Friday, February 5, 2010

Confessions of a Spoilsport

A number of students are thinking of writing on the topic of "college sports," which is a perennial topic worthy of discussion and debate.  Of course, it's a broad topic that needs a bit of focus -- what question do you have about college sports, exactly?  But I think you can turn up some interesting questions and scholarship fairly quickly.  

The best place to start on the topic of "college sports" is by reading William Dowling's Confessions of a Spoilsport: My Life and Hard Times Fighting Sports Corruption at an Old Eastern University (Penn State UP 2007), which represents the most current and well-considered argument against the current college sports paradigm.  It also has the great advantage, for our class, of being written by a Rutgers faculty member about his experiences here at Rutgers University.  You may choose to disagree with Dowling, but it is essential that you engage him.  If nothing else, he will teach you just how cynical we have all become in accepting the "marketing power" of sports and the potential "revenue streams" they generate in this time of increasing privatization.  Is that really what college is about?  And do sports always give "good publicity" to a school -- and do they help attract the most academically gifted students?  Do they ever actually generate revenue or do they actually cost so much that they damage other areas of the University, especially academics? 

What about the pro-sports position?  Who represents that?  I will keep my eyes out for a good one and hope those of you interested in this topic will assist.  One thing that Dowling reveals is that the defenders of the current college sports paradigm do not typically represent their position in any transparent or honest language, and, if anything, often try to shut down debate or discussion on the topic.  One story he tells in the book, for example, is of Fraidy Reiss, whose investigation of special courses for student athletes was refused for publication by the Targum, possibly under pressure from the athletics program.  The way they have treated his own writings -- which they completely ignore or attack ad hominem -- is still another example.  So it may be hard going to find a written account of the logical (as opposed to irrational) reasons to be a sports booster.  But let's try.  

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