Thursday, March 29, 2007

Why did Robert Lipsyte become a sportwriter?

It’s a strange career choice for someone with deep-seated issues about athletes.

College basketball coaches tend to be big guys with the confident patter of televangelists; just the kind of mouthy jocks who were allowed to dominate the dorks in high school because their personal goals, winning games to advance their careers, complemented the principal's goal, putting the school on the happy map.
The rest of his article is a screed against college basketball. Good points are mixed with laughable posturing. Logic is in short supply.

Bobby Knight is a “bully” and a “symptom” of the problem in college ball even though “his players actually graduated at far higher rates than the national average for big-time athletes and few of them complained about their treatment.”

Lipsyte tosses the R-word around freely which further illustrates that for many liberals “racism” has become a synonym for “stuff I don’t like.”

Fuzzy features or exposés or straight game detail are okay, but you can't weave the systemic corruption, commercialization, and racism into every story--and yet once you stop the stories aren't true anymore. How many times can you write that 56 percent of varsity basketball players are black compared to 7 percent of the student bodies of the schools they represent? Those numbers are from the last time I wrote it, in the early 1990s. Watching games now, I often see eight black players on the floor being cheered by a sea of white (often painted) faces.
He sees that as evidence of systemic racism. Yet, if white fans demanded white players, that, too, would be racist. Not long ago the sports scribblers were ga-ga over the movie “Glory Road”. The victory of an all black team from a mostly white school was claimed as a great milestone in civil rights. Today, according to Lipsyte, such teams are racist. Like I said, logic is in short supply.

Lipsyte has a good point about the exploitation of athletes but his analysis is colored by a Marxian view of commerce. He acts as though college arenas are filled solely because of the players. He dreams of a time that the Masses rise and get their fair share.

That seemed like an invitation to tell him my longtime Final Four fantasy: Just before the title game, the opposing captains demand $50,000 per player from the TV producer. No cash, no game.
Nice thought. Doubt if it will work. For one thing, most of the players would have to go along. Why would a superstar waste his shot on a national stage for a measly $50,000? He will make many times that when he turns pro. Why would the less talented toss away a shot at glory for $50,000? It’s not a life-changing amount of money.

Lipsyte writes as though college arenas are filled solely because of the players. He completely ignores the relationship between fan interest and institutional loyalties. Cameron Arena is filled because it is Duke basketball not just winning basketball. You could take the top 20 players out of the ACC and have them form the Great Ballers Collective. They could tour the Carolinas and display their awesome talent. They would be lucky to fill high school gyms and clear gas money from the gate. Meanwhile, Duke and North Carolina would still play in front of sold out houses.

He also has a weird grasp of the dynamics on college campuses.

No matter who you think causes the problems here--fans, players, boosters, coaches, presidents, or shoe salespeople -- the only group that could begin to solve them are the faculty of the schools in question, at once victims and accomplices when it comes to sports. They are intimidated by the jock bullies, easily bought off by them, and protective of their own little campus deals--why risk blowing the whistle on the altered or eased grades of athletes when someone could knock off your summer-in-Prague Kafka scam?
(Again with the mean athlete thing, what exactly is his problem?)

Lipsyte worries that student-athletes are not real students. Somehow, he expects that the faculty will want to change that for the benefit of the players. The behavior of the Duke’s Gang of 88 makes me wonder. The lacrosse team was made up of accomplished athletes and good students. Many on the faculty have used Nifong’s frame up as an excuse to de-emphasize athletics at Duke. Their main concern is not with athletes who are poor students; they have a problem with good students who are also good athletes.

I suspect that Lipsyte does, too. All his false piety about the exploitation of big time college sports sounds like a convenient way to get back at the jocks who traumatized him high school.

The New York Times actually gave this guy a sports column. I can only imagine what the water cooler chatter was like when he and Selena Roberts got going.

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