Tribal Sovereignty

E.S.P.N. broadcasts a most informative program called “Outside The Lines,” which often turns over rocks in the sports world that many would have us ignore. They recently broadcast a program dealing with the failure of Baylor University to investigate the allegations that several women were raped by one of the Baylor football players. This report came on the heels of the report that Florida State recently paid nearly a $1 million penalty to Erica Kinsman who claimed that Jameis Winston raped her while he was a player at that school.  Florida State’s handling of the case has been described thusly:

‘ . . . the university did not even approach Winston about Kinsman’s accusations until January 2014, after the Seminoles had won the national championship; . . . the Tallahassee Police Department’s investigation was so slipshod that the local prosecutor threw up his hands when the case finally landed on his desk; . . . Kinsman was shunned by her fellow students, called a slut and a whore and a liar, and essentially forced off campus as the football-mad student body rallied around its quarterback . . .”

Florida State University found Winston without guilt, but the fine was based on the fact that colleges and universities are required to report and fully investigate all allegations of rape. Apparently Florida State did not follow the protocol. According to “Outside the Lines” Baylor can now stand proud alongside Florida State.

In the meantime, the young women who are involved in these allegations are frequently stonewalled, told not to proceed because it’s a “he-says-she-says” situation and women seldom win in such cases. In a word, the football player (who is usually the one involved) claims that the act was “consensual” and no crime has been committed. In the Baylor case, several young women, including one who claimed to have been a virgin, testified to “Outside The Lines” that they reported the rape and were simply brushed off.

These are allegations, of course, but they are repeated often enough to give them credibility. And they raise the question of whether the football programs at major universities are not, in fact, separate nations, laws unto themselves. I liken them to the Native American nations, that are legally regarded as having tribal sovereignty, though I am not claiming that rape is a common practice among native people. I simply point to the fact that native communities are in some sense “above” the civil law of the states within which they reside. As a brief report in Wikipedia tells us:

Native American recognition in the United States most often refers to the process of a tribe being recognized by the United States federal government, or to a person being granted membership to a federally recognized tribe. There are 566 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. . . .

The United States recognizes the right of these tribes to self-government and supports their tribal sovereignty and self-determination. These tribes possess the right to establish the legal requirements for membership. They may form their own government, enforce laws (both civil and criminal), tax, license and regulate activities, zone, and exclude people from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money. [Italics Added]

The similarities here, as I have said, do not attach themselves to the behavior of the native people as compared with that of university footballers. The similarities simply attach themselves to the fact that both groups are relatively autonomous. But where the autonomy of the native tribes is a function of treaty and law, the autonomy of the footballers is a result of avarice and entitlement. These players are spoiled rotten and they bring millions of dollars into the colleges and universities where they play games. The universities in many cases look the other way and basically allow much greater leniency to those who play for their teams than they do to the rest of the student body, including those women who seem to be the victims of something that often looks like “roid-rage.” Whatever the causes of these attacks, it seems clear that the institutions are reluctant to pursue any sort of serious investigation until or unless they are forced to by outside pressure. Clearly, those teams have something very much like tribal sovereignty.

 

Legal Advice

In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, the Bible of sports fans across the country, an attorney by the name of Michael McCann wrote that Jameis Winston should quit Florida State and wait for the NFL draft where he will assuredly be a high pick and will then become another spoiled millionaire football player (I added the last caustic comment). You remember Winston, surely? He was investigated for raping a fellow student a year or so back and in the brief police cover up investigation it was determined that there was no case against the young man. He later stole some crab legs from a grocery store, claiming he “forgot” to pay and was summarily released. He then stood on a table in the cafeteria and shouted obscenities at the top of his voice — for which offense he was suspended one game by the football coach. He is a real jewel. Each time he screws up he faces the camera with an earnest expression on his face and swears it won’t happen again.

In any event, McCann’s professional advice is for the young man to quit school because the university has decided to investigate the alleged rape on its own and could bring charges against Winston, and possibly suspend him, on the grounds that he violated the rights of one of his fellow students. Indeed. McCann’s idea is that if Winston leaves the university, the investigation will never surface. If he remains enrolled evidence might come to light that would not only lead to his suspension from the university but also provide grounds for a possible civil case later on. As McCann puts it, it’s a question of what is in Winston’s “best interest.”

