13 October 2003

i always forget to read tim burke for a period of weeks or months. then he writes something really good, and i miss it. in any case, here's a link to a nice piece of his on swarthmore's decision to cut football. part of me can't quite believe that this happened in 2001 and we're still harping on it. part of me thinks that kind of harping is both natural and essential.

my very personal two cents: i felt victimized through most of my adolescence, not (usually) by individual athletes, but rather by a specific culture that grew up around sports in my school -- and most other schools, as far as i could tell. i came to swarthmore harboring some of those cultural grudges but also very excited to meet the folks (i was sure they'd be out there) who really broke through the barriers between the smart/lefty/artsy crowd and the rah-rah/traditionalist/anti-intellectual sports kids i'd known.

i was disappointed, of course. this was partially a result of some overwhelmingly stupid cynicism with respect to athletes that i couldn't really get over during my first couple of years at swat. they were waaaaaay too wholesome, attractive, and well dressed to be anything but insipid (said my subconcious mind). vastly more unfortunately, it was also the result of the behavior of many swarthmore athletes, especially surrounding the football cuts. the people i heard behaving really boorishly were, by and large, varsity athletes. i acknowledged then, and acknowledge now, that most varsity athletes were wonderful and amazing folks, people who were tested to the limit by their commitments to both academics and their sport(s), but that doesn't change the fact of countless mentions of "swat goggles," "ugly chicks," "fags" or the easiest possible route to a degree, nearly all of which issued from varsity athletes.

as professor burke notes, most of this is not about something that is wrong with athletes. rather, i think it's something that is wrong with the way athletics is done today. burke is right to notice that this is part of a specialization syndrome. my freshman year roommate is one of the nicest people on earth, and we had about as many decent conversations as i can count on one hand. she was recruited for her sport, got to school over a week before everyone else along with her teammates, and had already made friends when i came along. athletes, by and large, spend their time with athletes, even at swarthmore. i could name dozens of exceptions, but they are exceptions. it is this sort of intensity that leads to barriers between athletes and non-athletes at both the secondary and the college levels. while ruggers and ultimate frisbee players were tight, and had problematic cliques of their own, they evidenced nothing resembling the level of inwardness shown by varsity athletes, and were the better for it.

i wish, as burke seems to, that alums who abominate al bloom and the football decision would, or could, notice that sports aren't what they once were at swarthmore, and that what they have become is often destructive of the community.