What Matters?

In the recent college basketball game between Duke and their in-state rival North Carolina, Duke’s star player “blew out” one of his expensive Nike shoes, tripped and sprained his knee. He left the game and didn’t return. Duke, predictably, lost the game. It appears as of this writing that the sprain is minor. But it raised a number of questions that got the talking heads talking.

On the television the next day the air was filled with opinions left and right: since the injury is not season-ending, should he just “shut it down” and not play lest he seriously hurt himself and ruin his chances to make big money (VERY big money) in the N.B.A.?  The consensus was that he should. After all, that’s what intercollegiate athletics at the highest levels are all about these days: money. But Jalen Rose — who played basketball for Michigan and later in the N.B.A. and now comments on ESPN’s lively morning show “Get Up!” — held to the opinion that the man signed a letter of intent to play for Duke and owes them the rest of the year and a chance to win the National Championship — a real possibility with this man playing, a long shot without him.

I applaud Jalen because he was the only one I heard in all the drivel (and I gather there were a few others, but very few)  who seemed to be the least bit aware that those who play intercollegiate athletics do have an obligation to the institution that gave them a “free ride” and to those teammates with whom he or she played. It’s not all about money, though the weight of opinion “out there” is clearly that it is about money. Period!.

I have blogged about this before and I will not hash over the points I made earlier, but I will only add that it is heartening that at least one or two people in the entertainment world are aware that there is such a thing as a moral obligation (though Jalen didn’t use those words) and that athletics is not all about money. Or it shouldn’t be.

Athletics at every level should be subsumed under the highest goals of the universities where they are housed. The highest goal, obviously, is to educate the young. There is a serious question whether athletics at the NCAA Division I level have anything whatever to do with education, but we will let that also pass as I have posted about that ad nauseam. In their place, however, athletics can play an important role in educating the “whole person” who attends a college or a university. It can help the participant learn to put the team above the self — a lost art in a culture that dwells on the “selfie” and wants only to be “liked.”

Sports can also teach the player about the valuable lessons to be learned from losing, another lost value in a culture where “self-esteem” is the goal of the schools and entitlement is the result — with everyone expecting a reward with little or no effort whatever. All of us who have lost or failed from time to time remark about the valuable lessons we learned from those losses or failures. It helps us grow and mature. It makes us work harder next time and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from finally succeeding.

Sports in their right place are important and valuable, despite the fact that there are folks who will insist that they are frivolous and a waste of time. How better to spend our time than with healthy exercise that also helps us learn about failure and the joys of winning while at the same time we also learn that our success at times depends on others? We need to keep these lessons clearly in mind in a culture that tends to cover them with mud and money. But it is not clear that football and basketball at the highest collegiate levels are sports any more. They have become a business — like education itself.

In any event applaud Jalen Rose for seeing beyond the immediate focus on greed and self-advancement to the wider picture that also involves important values, values that are slowly sinking into the mud.

Like It Is

In a recent interview on E.S.P.N. a very articulate black N.B.A. athlete was dismayed by the fact that “a majority” of Americans had spoken and it is now more clear than it ever was that racism is the order of the day. I paraphrase, of course, but his resentment over the fact that a “majority” of Americans had exhibited their racism struck me as a bit out of order.

I realize that those in a minority in this country have just been slapped in the face, and very hard at that. I can understand their anger and frustration even though I do not share their minority status. I can only imagine what it must feel like today to be a Muslim or an African-American in this country after Trump’s victory. But let’s set the record straight. We got in this mess because we confused facts with factions — not to say outright lies. And the fact is that almost half of the eligible voters in this country didn’t even vote. And of those voting Hillary Clinton won the majority of those votes. Thus, to say as this man did, that this election proves that a majority of Americans have exhibited their racism is simply not true.

It is possible that a majority of Americans are, in fact, prejudiced against blacks and minorities. But this election didn’t show us much of anything except for the fact that there are a great many people in this country — hardly a majority — who are proud of their prejudice and racism and were eager to support a bigot who is openly biased against any and all who are different from himself. But we knew that going in.

Our disappointment must be over this fact and this fact alone, because it doesn’t help heal the wounds to cast aspersions against a majority of Americans who may, in fact, have few or no prejudices against minorities. We simply don’t know how or what “the majority” of Americans feel about much of anything. Since a great many don’t bother to vote and of those voting voted against the bigot, the claims are cloudy at best. Thus, we must remain focused on what we do know: racism is a problem and it must be addressed. This election was a wake-up call, but it did not prove that a majority of Americans are bigots.