And there’s the rub: it’s what is in the young man’s “best interest” in the eyes of this lawyer. The young man should quit and not face the possible consequences of his actions. He should quit school and lie low, making sure he commits no further atrocities, until the NFL comes calling and he can sign on for the big bucks that surely await him. Given his past behavior this is more easily said than done, of course: he seems to lack self-control. But McCann doesn’t mention that. Be that as it may, the issue of what is morally correct is not considered by Mr. McCann, who chooses to focus attention on legal and practical matters. The fact that the young man would be ducking his responsibilities as a citizen and member of the university community is apparently irrelevant according to Mr. McCann. What is important here as this lawyer sees it is the issue of saving face and making big money later on.

In a follow-up issue of Sports Illustrated one reader wrote, with tongue in cheek, that McCann is right and that Winston should quit and go back to third grade where he would learn “that stealing is wrong, swearing is not acceptable, and that women should be treated with respect.” Another reader put is more seriously: “I was disappointed with McCann’s article. He basically wrote a blueprint for how Winston could avoid disciplinary action for his alleged heinous acts against a female student.” Spot on! What was it Shakespeare said? We should kill all the lawyers. He knew a thing or two, even if McCann doesn’t.

In any event, the entire episode underscores once again the rotten state of things at the heart of big-time college football and basketball. As I wrote years ago, the athletes should be regarded as semi-professionals and paid a decent salary to play — even allowing them to form unions to make sure they get a fair share of the millions of dollars at stake in college sports these days. Then, those who actually want an education can enroll in classes and pay like all the other students, thereby learning what those students are learning every day —  that after graduation it will be hard to find a job and there will be huge debts to be paid to the colleges and universities when they finally do find one. The things in this life that are most worth having are not those things that are simply handed to you: they are the things you work hard to earn.

Dante’s Relevance

In a most interesting article in a learned journal not known for its interesting articles, author Rod Dreher bemoans the fact that he didn’t read Dante’s Inferno — or the rest of the Divine Comedy — until he was in middle age (as was Dante himself).

     Midway along the journey of our life

      I woke to find myself in some dark woods,

      For I had wandered off from the straight path.

So begins Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and into Paradise, as well as the story about a twenty-first century man who had also lost his way only to pick up Dante’s poem by accident and find himself captivated. What interested Dreher most were the chords struck by Dante that resound in today’s world and which should be heard by all college students, if not all who can read. And while it is sad to note that Dreher hadn’t read Dante’s poem until his mid-forties, it is refreshing to have him echo my conviction that the classics are relevant to today (which, indeed, is why they are regarded as “classics.”) But how can a poem written by a medieval Catholic speak to today’s students whose attention is entirely on themselves? That’s the question this article seeks to answer.

It is precisely the fixation of modern youth on themselves that one finds in the occupants of Dante’s Hell. To begin with, they all tell lies, and Dante is warned not to believe all he hears — which reminds me of Jameis Winston’s press conference where he said, with a straight face, “I’m not a ‘me’ person.” But more important, the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno are filled with thousands of passionate people who do not know how to love. The circles begin with love perverted, the love of a man for a woman that never rises above the level of lust, and ends, eight levels later, with those who either love only themselves or or betray those who love them, buried in ice up to their chins and condemned to remain frozen for eternity — as far from God’s love and warmth as possible. In between Dante finds those whose love degenerates into mere passion and is misdirected (they love money or fame, for example); they sin but fail to repent. And, indeed, it is the unwillingness of the sinners in Hell to repent that places them there instead of in Purgatory. As Dreher points out, “All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant.” Such as it is, their love was twisted and self-involved, and it dwarfed their reason which would, together with love properly felt,  have led them away from themselves and into the world of others who are also in need of love.

And thus we find the message that rings true today when folks are told to “let it all hang out.” As the author notes,

“This is countercultural, for we live in an individualistic, libertine, sensual culture in which satisfying desire is generally thought to be a primary good. . . . We live in a narcissistic, confessional culture in which speaking whatever is on your mind and in your heart is valorized as ‘honest’ and ‘courageous’ — just as calling lust love falsely ennobles it by dressing up egotism with fake moral grandeur. . .  All these damned souls suffer hellfire because they worshipped themselves and their own passions. In Dante egotism is the root of all evil.”

