Progressivism and college football

George Will reviews The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education’s Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football by Brian M. Ingrassia, in which we learn that big-time intercollegiate football grew out of progressivism and its vision for higher education:

Higher education embraced athletics in the first half of the 19th century, when most colleges were denominational and most instruction was considered mental and moral preparation for a small minority — clergy and other professionals. Physical education had nothing to do with spectator sports entertaining people from outside the campus community. Rather, it was individual fitness — especially gymnastics — for the moral and pedagogic purposes of muscular Christianity — mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.

The collective activity of team sports came after a great collective exertion, the Civil War, and two great social changes, urbanization and industrialization. . . . .

Intercollegiate football began when Rutgers played Princeton in 1869, four years after Appomattox. In 1878, one of Princeton’s two undergraduate student managers was Thomas — he was called Tommy — Woodrow Wilson. For the rest of the 19th century, football appealed as a venue for valor for collegians whose fathers’ venues had been battlefields. Stephen Crane, author of the Civil War novel “The Red Badge of Courage” (1895) — the badge was a wound — said: “Of course, I have never been in a battle, but I believe that I got my sense of the rage of conflict on the football field.”

Harvard philosopher William James then spoke of society finding new sources of discipline and inspiration in “the moral equivalent of war.” Society found football, which like war required the subordination of the individual, and which would relieve the supposed monotony of workers enmeshed in mass production.

College football became a national phenomenon because it supposedly served the values of progressivism, in two ways. It exemplified specialization, expertise and scientific management. And it would reconcile the public to the transformation of universities, especially public universities, into something progressivism desired but the public found alien. Replicating industrialism’s division of labor, universities introduced the fragmentation of the old curriculum of moral instruction into increasingly specialized and arcane disciplines. These included the recently founded social sciences — economics, sociology, political science — that were supposed to supply progressive governments with the expertise to manage the complexities of the modern economy and the simplicities of the uninstructed masses. [Read more...]

Damnatio memoriae

I salute Steven L. Jones, a student at Houston Baptist University, for recalling another of those useful Latin phrases.  This one has application from George Orwell’s “memory hole” in 1984 to the NCAA sanctions against Penn State:

Question: What do Joe Paterno and the Roman Emperor Nero have in common?

Answer: damnatio memoriae

Damnatio Memoriae (Latin for “the condemnation of memory”) is the act of trying to erase a person from history. In the Roman world, this meant erasing the condemned man’s name from inscriptions, removing coins with his image from circulation, or defacing images and statues of him.

As you might imagine such an endeavor is extremely difficult to accomplish. Even in an age less bombarded by media than ours, it could be difficult to track down and remove every single mention of a person. People who generate great anger are normally people who have also left a lasting and far-reaching mark.

But more than being difficult, is it right?

via JoePa Meets Nero « Reflection and Choice.

How would you answer that question?

 

HT:  Micah Mattix

Penn State’s punishment

The NCAA did not kill off completely Penn State’s football program, as was widely expected, but the sanctions for the child sexual abuse scandal and its coverup were pretty harsh:

NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement Monday morning that the program would be hit with a four-year postseason ban and a $60 million fine. He called the case “unprecedented.”

In addition, the school will be forced to cut 10 scholarships for this season and 20 scholarships for the following four years.

The move essentially bumps Penn State down to the scholarship levels of schools at the lower Football Championship Subdivision.

The school will be forced to vacate all wins from 1998-2011, a total of 112 victories, and serve five years of probation.

The loss of victories means Joe Paterno is no longer college football’s winningest coach. He was fired in November during the scandal after 409 wins at the school.

Because of the length of the punishment, all current Penn State players and incoming freshman will be free to transfer to another school without penalty.

Is this an example of completely justified outrage taking the place of justice?  Normally, guilty individuals are punished, and surely those who knew about Coach Jerry Sandusky’s sex with little boys and did nothing about it need to be called to account.  But the Penn State players, students, and alumni didn’t know what was going on.  Why are they being punished?  Or is there corporate guilt, in which every member of an institution has a share in its transgressions?

If part of the problem in the cover up was the cultural climate of football uber alles, the corporate guilt would extend far beyond Penn State, to big time football universities as a whole and to the NCAA itself.

