THE SHAM AND THE SHAME
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and John Underwood have given the sports-loving people of this country a true challenge for the decade of the '80s (Special Report: The Writing Is on the Wall, May 19). Parents, students, educators, coaches and administrators must join together to put an end to the notion that a student-athlete's best interest is served when he is "taken care of" so that he can remain "eligible" and move to the next level of competition. The true strength of a society is measured by how it educates its children, or as Dr. Ewald B. Nyquist of Pace University says, the problem is moral, "not educational, not economic or fiscal, not social—but moral. And what is morally wrong can never be educationally right."
This is an article from the June 2, 1980 issue
Concerned people like Chick Sherrer of Athletes For Better Education, Dr. Harry Edwards of the University of California at Berkeley, Father Thomas A. James of Los Angeles' Verbum Dei High School and others who share their vision of correcting decades of neglect of the student-athlete need the total support of everyone involved with sports and education.
RICHARD C. KOSIK
City Streets, Education for Life Inc.
New York City
John Underwood's article was fantastic, but the best part came from Verbum Dei High's Father Thomas A. James. I remember the special treatment given to many of the athletes when I attended high school. Those young men were never made to see the importance of studying or listening in class. When, as last-quarter seniors, they finally did realize that they were not going to be the next O.J. Simpson or Earl Monroe, it was too late.
STEVE C. JONES
After reading John Underwood's article, I will no longer laugh at pro rookies who mumble and fumble through TV interviews. I guess it's not their fault.
Anyone who is searching for the roots of the student-athlete hoax should look to the high schools for the conditions which predispose to what the article refers to as a cancer at the college level. The "carcinogenic" practice of grade-changing for the sake of athletic eligibility is often rampant even before these athletes are "awarded" their high school diplomas.
MARY D. BRADY
I teach sixth grade and coach a ninth-grade basketball team in Philadelphia. I think the need for better education and supervision at the elementary-school level is paramount. Maybe if more elementary teachers and coaches instilled proper values in their students, the children would carry those values with them through high school and college.
ROBERT G. CLARK
How about the student-athlete himself? Not all of those who violate rules are lambs being led to the slaughter. Many are willing accomplices to their fate. More responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of the individual to make the decisions necessary to avoid the problems.
It is interesting to note that in the same issue, in Anthony Cotton's article on Seattle Pitcher Rick Honeycutt (Unsinkable Mariner), Honeycutt is described as being in the Jack Armstrong tradition of American sports hero. And yet, when writing of Honeycutt's academic background, Cotton says that at Tennessee "he studied health education. Well, sort of studied. It was more like Honeycutt pitched and hit and Debbie tutored.... Honeycutt wasn't all that interested in a degree, anyway." Therein lies the problem.
I keep hearing and reading about the "poor victims" of the eligibility game—those athletes left in the gutter when their eligibility runs out. As I see it, if it weren't for college athletics, they would have been in the gutter (and probably on the welfare rolls) four years sooner. If they are being exploited, whose fault is that? They are certainly not imprisoned in these colleges and universities. If they are capable of getting an education, the opportunity is there. If they are too ignorant to take advantage of it, let's put the blame where it belongs.
ROBERTA C. RYSER
Oak Park, Ill.
During my days as an undergraduate and graduate student and now as a college instructor, I have run into many obviously unprepared student-athletes. I believe, however, that John Underwood has committed an error of omission. By and large he ignored the many capable, even brilliant student-athletes on our campuses. Now a lot of people will unfairly lump those true student-athletes with those in the "dumb jock" class.
BRADLEY J. MILLER
Your well-researched piece on the student-athlete hoax left the unfortunate impression that most physical-education courses are academic "fluff," a sort of pseudo-college curriculum existing to benefit the "dumb jock." While it is true that physical-education activity courses can be easily abused, it is also true that an athlete who fills his schedule with activity courses will not graduate with a physical-education degree. At most institutions, the path toward a physical-education degree involves a serious program of study that belies the image of the "gym major."
Unfortunately, some colleges have been negligent in failing to draw a line between physical-education-department and athletic-department responsibilities.
State College, Pa.
One proposal made in your article should be underlined: Abolish freshman eligibility. Let's allow the freshman athlete to get his feet wet in academics first. This change would curtail the "need" for academic cheating, because the pressures of that first year would be lessened immensely.
JACK F. KRACH, D.D.S.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
I have two suggestions to add to those that appear in John Underwood's fine story:
1) Require that every prospective scholarship athlete achieve a passing grade on a basic test in English and mathematics to demonstrate that he/she has the skills necessary for college work. The test should not be administered by the athlete's high school or by the college he/she seeks to enter. Probably the NCAA should take charge of the exam.
2) Keep SI writers involved in taking notice of the academic achievements of college athletes. Cite the Academic All-Americas, listing their majors, and also follow up on Top 20 football and basketball teams, noting how many senior starters graduate the following June, etc.
JOHN P. BALCER
Associate Professor of English
Shenandoah College and
Conservatory of Music
I suggest that new and stricter limitations be imposed on the number of regular-season and postseason games and upon the time devoted to preseason, in-season and postseason practice. Such regulations are urgently needed, not only for football and basketball, but also for baseball, swimming, wrestling and other sports. I might add that similar limitations are also essential for women's sports, because women athletes are subjected to the same unreasonable demands upon their time as men are.
BRUCE L. BENNETT
Why not entertain the heretical concept of abolishing intercollegiate sports altogether? Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. decided to do without them when it was founded 10 years ago. Physical activities were put into the hands of students, where they belong. Recreational athletics, as it is called, avoids all the evils of intercollegiate sports, including academic hypocrisy, involves a larger percentage of the student body and costs only a fraction as much. More colleges should be encouraged to try it.
Director of Recreational Athletics
I will repeat what I said when I wrote to SI from Vietnam in 1968 after reading Jack Olsen's five-part series on the exploitation of black athletes (The Black Athlete, July 1-29, 1968): as long as there are stadiums to be filled and profits to be made, nothing will change.
PETER J. COLES
Take a closer look at the schedule of your hypothetical "eligibility major," Earl T. Robinson. Your illustrator has him scheduled for two courses at the same time, on Tuesdays from 9 to 10. I'm betting that Robinson chooses to attend Theory of Basketball rather than General Biology.
C. P. SENNA
•Artist Ivan Powell did it intentionally. He says that while drawing up the fictional Robinson's schedule, he was thinking of a onetime student of his, a scholarship athlete majoring in illustration who signed up for a physical-education class that conflicted with Powell's art class. Powell's student asked to be excused from attending class, although he offered to do the work, but Powell turned him down.—ED.
Address editorial mail to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York, 10020.