Growing up, my parents were just never into sports. My mom didn’t go to college and my dad went to a Bible college, so college sports were pretty much a moot point in my family. Even when my brother and I went to college, neither of the schools that we went to were known for their athletic prowess or history.
As I got older and saw friends latching on to favorite teams, I realized that I needed to get on the ball and start liking someone. Even though I was raised in New England and born in New York City, my heart has always been in the South. So, I settled on UNC as a favorite.
It wasn’t until college and after that I fully realized what I had gotten myself into. Like I said, my alma mater wasn’t a big basketball school (except for that time when they knocked Duke out of the NCAA tourney), but as I began to follow NCAA basketball a little bit more, I realized that I had made a pretty good choice of favorites.
Years went by and I found myself married to a die-hard college basketball fan. My wife and in-laws bleed blue, UConn Husky blue. My wife and I moved to UNC, which eventually solidified my favoritism towards the Tarheels. Even when we left, my heart still belonged to the Tarheels.
My heart is heavy. For 18 years, according to reports, the University of North Carolina has fraudulently assisted their athletes to allow them to continue to compete at the NCAA athletic level while not competing at all at the NCAA academic level. “Paper classes” have been on the books for years to allow athletes to “take classes” while competing.
The commentary on this is so vast. It’s easy to point fingers at the institution, and while I give no “free pass” to the university, I wonder how much this case is more of a social commentary on our culture and the things that we think are most important. I wonder if this doesn’t give us a clearer picture as to why athletes from top-ranked athletic schools ditch their educations in order to pursue multi-million dollar contracts in professional athletics. If academics are not enforced and are made to seem disposable, extraneous, or unnecessary, should we be surprised that athletes would abandon so-called academics to pursue the very thing that has been emphasized and accentuated?
My heart is heavy. It’s heavy for those student athletes who came in and were used as pawns. They could have gotten a decent education, they were supposed to get an education, but they played into a system that played them, that used them for their own gain. Some of them left without even completing their degrees, fabricated as they might be. Now they’re turning against that system, but the damage has been done.
The thing about all of this is that it would be naïve and even ignorant to believe that UNC is the only college or university guilty of such behavior. Truth be told, they are the ones who got caught. That certainly doesn’t make it right, but it does beg the question, “what else is going on?” If it’s happening and has happened there, where else is it happening? What other improprieties have taken place in what other places.
Anyone who follows sports has seen similar occurrences within the Major League Baseball world with athletes who take steroids and other stimulants. All of these things are symptoms of a deeper problem. We put such an emphasis on sports and athletics in our country that we’ve lost sight of their purpose and enjoyment. Participation in athletics can result in healthy habits that will last a lifetime. They lead to discipline and consciousness of the need for physical activity. Athletics can stay with a person for their lifetime, regardless of the level of competition that they attain or the level of competition at which they compete. By emphasizing sports as primary, above using one’s mind, what are we saying? What has our emphasis become?
Like anything else, if this report and investigation leads to change and reform, then maybe one could say that good has come out of it. But if it leads to the same behavior in all of the places which have not gotten caught, God help us. May we reflect upon what is really important to us, not elevating things that should never be primary and never throwing away the primary things at the expense of the temporal or fleeting.