Also, is the NCAA acting beyond its jurisdiction?  Penn State did not violate any of the rules that the NCAA is supposed to enforce (such as recruiting violations, paying players, and the like).   Isn’t child abuse a matter for the criminal justice system and civil courts to take care of, rather than a sports organization?

And what kind of punishment is it to forfeit 13 years worth of games that have already been played?  It isn’t as if an ineligible player contributed to illicit victories that might otherwise be losses if it were not for the infraction.  How does that punishment have to do with the crime?

Don’t get me wrong:  I am repulsed by what happened at Penn State and want it addressed in the strongest possible way.  I just don’t understand the  NCAA action.  What would be better?

A college football playoff is in the works

The BCS conferences have reportedly agreed to devise a four-team playoff for the college football championship:

College football is on the verge of finally having a playoff, its own version of the final four.

For the first time, all the power brokers who run the highest level of the sport are comfortable with the idea of deciding a championship the way it’s done from pee-wees to pros. And the way fans have been hoping they would for years.

“Yes, we’ve agreed to use the P word,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday.

They want to limit it to four teams. That’s for sure. Now they have to figure out how to pick the teams, where and when to play the games and how the bowls do or do not fit in. The new postseason format would go into effect for the 2014 season.

As for the 14-year-old Bowl Championship Series, it’s on life support. Any chance that it survives past the next two seasons? “I hope not,” said Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, who pitched a four-team playoff four years ago but was shot down at this same hotel beachside hotel.

“This is a seismic change for college football,” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said after the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director wrapped up three days of meetings in south Florida.

That Hancock actually used the word playoff when describing what was being considered alone signaled a shift in thinking for the BCS. In a memo leading up to these meetings, the term “four-team event” was used to describe creating two national semifinals and a championship game.

via Finally? BCS on verge of becoming 4-team college playoff, though plenty of details to workout – The Washington Post.

OK, but the little question of how to arrive at the four playoff teams has got to be resolved, given that there are 11 conferences at the table.  It sounds like BCS will just do their polls/computer thing to arrive at the final four, just as they have been doing to decide the bowl match ups and the championship, so that the controversies will continue.  Still, a four-game tournament would be exciting and an improvement.

Does anyone have any ideas about how else to determine the top four contenders?  How about just have the conference winners of the Big 12, the Big 10, the Pac-12, and the SEC play each other and be done with it?

NFL’s bounty-for-injury scandal

One of the things we enjoy about professional football, frankly, is its violence.  And as players get bigger and faster and meaner, we like it more and more.  Still, we have ideals of sportsmanship.  When a player gets hurt, both sides respectfully applaud as he gets carted off the field, and when it looks like a spinal injury, everyone piously says, “our prayers are with him.”  But now it turns out that at least one team (and probably more) has been paying bounties for injuring players on the other team.  The rate was $1,500 for inflicting a “cart off” injury.  One player (not a coach) reportedly offered $10,000 for anyone who would put Brett Favre out of the game.  The NFL came down hard on the New Orleans Saints, the team that formalized such bonuses, suspending their coach, assistant coach, a former coach, and even the general manager.

Thomas Boswell, one of the better sportswriters, acknowledges the cognitive dissonance between the appeal of the sport’s  violence and the sense of going too far.

The NFL is in a fight for its soul, or maybe for its life. And it knows it.

We won’t grasp for a decade, maybe not for a generation, just how big a problem the NFL has in the wake of its pay-for-injury bounty scandal; which comes on the heels of studies showing the long-term brain damage caused by repetitive blows to the head, even in youth football; which comes on top of lawsuits by former NFL players who feel that premature bad health, mental illness or death may be related to the league’s disregard for their safety.

That’s a mouthful. But there’s a reason. The NFL’s half-century rise to power and profits has always been tied to its limited concern, tantamount to a lack of accountability, for the damage done to its athletes. Violence and danger are a core component of the NFL product. Too much safety is bad for business. . . .

Eventually, as players got bigger, faster and stronger, but the game’s rules and equipment couldn’t keep pace, an inflection point, and a crisis, had to arrive. Once a sport decides that too many quarterbacks and stars are being broken, and that you finally have to calibrate your carnage, how do you control that process, especially when you discover that a Super Bowl champion offers bounties for injuries — and that they won’t stop, even when the entire league threatens them? You can’t. You just cope with the crash.

