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.