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“Over My Shoulder”

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"Over My Shoulder"

by Steve H Kehoe

Amazing what you find out there

if only you open your eyes and ears to all possibilities and POV's. While waiting to see a client in his office today in Kilgore, my wandering peepers spied the October 2011 issue of "The Atlantic" magazine. Not having been too familiar with that publication of late—I do recall reading it—and many others—in earlier days, I picked up the magazine whose featured front-page article read "The SHAME (sic) of College Sports". Well, I wanna tell ya, little fella, Wa-Ha-HA" that's an attention-getter 'fer shure'! I have long taken the position that a four-year, full athletic scholarship, valued up to a quarter of a million dollars, is "pay" a-plenty to those gifted few who play sports and carry forth the colors of their alma materon, principally, but not limited to, the gridiron.The article by Taylor Branch is well-written, and I gobbled down eagerly every word. I began by calling to mind my stotlz position on the controversial matter, but must admit that Mr. Branch makes some very cogent and reasonable points in favor of colleges and universities treating their athletes like employees on the payroll—even down to punching time cards! With the revealing of each cogent point, Branch cements his palpable arguments into the readers' minds, to the point where this old "word-warrior" began to soften his hard-line opinion, or at least, crack open the mental window to admit the confluence of some fresh "air" (thoughts). I do so admire someone taking a stand, especially in this world of wishy-washy, highly politicized statements, which largely come to no conclusion, and clutter the minds of those of us who would otherwise research and come to grips with facts sometimes denied the best thinkers of our time.

Brother Branch is to be credited for the way he saddles his "thought-horses", and then again for the way he parades them in front of the arenas of our minds, I will certainly give him his due for that! Also, he is a perceptive writer of a three-volume history of the civil rights movement, entitled "America in the King Years" for which he won a Pulitzer and other prizes, so I respect him, and hear what he has to say. And, though I hope I never judge a man or his writings by skin color, I am taken to wonder if Mr. Branch is black. Why do I draw that possible conclusion? Simply because all throughout his article, he uses racial terms, the word "slavery", "master(s)", and colonialism—all that in addressing a sports issue, for cripe's sakes! But you read it, and you decide. To me, though, his spurious arguments against retaining amateur status among college athletes are very transparent, indeed.

There is right and wrong on both sides of the "amateur vs. professional" argument, and, unfortunately, the "student-athletes" (I will still abide by this description, for that is what the are until the courts should rule otherwise—God forbid!) are caught in the middle. The tug of war is visible—and painful. Kids who want to do the right thing are pressured from even before their senior year as a high school athlete to go shop this school, and that. Complimentary weekend trips are arranged for the prospective "student" to tour the campuses, bringing along "Mom and Dad", who usually stare wide-eyed at "what (our) university can do for 'your boy'." Couple that with unscrupulous agents who are only in it for their percentage. Just look at the recent messes at Ohio State University and at Miami, if you want to see egregious examples of the money tail wagging the athlete dog. I recall a case during the 70's where a scandal broke just up the road at Norman, when a group of football players were supposed to be "on the job" working for a local car dealer, but an investigation showed that they hadn't shown up for "work" more than 20% of the time. And this is not restricted to that school by any means. "Jobs"—from selling cars to washing dishes in the school cafeteria—are sometimes legitimate and provide the "student athlete" real work, so that he or she can have a little spending money. But once exposed to the real bucks, they seldom show up for or accept those menial jobs. But stop and think a minute, about human nature: Put yourself in their place: I don't know many young athletes who would be impervious to having cash and other favors "imposed" upon them "from time to time"—usually in secret—by unscrupulous boosters or alumni, who live vicariously through the efforts of these poor youngsters that they dupe into doing their bidding, with an eye toward the NFL or NBA. In reality, fewer than 2%—two percent, folks—make it to a legitimate professional career. Should the rules be totally thrown out, and then re-written, to accommodate those two percent? Where else in society is that done? Oh—I forgot—there are Liberals on the Left Coast who would consider that to be an acceptable norm!

Brother—er—mister Branch makes his case for paying college STUDENT athletes using cogent arguments that center around reality and actual practice rather than some NCAA ideal—well-conceived and well-intended as those ideals may be. Truth it, there can only be one choice: Either impose stricter penalties for violations of existing rules, or throw the whole system out the window—open up for bidding each athlete's potential. Branch points out the inconsistency and naivete of the NCAA in its efforts to curb the greed rampant in colleges and universities, but he goes too far when he suggests—nay, demands—that the regulatory body, the NCAA, be put out to pasture. He openly advocates paying a salary to student-athletes, and dismissing the hypocrisy of even calling them "students". What, then, are they, if not students? Ostensibly, most are there to get an education. As pointed out earlier, only a miniscule percentage can expect a professional sports career. Hey, it's time to stand up and, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck......call it what it is: "collegiate employees". Oh! I don't like the sound of that!

I graduated from a junior college up north before finishing my degrees at Missouri University, and I was Class President of our graduating class of 1964, so I was involved in lots of campus politics and practices. My fellows and I witnessed what it must mean for alumni and boosters—fans, if you will—rabid fans, if you will—the kind who want to forever preserve the "winning tradition", which a few years down the road nets only some moldy ribbons and unpolished trophies in a glass case in the hallway of the administration building—to win, seemingly at all costs. The "old guard" fans simply want to live through today's athletes and accomplishments, and are willing to pay whatever price it took/takes to bring home the trophies!

A certain social studies professor made it a practice to leave her classroom window unlocked, so that "the boys", whom she said "just needed a little help" could, under cover of night, pop in and help themselves to the mimeographed (remember Gestetner machines?) test papers, and, presumably, armed with such, would make at least a "D" which was barely passing. Other favors accrued to the players—student-athletes, they were—which were even more egregious and blatantly obvious, but most citizens merely turned their head, if it meant another (almost annual) trip to the national finals!

Often I heard, even at my naïve age of 18, excuses for such behavior being that, especially in the case of minority student-athletes (I will continue to use that correct term until they break my knuckles) the teachers were actually doing the players a favor by allowing cheating to continue! Imagine! People will do or say most anything, depending on their motivation for doing so! Well, for what it was worth, it worked—not that that should be a prideful thing: Those juco teams competed nearly annually for national titles, of which they have won more than any other comparable school to-date—and this began back in the 1930's!

Hey, like most things, there are cycles of evolution. This, too, shall pass, but I am afraid in the not too distant future, the vociferous cries of those who would put athletes on the payroll—out of no concern for the athletes other than using them as pawns so that the alumni can brag about their schools—will come to pass. More's the pity. It would be—will be—another victory for Madame Greed, and a step backwards from an enlightened point of view which says that athletes DO receive "pay" in terms of a four-year free ride.

Steve H Kehoe, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it