LETTERS: 3.29.12


School before sports

America has betrayed the life of the mind by encouraging almost all of its great universities to take part in a kind of huge semi-pro league, especially in football, basketball and hockey. Big-ticket athletic programs, even with their huge stadiums filled with fans, do more damage than good to the universities’ educational project.

It is apparently assumed that alumni judge their schools by how many NFL, NBA or NHL stars have played for their alma mater. That kind of thinking should be discouraged by our college presidents and by all members of our community. It has long been a lament that young athletes and their families have been encouraged to believe in the statistically preposterous chimera of professional athletic success.

This is not to say that our great universities should admit only the greatest intellects. At Yale, the best students have been chosen for their character, their energy and their self-sacrifice as well as their intellect; nothing is more likely than that a high-school athletic career should give evidence of these other important traits. But the intellectual life should be paramount to students during these precious years of study.

Let there continue to be Yale Olympians, and let there continue to be football games, if football can indeed be played without wantonly damaging people’s brains and bodies. But why does the Yale website brag that “there are 23 former Yale hockey players skating professionally” and that 18 of the 28 players on the (admittedly great) team of 2010-’11 came to Yale not from high school, but from league hockey in Canada or the upper Midwest? Will that help or hinder Yale students competing for graduate posts or jobs? President Levin should be applauded for reducing recruitment, and his fellow Ivy presidents should follow his lead.

Gregory Wilkin

March 27

The writer is a 1975 graduate of Morse College.

All art is political

It is repeatedly said that art critical of dominant structures of power is political, while art reproducing aesthetic and socio-political norms is apolitical. This is wrong. We should all dismiss the notion of the apolitical work of art.

Those interested in the preservation of norms easily identify and police what challenges those norms. Meanwhile, those outside the norm easily identify when artists or institutions reproduce hegemony. Max Ritvo (“Art in and out of the canon,” March 27) uses gender-inclusive language: “her aesthetic” instead of “his.” My art merely asks that we challenge representation further, adding subjects. We can start with class and race.

Activists aren’t informed by abstract ideologies alone. Critical thinking and awareness of how power works are crucial to an activist’s development and success. But activism is also unquestionably rooted in lived experience, what Ritvo calls the “aesthetic and interpersonal circumstances that are worth our time as artists.” Activism (or responsibility) is about how we — and others — inhabit the world, whether as individuals or through an identity or within a community. Injustice, alienation and possibility are very much worth our time.

Audience is key. Who is this art for? Who might it alienate, and are these the right people to alienate? What does it mean for a poem to talk about the consumption of tea and not the labor or military and political forces that produced it? What does it mean to be human for those without my privilege?

Kenneth Reveiz

March 28

The writer is a senior in Calhoun College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    La Guernica.

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

  • The Anti-Yale

    As i have said in dozens of poss American inter-collegiate athletics is unbalanced, driven by penis insecurity and competition run even at Yale.

  • The Anti-Yale

    (TYPOS CORRECTED)

    As I have said in dozens of posts American inter-collegiate athletics is unbalanced, driven by penis insecurity and competition run amuck, even at Yale.

    • eli1

      dude, you need to relax with the penis insecurity stuff. The fact that nobody thinks anything you say makes coherent sense makes me believe the only one with a penis insecurity issue here is you. Seriously, do you have some type of phallus obsession?

      • The Anti-Yale

        Relax yourself .

        If you are content to raise a son in our American 2012 culture, bless you.

        Call it what you want, American sports and the miltary are run by phallic obsessions. I do not wonder that your “dude” generation thinks this Freudian interpretation quaint. The believe everything can be QUANTIFIED, the new manna of the Great God DATA.

        I also do not doubt for a second that competetive sports and warfare are ritualized forms of violence.

        Talk to me when you have an 18-year-old son who wants en6er the military or the NFL.

        Incoherently yours,

        Paul D.[not Dude] Keane

        M. Div. 80, etc.

  • eli1

    Mr Wilkin: Your letter pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with narrow-minded alumni such as yourself. Why should athletes be the only group of people at Yale who shouldn’t be allowed the opportunity to pursue their passions at the highest level? Why should Yale be able to brag about those who have gone on to great careers in politics, business, or art, but not athletics? These 23 former hockey players have done everything in their power to reach the pinnacle of their chosen passion, and its a shame people like you feel the need to constantly try and degrade them. Also, for the last time, Yale is not Ohio State. It will never be like Ohio State. Nobody judges Yale by the number of NBA or NFL players it has produced. Athletics and academics are not mutually exclusive in the Ivy League. One of Yale’s Rhodes Scholar winners last year was on the Crew team. Numerous Yale football alumni have gone on to very distinguished careers in business, politics, law, and medicine. While I’m sure many athletes are not as smart as you, Mr. Wilkin, they do at least deserve the opportunity to pursue their academic and athletic passions without you and people like yourself constantly trying to bring them down due to your own insecurities.