Furthermore, Dante’s sinners are unanimous in finding fault with others, never with themselves. They are very good at pointing fingers elsewhere and refusing to admit that theirs is the fault. The relevance of the ancient poem begins to become apparent.

Dreher takes the reader through several other circles, but in the end he notes, appropriately, that “Dante’s egoists suffering in Hell would be admired and even heroic figures in twenty-first century America” [Cue Jameis Winston, et al]. There is much for each of us to learn from this ancient poem written by a poet in his darkest hours — suffering exile from his family and from his beloved Florence as well. In the end, as Dreher concludes,

Dante shows us that you can just as easily go to Hell by loving good things in the wrong way as you can by loving the wrong things. It’s a subtle lesson, and a difficult lesson, and a lesson that is no less difficult to learn in the twenty-first century than it was in the fourteenth. But it’s still necessary to learn. Happy is the man who embraces this wisdom at any point in his life, but happier is the man who does so in his youth.”

It is sad that Dreher had to wait until his own mid-life crisis to read this remarkable poem. It is even sadder that very few will ever read it at all, though it is a bit of a stretch to think for a moment that even if today’s youth did read it they would see its relevance to their own lives. But it is certain that very few of them will read it at all if it is not required reading, which is even less likely in a culture that insists upon allowing everyone to find his or her own way — even at the risk of getting lost. Like Dante.

(Note: For those of us who don’t read Italian, I have found that John Ciardi’s translation is the most readable. Many are not.)

 

 

Take Jameis Winston, e.g.

The off-field activities of the college football player Jameis Winston are most thought-provoking. As you may recall, he is the Sophomore quarterback at Florida State University where he won the Heisman trophy as a Freshmen. As was the case with “Johnny Football” before him, the award and subsequent attention seem to have gone to his head. Winston is under investigation by the University for alleged rape of a young women last year. He was also arrested for shop-lifting some crab-legs. And recently he was suspended by his team (for half a game!) for standing on a table in the student union and shouting obscenities. In each case he appeared before the public in a choreographed press conference where he told the gathered reporters that he has learned his lesson and this will not happen again. Yeah, right. He is an example of a self-involved youth who feels himself entitled to special treatment. After all, he has received it most of his life, why not now? And, of course, there are growing numbers of athletes at the collegiate and professional levels whose behavior is not only violent, but also exemplify the type of person described by Thomas Jefferson (of all people) in the early part of the nineteenth century:

“Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a stye, or a stateroom, pamper them with high diet, gratify all their sexual appetites, immerse them in sensualities, nourish their passions, let everything bend before them, and banish whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations they become all body and no mind.”

There is a good deal of talk about holding athletes to a “higher standard of decency,” but I would be perfectly satisfied if they were held to the same standards as everyone else: one would not expect anyone to stand on a table in a public place shouting obscenities, to rape young women, or to steal crab legs. But let us not assume for a moment that this sort of behavior is limited to spoiled athletes. Let us admit that today’s youth — well into adulthood — have been so indulged. In our schools where self-esteem is the name of the game, spoiled children, raised by tired, preoccupied parents who have been told by so-called “experts” not to thwart the child’s natural instincts, develop a sense of entitlement that assures each of them that they are the only ones that really matter in this world. They, too, resemble Jefferson’s type described above: they become “all body and no mind.” The example of athletes such as Winston are simply extreme cases of a phenomenon that has become widespread in this culture. Attention might be focused on those who seem larger than life, but while we may criticize their behavior we must admit that they are encouraged in our culture to behave in this manner and they are tokens of a type. Further, they have been told that if they appear sincere and say they are sorry they will be forgiven. After all, we want to see them play on Saturday . . . or Sunday . . .  or Monday night . . . or Thursday night.

In any event, let us keep our eye on the larger picture where a sense of entitlement is increasingly common, and certainly not restricted to athletes.  It is an attitude fostered in the homes and at school, and it stems from the wave of pop-psychology books that were published in the 1950s and 1960s telling parents and teachers how to raise and teach their children. So their parents, exhausted from the work-a-day world where they struggle to provide their families with “necessities,” seldom discipline their children; and in school, where the self-esteem movement has roots going back to Rousseau, they are told they are terrific when they are not. This is certain to turn out young people who feel entitled to whatever it is they think they might want.

Jefferson knew a thing or two. We shouldn’t wonder at the behavior of spoiled, rich athletes or kids out of control: the chickens are coming home to roost.