I was dismayed by the confusion shown in Yishai Schwartz’s column last Wednesday (“Consider the academics of sports,” Oct. 12) approving of a proposed integration of varsity athletics into college academic programs. To put it bluntly, he errs in ignoring the distinction between academics and sport, to the disservice of each.
Let me be clear — I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of Yale’s varsity and club athletes and believe the perseverance, self-discipline, and competitive spirit that athletics promote all merit inclusion in a liberal arts education. Despite what our soccer coaches told us when we were seven, athletics is in the end about winning. At its best, sport perfects the competitive, spirited aspect of our nature — and sends chills down our spines.
Yet academics and the pursuit of wisdom are not for the sake of competition. Competition involves relative victories — showing your superiority over a particular opponent. Truth, however, pursues an absolute, unconditional victory of sorts — the victory of human knowledge over an opaque, recalcitrant world that does not easily divulge its secrets.
By ignoring the real purpose and end of athletics, we also do sport a grave disservice. Schwartz reduces athletics to mere technique or strategy. What’s more, I find collapsing the distinction between “student” and “athlete” subtly patronizing. As a major designed explicitly for athletes, it forecloses the possibility of a true scholar-athlete who excels both in her sport and outside of it.
This no doubt sounds pretentious — talk of “truth” in education is out of vogue these days. But it’s only by acknowledging the distinctions between two very different practices that we can recognize and celebrate the particular kinds of greatness that come in sport and in scholarship. Let’s not be afraid to call things by their proper names.
The writer is a junior in Branford College