    • ernie

      No one’s proposed denying athletes the opportunity to pursue their athletic goals. What people are proposing is ending recruitment policies that give athletes a much easier path to admission than any other category of student. Athletics and academics are not necessarily opposed endeavors, but when an admission slot goes to an athlete who is academically less qualified than the student who otherwise would have taken that slot, there is certainly a trade-off between them.

      • eli1

        Affirmative action gives a much easier path to admission for black students. Should we end that?

        • ernie

          No. Black students in general face a number of obstacles for which affirmative action compensates; the same isn’t true of lacrosse and tennis players. And on top of that diversity is a more important institutional good than is having elite athletes.

          I would end legacy admissions breaks, though.

          • RexMottram08

            The son of a black surgeon and white attorney faces a number of obstacles?

            Nope. But he does check off that “African-American” box on the app.

          • ernie

            Weird! It’s almost like general truths can have individual exceptions.

          • LtwLimulus90

            1) athletic recruitment provides a reliable way for actually disadvantaged minority students to make their way to an elite institution. Look at the breakdown of many of the sports teams here-yes, there will be many wealthy students, but there will also be MANY disadvantaged minority students, especially on the football team.

            2) On principle, athletic recruiting and affirmative action (and legacy admit policies and boarding school admit policies) are the same. The University lowers its academic and other admit standards for certain students in order to matriculate students who will bring certain qualities to their student body. It’s all about providing the best, most well-rounded, diverse student body that the university can. It understands that it is so much more than just an academic institution, it is an educational one. Students are Yale learn most, in my experience at least, OUTSIDE the classroom, from their peers. And so in the case of affirmative action, students admitted provide the University diversity of skin color and experience. In recruits, athletic talent and often an almost built-in understanding of teamwork and other skills that a large proportion of employers, at least, find incredibly valuable. Many would agree with the assertion that diversity, in the most traditional sense that affirmative action actually provides for, is probably more useful for the university to pursue. But to say the other isn’t worthy of the University’s time is naive and shortsighted at best…

          • ernie

            On (1), while football and a couple other sports do help some disadvantaged students gain admission, many varsity teams recruit most of their members from prep schools. If the goal is to help disadvantaged students, varsity recruiting is an extremely inefficient way to do it.

            On (2), I think you’d have to show that this “understanding of teamwork and other skills” is the more or less exclusive domain of varsity sports. While diversity can’t really be supplied by other means, club sports and other non-recruited teams and clubs on campus provide the culture of teamwork that you describe. It’s telling that defenses of athletic recruiting tend to fall back on nebulous and sentimental celebrations of sports culture.

          • ldffly

            I am a defender of sports at Yale. However, the virtue of teamwork in the workplace is something people talk about, but when you go to work, teamwork is almost laughable. It’s usually every man for himself no matter the talk about teamwork. There are so many so and sos ready to cut your throat at every turn, even in the most menial of workplaces, that ‘team’ is nothing more than a joke. So that is one virtue fostered by sports that I think is nearly irrelevant to employment and later life.

