Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Used, abused, and thrown away...

Please watch this video, which I found today at CNN's website. It concerns the number of college athletes in football and basketball programs at top-tier schools who not only are not equipped to succeed in the college classroom,, who are in some cases barely literate, and who never get the help they need to succeed in the classroom.

Okay. You've watched? Now I've got some things to say about it, and the first and most important thing is this question: Doesn't it ever occur to any of the universities that they are using those athletes who do not have the skills necessary to succeed in college and then throwing them away?

But, you say, some of them go on to lucrative careers in the NFL and the NBA.

Well, no. They don't. I don't have the figures in front of me, but the number of student athletes who go on from college to successful pro careers is really very small. There are only so many positions on each pro team each year to be filled, and there are a lot of student athletes vying for those few available spots.

You might also say, but the numbers of truly illiterate student athletes are very small.

That's not the point, though. The point isn't even that no student athlete - no student, period - should enter a top-tier, four-year university unable to do the work.

The point is, those schools are using those athletes - both the ones who can't manage to succeed in classes and those who do very well in their classes - to make money (and top-tier football and basketball programs earn lots and lots of money for their schools) but don't even bother to give real help to the students who can't cut the academic part of college. They put them in programs, as the video mentions, where very little work is required. Or the administration looks the other way when those athletes cheat. Or they bully professors to pass students who aren't doing passing work. They might provide tutors for those athletes, but how do you tutor a student who can't read to pass courses where they have to read material that is beyond their ability and generate papers and other written work when they can barely write?

I know this kind of thing goes on at all levels, from community colleges up to four-year schools, not because that CNN report says that it does. I've seen it in action.

I tutored for several years both on the community college and four-year university level, and I know people who have tutored in programs where I did not. So, I've heard stories about how student athletes are tutored, and I've seen tutoring in action myself. I've seen things like the basketball player who was being tutored in reading on the "See Dick. See Jane. See Jane run" level at the first community college where I tutored because he literally could not read at all. I've heard similar stories from other tutors.

I've also witnessed coaches demanding that an instructor give a student athlete a passing grade in a class so that he would be eligible under school and league rules to play in the next game. I was a student at a time and had just gone by the instructor's office to find out something about a class I was taking from him, and I was stunned when the coaches continued their lobbying for the student in front of me, a student, with no hesitation or embarrassment whatsoever. They were very matter-of-fact about it - they wanted the student to be able to play (I believe his sport was baseball), and they didn't care whether he was actually doing the work. They had no concern at all about whether he was getting educated or not. They were also not concerned about the message being sent to that student athlete, who was present at the time. I was not an athlete at all, so I guess that fact that I was present did not count at all in their eyes.

In that last case, at least, the instructor stood his ground and told the coaches, that no, the student had not been doing his assignments and had not passed the exams in class and that he was not going to say he was passing so that the student could play. The instructor did ask me, after the coaches and student athlete had left his office (I witnessed this because the instructor's office door was open while all this was going on) that I not speak to anyone on campus about the incident, but he also went on to complain to me about the frequency with which that sort of thing went on.

The point is, too, that if schools are going to admit student athletes to their institutions, they need to give the athletes the help they need to succeed in their education and not just on the field or the playing court. They owe it to the athletes to give them an education, not just a place to play their sport for a few years.

I do want to make one thing very clear here: I'm not in any way trying to perpetuate the stereotype that athletes are stupid. It is very clear that student athletes, as a class of people, are not any stupider or smarter than other students. I've known student athletes who also get top grades. I'm just saying that when schools see fit to admit student athletes who don't meet the academic standards that other students are expected to meet, that the schools should do everything in their power to help those student athletes achieve success in the classroom and not just on the field or the court.

Otherwise, the schools are just using the student athletes and then letting them go, often without any way to succeed in the real world if they don't or can't go on to professional sports.

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