Athletics and Academics: Comparing apples and oranges

19 Sep

I was at a faculty meeting yesterday. One of the professors, who announced himself as a professor of Anthropology, took the chance to speak to the assembly, even though his remarks were off topic. This happens frequently at many faculty meetings since academics, present company included, tend to like to share their thoughts even when nobody really wants to hear them.

Anyway, this stalwart was raging against athletics. His argument did not seem to be the usual, that the university was emphasizing athletics at the expense of academics, but that those in the athletic department were getting paid so much and those in the academic arena were getting paid so little.

Let me give my colleague a lesson in 2012 American economics. Here is the Cliff Notes version, i will, of course, expand. When you can fill a stadium with 60,00 people at $50 a head each Saturday to hear you give a lecture we will raise your salary accordingly. Until then STFU. I am as academic as they come. I like to learn, I like to teach, I love to read, I love to discuss ideas, i love learning, I am dedicated to the life of the mind, I am a dynamic speaker.

But, I know that like my esteemed colleague I cannot fill a stadium or basketball arena week after week with people willing to let go of some hard earned cash to hear me talk. A few folks can, there is no doubt about that. People will pay to hear some public figures speak, but they will not do it repeatedly and they will not buy tee shirts with their names and pictures on them and mugs, and flags, and key chains and, well, you know.

Saying that the university should pay professors more than they pay coaches is stupid for several reasons. First, there are far fewer coaches than professors, and not to insult my colleague, but I am pretty sure there are way more good Anthropology professors out there to snap up than good head football coaches or basketball coaches. You, my friend, are not necessarily a commodity. A good coach is. And why, you ask? Because a good coach means a winning team and a winning team means MONEY! This is America. Everything is for sale and money is the gauge by which we evaluate whether or not something is worthwhile.

Learning is important, wonderful, necessary for a viable society. But learning is not, at least not for most, recreation. People spend on recreation. Whatever people spend on will be prioritized.

And lets not forget the athletes who are often the objects of a lot of the derision and contempt for sport on college campuses ( since the two money sports, football and basketball are dominated by blacks one has to wonder if race plays any role in this disdain, but I will visit that later) . The athletes are earning everything they get and some. They are the money producers, the worker bees if you will. People who have no idea what the coaches’ names are can give you not only the names but the stats of the players, they wear their jerseys and images. These athletes are a real commodity. They are the elite. Just as an elite professor, think Skip Gates for example, can make huge bucks because he is above his peers, an elite player can gain the advantages of being faster, jumping higher, being quicker than his peers.

Whether or not the ability to memorize information,analyze it, express it in your own words and add another perspective and perhaps some new knowledge should be more valuable than the ability to have an impressively high  vertical leap is something society has voted on. Debates and panels rarely have much traffic on Sub Hub.

Athletics is about money. Academics should be about the life of the mind. The life of the mind, for most, is not a money making venture. It is valuable, it is enlightening, it is inspiring, it is not, however, profitable. Be happy you have a job that allows you to think and share your thoughts. Don’t be jealous of those athletic types and all their money. They do not know what they are missing! (Except of course there are smart athletic types too, darn it!)

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


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