    • happygoldenbygone

      eli1—This is Greg Wilkin responding. When I saw the form my original letter had taken after redaction and rewriting by a YDN editor, I got back to him right away asking that it be yanked, but alas it was too late. Theirs is a tough job, and my original went into too much detail and attempted to capture nuances that they thought inessential to what they called “the crux of my argument.” I’m really sorry I offended you; I see what you mean. (I didn’t mean in any way to demean our current or former student athletes, least of all hockey players. I did my Ph.D. in Canada, where they taught me how to play; I know it’s a demanding, challenging enterprise; I taught a member of the Yale team I spoke of, and he was already a fine writer.) And my original letter tried to frame things more carefully than leading with “America has betrayed the life of the mind….” I can understand someone who would hear that as being at best dogmatic and at worst unpatriotic. Here’s the original opening: “A recent meeting of prep-school teacher/coaches addressed a trend that threatens, more than ever before, the worldwide standing of American universities, and Yale is not exempt.” I referenced Bob Ryan’s article in the Boston Globe where he complains about teams and supporters making more and more wastefully long airplane trips to distant contest venues. I spoke of Ben McGrath’s article in The New Yorker (Jan. 2) showing how this absurdity is trickling down, in some cases pretty torrentially, into high schools. Important to me is another point in that original: “more and more of our college students [here I wasn’t talking about Yale necessarily] abandon their studies in the interest of being hired to engage in professional play; indeed many abandon serious study for that very reason even during the time they are enrolled.” The letter as published has lost some of its logical connections, and seems to focus on our hockey guys. I didn’t intend that. (I’ll continue in another reply box; I continue to violate space limits–Sorry, folks.)

      • happygoldenbygone

        (Here’s the second part of a reply to eli1) When I said “let there continue to be Yale Olympians, and let there continue to be football games,” I added “against like-minded schools.” Accordingly, the last sentence of the original letter, after applauding President Levin, asked him to “follow his own lead: no sport should be exempted from the modest standards the other sports meet.” Here I was trying to make a delicate reference to the (to me) disappointing news (a source of pride in a recent Yale apologia) that all but one of our teams is in the top ten percent nationwide. What’s up with THAT team? The crux I myself would have identified (and would have revised to make clear if given the chance!) is that Yale is to be held against university standards world-wide, universities that, by historical accident or choice, are innocent of all this. I mentioned that our degrees in, say, physics and math need to compete against those from ETH Zurich, Imperial College, London, and Cal Tech.
        In everything every Yale grad does, even in writing ephemera like this,Yale is, to some extent, on the line. Don’t we all bear this constant, fortunate burden, needing to justify the outrageous educational opportunities we have been granted? Let’s just make sure we, and all the other Ivies, go exclusively after gifted, committed scholars, be they athletes, musicians, legacies, under-represented groups, or all of the above.

        • eli1

          Mr Wilkin: I understand your point and apologize for the condescending tone of my earlier comment. I would have been very interested in reading the intended article as you described it, as it sounds as though we agree on many things. I too believe big time athletics has gotten out of control on a national stage, and see this all too well when turning on ESPN and seeing two high schools from different parts of the country playing each other in basketball on a Thursday night. The thing that frustrates me the most is that Yale athletics does things the RIGHT way, yet people are still hellbent on bringing these athletes down. Yale upholds the most stringent academic requirements of any athletic program in the country, does not offer scholarships, provides no special treatment, and, in general, sticks to playing schools with a similar academic and athletic missions. Generally, I think this model has worked in insulating Yale from the excesses of big time college athletics, and it pains me to see people want to destroy this model without reason.

          • ldffly

            Well put!!!!

  • ycollege14

    because Yale as a university is by definition an academic institution for higher education, not a super-gym or training center

    • eli1

      Why do we have bands, a capella groups, art programs, improv groups, etc? If Yale as a university is by definition an academic institution for higher learning, not a gym, theater, or art studio, then why aren’t those disciplines villified in the same manner?

      • River_Tam

        > Why do we have bands, a capella groups, art programs, improv groups, etc?

        We don’t recruit students for Yale on the basis of their ability to sing in the Whiffenpoofs.

        • yalengineer

          I totally thought that we did.

          • penny_lane

            You ever talked to an athletic recruit? They can get in on truly minimal academic credentials (1065 on the SAT, I believe, is what one softball player quoted me). You can’t say the same about anyone else.

          • eli1

            I was an athletic recruit and I had a 1500 on the SAT. I believe most of my teammates were in the 1350-1500 range. I do not for one second believe that the 1065 is accuarate. Even the dumbest athletes I knew (of which there were few) were all above 1200. I do not believe a 1065 would qualify you for even the lowest rung of athletic admits, no matter how good you are at your sport.

          • penny_lane

            To elaborate, she was bragging that her coach had told her, “If you get at least X on your SAT, you could get recruited at Yale,” so that’s all she tried for.

            I am the last person who would try and argue that athletes are dumb (I was double varsity in high school, though not recruitment material by a long shot). No one gets into Yale on academics alone; everyone has something else that makes them stand out. You just don’t hear the people whose artistic talents added weight to their application bragging that they didn’t have to try when it came to academics, because they did.

