Sad Irony

In the midst of the pandemic, which our feckless president dismisses as a “hoax,” there is a movement of major importance that is getting inadequate attention. I speak about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Following the murder of George Floyd by a  Minneapolis policeman a few weeks ago, there has been a surge in attention to the undeniable fact that police target the blacks and that they live in fear of those sworn to protect and serve them while the rest of us rest content and simply complain about the protests.

But during this period when the movement needs all the momentum it can possibly gain, the reporters are constantly sticking microphones in the faces of black athletes asking them their opinion about the movement and what it means to them. This is a good thing, in my view, because all the attention the movement can get is beneficial and will, hopefully make the world safer for blacks in the future. The problem is that many of those athletes are tongue-tied when asked about problems outside their area of major interest, which is the sport they have devoted their lives to.

The irony here is that many of these men have either attended or even graduated from America’s colleges and universities and some have college degrees but still have no way to express themselves at a time when expression is of major importance to them and others like them. It is another indictment of the state of education in this country. This is my point.

Don’t get me wrong, I speak about many of the professional athletes’ interviews, not all. There are a number who are bright and articulate and who make a strong case for their movement. But a great many simply cannot find the words they want to express the strong views they hold about social injustice in this country. And this at a time when strong views are of vital importance to the movement.

We need to pay attention to a problem that has been with us for a great many years and which makes the lives of black people fearful and miserable in a country that should make them feel safe and secure. And we need eloquent spokespersons to spell out the legitimate complaints these people have so we can seek solutions. It is not enough to simply identify the problem, it is essential that steps be taken to overcome the problem and make it go away. But we must begin with a clear idea of what the problem is. So white people in a position to make a difference need to listen to black voices.

As an educator all my adult life I cringe when I hear professional athletes, black and white, fumble and struggle to find the words they want to express their point of view. In this instance, we need to hear them speak and we need to hear what they have to say and take it seriously. These are presumably college-educated men and women but they sound like they are trying to speak in a foreign language.  I don’t blame them: their alma-maters have failed them miserably.

Let me say again that this is true of a great many professional athletes. Not all. And it applies to supposedly educated white athletes as well. Their education has not served them well and it is particularly noticeable at a time when they need to speak out and we need to listen to what they have to say.


10 thoughts on “Sad Irony

  1. Hugh, I think they mirror society, as there are many folks who would have similar troubles articulating the issues of the day. Yet, athletes who have been interviewed often, tend to do better. They may not match up with the articulate voices of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali or Bill Russell, but when I heard Colin Kaepernick and others define why they were kneeling, they were equally poignant and pertinent.

    The NBA learned more quickly what the NFL only recently did. When your employees raise concerns, people better pay attention. This is lesson a certain president has still not learned. Keith

    • Ryan Clark is also quite articulate. There are a few and thanks for that. But, as I say (and as you apparently agree) the inability of so many to say what they want to say is an indictment on our education system.

  2. You are quite right, and fortunately, as you point out, it isn’t all the athletes, but those who cannot form the words to express themselves are, indeed, a sad statement of our education system. I also agree with Keith, that they mirror the whole of our society, for our system of education is declining, not improving. We no longer teach young people to think, to reason, to communicate clearly their thoughts and ideas. Instead, we prepare them for a job, usually a specific type of job such that they are ill-prepared for anything else.

    When I wrote my tribute post to John Lewis the other night, I was thinking about the difference he and so many others made to the Civil Rights Movement, and how that is what is lacking in the Black Lives Matter movement today … leadership. People who speak for all, who represent entire communities. There are few out there who are capable of taking on that mantle. Our education system is a sad statement of our society today.

    • Indeed. At a bare minimum those who regard themselves as educated persons should be able to express themselves clearly. Just think of our feckless leader, as a counter-example!

      • True. In addition to his long list of faults, he is delusional at times. He has made up yet another story about an immigration bill that is forthcoming yet no such bill exists. My favorite is the India/ Pakistan peace deal he said he was asked to broker when no such request was made.

      • Quite so … he puts me in misery every time I hear him … I’ve often said he cannot put together a complete sentence. Admittedly, though, I write better than I speak, for I tend to stutter when I have to speak to more than 2-3 people at a time. Good thing I’m not a politician, eh?

  3. Dr. Curtler,

    Your posted comment refers specifically to athletes’ inability to make articulate statements about important matters. While I do not disagree, I would not limit that criticism to athletes, per se.

    In my experience, I find that almost ALL college and university students lack the ability to offer articulate comment. The reason is simple: They are seldom expected to do so during the course of their academic career.

    It has been a source of joy to me that several students I have known have greatly exceeded my own modest expectations in this respect. Yet, it has been an even greater source of sadness that most students fall far short of even that standard.

    I am unable to count the number of times that students argued (inarticulately, I might add): (1) that I had no right to expect high standards of either written or verbal expression, because I was ONLY a Sociology professor; or (2) that it was unfair of me to expect them to meet high standards of communication when none of their other faculty did — including their English and Speech instructors; (3) that it was just too damn much work for them. (Philosophy majors tended not to offer such objections. Just saying…)

    Sadder still, many of my faculty colleagues have made the same arguments, both privately and publicly, in opposition to my advocacy of higher standards of communication. To these they would invariably add a fourth argument — it was just too damn much work and wasted effort on my part when I should be pursuing publication of my research.

    Often have I heard my colleagues say, privately though never publicly, that the students were simply not worth the time and effort it would take to really teach them anything of value. It was heartbreaking to hear this from fellow faculty of my own university, the primary stated mission of which is teaching!

    It was our job, apparently, to shovel information in the students’ general direction and not be the least concerned whether they could comprehend, analyze, assess, or communicate that information. (Multiple-choice examinations fit nicely into this scheme, would you agree?)

    While I agree that we should expect ANY college graduate to be capable of rendering an articulate statement about important matters when called upon, I cannot honestly say that I am surprised that so many appear unable to do so.

    It is the rare student who learns the skills of articulation. Often, if they learn them at all, they do so in extra-curricular activities rather than their university classrooms. Forensics and Model United Nations come prominently to mind here.

    In sum, your criticism and concern are apt, but they are far more widely applicable than we would like to admit.

    Respects regards, and best wishes,

    Jerry Stark

    • I shudder to agree with you. But I do, as it happens. I once heard that a liberally educated person should be able to speak intelligently about any subject for at least five minutes. I would simply add the word “intelligibly.”

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