The severity of Wednesday’s punishment to the New Orleans Saints, their coach, general manager and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has little to do with the league’s ethics and everything to do with its fear. You don’t see the NFL scared very often, but it is now and it should be. This isn’t just a month of reckoning for one team, but a trial for the NFL’s culture. . . .

The distance between old-fashioned hard-hitting and outright dirty play has always been bright as orange paint to anyone who ever actually played. If you hear an ex-NFL player say it’s a “fine line,” what you’ve learned is that he’s lived in the belly of the big-time football beast for much too long.

However, what we’ve got on our plate now is miles beyond such tame fare. There is a 100-yard-wide “line” between occasional dirty play and what the Saints did: a complete chain-of-command endorsement of trying to inflict “cart-off” level injuries ($1,500 each) with late hits, blows to the head and shots at the knees — all against the rules — all tolerated or even cheered.

The NFL’s corporate response — kneecap the Saints — falls squarely within the sport’s “pragmatic” traditions. Once the general public changes its opinion of the basic nature of a sport, and decides that it’s fundamentally uncomfortable with the values that the game represents, many things can change. Slow but inexorable go together. . . .

A sport’s flaw becomes a huge problem if it is also a central driver of its popularity. Of team sports, only football suffers from this combination. The more you remove fear and danger, the more you undercut the NFL’s power. Nobody pays to watch touch football.

The NFL is now at its crossroads. Can the sport find the right rules, the improved equipment, the necessary culture change — like the massacre of the Saints — to create a new balance between terror and some semblance of safety and honorable play?

via NFL bounty scandal forces everyone to confront sport’s violent appeal – The Washington Post.

Any idea what that would look like?

Casuistry and the NFL

You’ve probably heard by now about the practice in the National Football League of paying defensive players bonuses for hits that took out or injured opposing players.  Nick Lannon at the very fine website Mockingbird examines the “casuistry”–that is, the moral rationalization–that some players are indulging in to justify the practice:

The recent revelations about the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty” program have rocked the talking-head world at ESPN. The Saints, apparently, had a program, administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who ran similar programs at previous teams), wherein players received cash bonuses for inflicting injuries on opposing players. For instance, knocking a quarterback out of the game might get you $10,000, and getting him carted off on a stretcher might earn you $20,000. No one seems to be particularly surprised that this kind of thing was going on; many have suggested that this occurs on every team, and that the Saints mistake was writing it all down and keeping track.

I don’t want to get into the morality of paying players to intentionally injure other players, although I will say that it seems an awful lot like criminal activity (aggravated assault) to me. When Tonya Harding paid her boyfriend to take out Nancy Kerrigan, people went to prison. It has been notoriously difficult to prove “intent” on the athletic field, but with documented records of who got what for hurting whom, intent seems a bit easier to prove. Alternatively, I want to use these revelations (and especially the response of several former players) as an opportunity to talk about a theological idea: casuistry.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve heard both Mike Golic and Marcellus Wiley (former players) say that everyone is overreacting to this story. They say that they “went after the quarterback” as hard as they could on every play, and couldn’t have done more if they’d been paid to. Their argument was, in effect, that the devastation of a hit would be the same, whatever the motivation of the player delivering it. Put another way, they said something like: “Football is a violent game, and people are going to get hurt playing it. We all know that going in. Paying people a little extra to put a little extra on some hits isn’t going to change anything.”

Casuistry might well be defined as “an attempt, via nit-picking, to appear to obey a rule whilst breaking it.” Our own DPotter took a crack at defining it HERE. It seems that it would be clear to the most uneducated observer that while a player might not be able to hit a quarterback harder to earn their little bonus, they might well be able to hit them in the knee or in the head. And since when is “I play a game that is inherently violent” an acceptable excuse for attempting to injure another person? The best example of casuistry of all time is this 2005 story in The Telegraph, the first line of which is, “Machines will perform euthanasia on terminally ill patients in Israel under legislation devised not to offend Jewish law, which forbids people taking human life.”

via Hit ‘Em For Money, Hurt ‘Em For a Little More | Mockingbird.

Legalists do this loophole hunting all the time as a way to justify their bad behavior, finding a technicality that allows them to transgress while still feeling self-righteous.  Can you think of other examples of this kind of casuistry?


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