          • ldffly

            Whoa! 1065????!!!! I admit that I have a hard time correlating today’s SAT scores with those from years ago. Moreover, the SAT doesn’t tell the whole story of academic capacity. However, I can’t believe that anybody with a 1065 could get through one year at Yale. Indeed, if I were counseling a high school kid about going to Yale and I saw a 1065, I’d say you better try state. I’m afraid I couldn’t even write a letter for a kid at that level. If that’s the state of affairs, then Yale College has big troubles.

            AND I’m in favor of Yale strengthening the athletic program but not at that price!

          • Goldie08

            “1065 on the SAT, I believe, is what one softball player quoted me”

            Poor form. Totally anecdotal and I’ve never heard of anyone at Yale below 1250. Also that 1250 was not an athlete.

    • Goldie08

      The way I understand it, education encompasses more than just “school.” And to paul keane, please EDUCATE us how a sport like swimming constitutes ritual violence?

      • ernie

        Yes, it does. So keep the sports, end the recruitment. There we go.

        • eli1

          That is impossible. If you end recruitment there will be no sports. I’ve played enough IMs to realize that there isn’t exactly a whole lot of athletic talent amongst you intellectuals. Definitely not enough athleticism to field a 120 person football team. I doubt there are 20 nonathletes at Yale that can skate, let alone make up a hockey team. Ive yet to see a nonathlete over 6 foot 3, so good luck in basketball. This end recruitment but keep sports argument is ludicrous. There would either be sports or there wouldn’t be. Its impossible to have it both ways.

          • ernie

            Well, there are a number of club teams on campus in a variety of sports, none of whose members were recruited.

  • The Anti-Yale

    You’re probably right about swimming. I like to paint with broad brush and mop up the inconsistencies as I go along. This one may simply not fit. Thanks for calling me on it.

    PK

    • River_Tam

      PK, you’re really just talking about football and hockey then, right? Because I’m pretty sure soccer, track, cross country, rowing, golf, squash, etc all do not count as ritualized violence either.

      • yalengineer

        Ultimate frisbee?

        • Goldie08

          Ultimate would make PK’s head spin, with its concept of an honor code, even at the professional level. Because to him, all athletics is about winning at all costs.

          And there’s no phallus.

  • CharlieWalls

    I believe Mr. Reveiz is addressing an extreme possibility: all are is political. Your most important sentence was,”Audience is key.” Leaning on that principle, take the size of the audience to very small. Figurative painting, portrait art, is viable. My daughter lived off it in Paris. She expressly stated that she was not political and she was not. What she did pleased very few people because very few saw it. Further, I know a retired museum director who writes poetry. While some is published, the majority is written simply because he feels like it. The existence of art for art’s sake, or for the sake of very few, pretty well shoots a hole in your thesis.

  • Goldsmith11

    Mr. WIlkin, I understand that your original letter has been lost to some degree through editing, but I object to your whole outlook starting most importantly with the word “America.”

    “America has betrayed the life of the mind by encouraging almost all of its great universities to take part in a kind of huge semi-pro league.”

    The beauty of intercollegiate sports in this country is that “the life of the mind” and the physical (hopefully not mindless) life of athletics are not made mutually exclusive. In most other nations, I believe you would find this to be the case to a strong degree. Soccer, for example, the most widely played game on the planet, is built upon the model of the “youth academy.” Promising youngsters are placed in soccer academies as early as the age of 5 or 6 years old with the pure intention of producing top flight, professional athletes as early as possible, often around 16 or 17. In places like Brazil, Uruguay, Morocco & West Africa, and even Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, if you are pegged as a talented prospective athlete, you are not even given the chance to simultaneously develop as a scholar.

    By contrast, the United States continues to lag as a soccer nation due to our (unique) model of high-school and college competition. The best players, no matter how inevitable their professional careers seem, are never thrust into sports academies and closed off to the opportunities of an education. Even in the last few years, our professional leagues have begun requiring at least one year of college play. To this extent, I would say that the trend is quite opposite to the “chimera” you envision.

    To the point of Yale athletics, I would underline the example mentioned above, our recent Rhodes-Scholar-Heavyweight-Rower. To be an athlete at Yale, and any Ivy League school for that matter, is to be uncompromising. Given the choice to singularly pursue lux et veritas through the academic rigors of one of the world’s top universities or through sacrifice, dedication to team and self-improvement in Division 1 sports, Yalies say “yes” to both.

