whites (e.g., Boston University, Northern Colorado),  but the gap is generally large (91% vs. 59%) and is growing.

The typical inference is that universities are exploiting African Americans. Schools recruit these often underprivileged youngsters while the school profits handsomely from their contribution, their “workers” often leave school without a diploma. That a handful will have a brief professional career (and even then, rarely in the big bucks NBA) cannot justify the exploitation and, in a sense, the exaggerated lure of the NBA only adds to the dishonesty.

Continue reading Arne Duncan Succumbs to March Madness

Duke Lacrosse Story To The Big (Small) Screen

Variety reports that HBO has acquired the rights to Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson’s Until Proven Innocent. After our featuring the authors here in New York, we’re surprised it took this long for a screen deal. Our prodigious influence aside, the Duke case fully merits a fuller media treatment, and there’s no better account to use than Until Proven Innocent.

I’m curious as to what exactly HBO is going to do with the story. The story notes that they “will develop a movie exploring the dynamics of racism and class issues that made the case a national story.” There’s obvious cracking legal/political thriller material here, but the “dynamics of racism and class issues” here run so thoroughly contrary to the usual television themes, it’s a wonder how HBO will possibly handle it. Will they put the group of 88 in?

College Sports Bonanza

Senator Grassley, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, has turned his attention to the tax status of collegiate athletic programs – wondering “what gives the IRS comfort that they have met the requirements of being a charity.”

The Chronicle furnishes Grassely abundant cause to wonder, reporting that athletics donations now amount to more than a quater of funds received by some universities:

The fresh concerns came in response to a Chronicle article, published online last week, suggesting that contributions to sports programs are eating up an ever-larger share of donations to colleges, and that some athletics programs entice donors with perquisites like free seats on teams’ charter flights.
“When I hear stories about top donors to college athletic programs getting a free seat on the team plane,” Mr. Grassley said in a written statement, “I wonder what the public gets out of that. We need to make sure that taxpayer subsidies for college athletics-program donations benefit the public at large.”

Grassley’s very right to wonder about this. The second Chronicle article is sure cause for alarm, detailing sophisticated athletics fundraising operations operating independently of University development departments. Its unclear what if any benefit these increasingly self-contained operations are providing schools, and good cause to examine their tax status accordingly.

Continue reading College Sports Bonanza