    Regardless of the admissions process, once admitted, Yale athletes are your peers, and exempt from NOTHING in the pursuit of a Yale degree. Rather, athletes juggle their academic responsibilities, extra-curricular interests, and “life as a college kid” with an additional 20 hour per-week commitment.

    Waning support from our administration, our alumni, and our peers is regrettable, but just another hurdle in the life that Yale athletes proudly choose for themselves.

    • Goldsmith11

      The purpose of a top institution like Yale is to provide opportunity. Given the university’s means, no opportunity should be denied, nor should pursuit of one close the doors on another.

    • LtwLimulus90

      Did you mean Rhodes-Scholar-Lightweight-Rower? Weird mistake to make

  • The Anti-Yale

    PK, you’re really just talking about football and hockey then, right? Because I’m pretty sure soccer, track, cross country, rowing, golf, squash, etc all do not count as ritualized violence

    **Maybe soccer (concussion apprenticeship) discus (slipped disc apprenticeship). Pole vaulting and gymnastics are a different species—–**

  • River_Tam

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to with the discus/slipped-disc wordplay.

    I also don’t think most soccer players play the game so that they can eventually play football.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Soccer:

    I know of no sport which uses the human head (the most noble part of the human body) —-and the central nervous avenue —-as a kicking mechanism. Seems self-abusive to me.

    Discus is like weight-lifting.: Courting spinal problems..

    PK

    • River_Tam

      Weightlifting is courting spinal problems? Weightlifters have some of the lowest rates of injury of any athletes.

    • ldffly

      That depends on how you train for the event. It can and has caused throwers neck trouble, but it doesn’t have to.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Despite its incoherence and hyperbole, have you noticed that on THIS subject (the military and competetive sports) I am a vox clamantis in deserto.?

    No one wants to touch this sacred cow…

    It is like Bertrand Russell being ostracized inn the 1920′s for claiming it was a scandalous act of immorality that Indians died of starvation, while lying on the ground next to one of the billion cows reserved as untouchable for Hinduism’s sacred rites..

    WHO other than myself, would DARE critciize competitive sportstand the military as phallocentirc, ritualized , unvarnished aggression?

    No one.

    PK

    • penny_lane

      BLAH this grammar is going to sit unresolved for me all day :(

      You are not the vox, PK, you are the clamans. Unless you’re trying to paint yourself a prophet?

      • ldffly

        I believe at one time Mr. Keane did regard himself as something of a new Jeremiah.

  • JayHold

    Self-Righteous.
    Pompous.
    Myopic.
    Bigoted.
    Hateful.

    Why is Yale holier than any other college in this USA? Why is it holier than any other Ivy to think it has the right to determine fair educational opporunity and who should be admitted distinct from its Ivy counterparts and other universities in the country.

    College is reflective of the real world where privilege, connections, power and other factors like minority status or poverty bestow opportunities upon those invited into the organization.

    Legacies

    Underrepresented minorities, Pell Grant recipients, low income

    Athletes

    Yes, across virtually all U.S. universities, private or public, small or large, elite or for the masses, these 3 well known categories of applicants fall under special admissions policies that make exceptions for these groups as standard business protocol.

    It is disturbing that if the same commentators were saying don’t let blacks in or don’t let muslims in or don’t let the poor in, everyone would be up in arms.

    Who gives you the right to set your bigoted sights on any group of young people and determine your brand of fairness and opportunity?

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Who gives you the right to set your bigoted sights on any group of young people and determine your brand of fairness and opportunity?”

    Why is all this so consarned important? Money, money, money, money & money.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Self-Righteous. Pompous. Myopic. Bigoted. Hateful.

    **If these lovely descriptors were addressed to me, I accpt all of them accept bigoted and hateful. (the final two are too much)**

  • The Anti-Yale

    EXCEPT not accept.

    I’m over my head in this argument. I don’t know diddly about sports. Just an outsider looking in at what appears to be violence and ritual.

    PK

  • The Anti-Yale

    Between 3-11 PM on Saturday I received three NYTimes email ALERTS: One about Jeremy Lin’s injury; Two about Kansas beating somebody. Three about Kentucky beating somebody. Nothing non-sports alert-worthy happened in the entire world during this ten-hour period.

    UNBALANCED

    (both the reporting and the culture).

    PK

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