Among the other comments in the interview I refer to were a number that expressed hope that we would, as a nation, come together. This is also a sentiment echoed in a recent blog post by my blogging buddy Keith. These were the comments that I found most encouraging. A result like the one so many of us feared and now are depressed by may well help to bring people together. To begin with, it is clear that racism and bigotry are huge problems in this country — though it remains unclear just how big they are. And they need to be addressed. They will not be addressed until they are recognized as serious problems. Such recognition has just been forced upon us. So let us hope that it does bring a bit of light that can now be shed on problems that have been thus far kept in the dark closet of despair.

A great many people stand to lose a great deal as a result of this election. It makes perfect sense that some, if not all, would resort to exaggeration and hyperbole to express their feelings. But, again, we have learned how easy it is to be mislead by feelings and what consequences face us when we do not attempt to separate fact from fiction and use our minds as well as our hearts to search out the best path to the truth and the resolution of difficulties.

In any event, now is indeed the time to come together and to open lines of communication with one another, to seek solutions to complex issues rather than to simply stand by and wring our hands and cry crocodile tears because things didn’t turn out as we had hoped. So let’s not resort to hyperbole and self-pity to make a point that will not withstand criticism. There are a number of scenarios that could evolve in the days to come and none of us knows which is the one that we will actually experience. Let us continue to hope that things cannot possibly be as bad as they seem and in fact that the test we now face will make this nation stronger, not weaker. History has shown that nations and people can do extraordinary things during hard times. And we are indeed facing hard times.

Contrasting Heroes

One of the most famous of the “Great Books” that educated people read for centuries — and which has been dumped on the garbage heap recently with the rest of the books by  “dead white European males” — is The Noble Lives of the Grecians and Romans by Plutarch. The book, which in translation is about 1300 pages in length, attempts to draw parallels between the lives of famous Greeks and Romans to serve as a model of behavior  for young men growing up following the book’s appearance in the early years of the Roman Empire. Plutarch was born around 50 A..D. and while many of the biographies he wrote are now considered inaccurate, he is nonetheless praised for providing us with “a  faithful record of the historical tradition of his age.” In a word, we are given a very detailed picture of what it is that people in those days, and for generations that followed, regarded as exemplary conduct. Most of the men Plutarch wrote about were regarded as heroes, men like Solon and Pericles of Athens, Alexander of Macedon, and Julius Caesar of Rome.

Plutarch, we are told by his modern editor, was “a moralist rather than an historian. His interest is less for politics and the changes of empires, and much more for personal character and individual actions and motives to action; duty performed and rewarded; arrogance chastised, hasty anger corrected; humanity, fair dealing, and generosity triumphing in the visible, or relying on the invisible world. His mind in his biographic memoirs is continually running on the Aristotelian Ethics and the high Platonic theories which formed the religion of the educated population of his time.”

In the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen, or the year of “His Airness” as they call one of this country’s greatest heroes, Michael Jordan, we are provided a study in contrasts. This week’s Sports Illustrated is about 40% full of pictures and stories that provide us with ample evidence of the degree to which this man is revered in this country. If we hadn’t seen the magazine, our eyes and ears could have provided ample evidence after a few moments of watching ESPN which seems to run on and on….(and on) about Jordan. The reason? We are nearing the 50th birthday of His Airness.

And how does Jordan compare with Pericles, Alexander, and Caesar? Not very well, sad to say. He is clearly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, basketball player who ever set foot on the court. Just ask him and he will proudly show you his six N.B.A. Championship rings. But as far as character is concerned, Jordan leaves something to be desired to say the least. His focus does not appear to be on living the good life, except as that is defined by Madison Avenue and the American population at large. He is worth a fortune and most, if not all of that fortune, he spends on himself. Consider the “newly built $12.4 million, 11 bedroom mansion in Jupiter, Florida on three acres of land” where Jordan and his 34 year-old fiancée recently moved — as we are told in Sports Illustrated. The home is near a golf course and also near his close friend Tiger Woods. Jordan loves to play golf and gamble, we are told, and he is part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats of the N.B.A. — a team which badly needs a player of near-Jordan caliber. To be near the team, Jordan also owns a “$3.2 million penthouse in a condominium in downtown Charlotte.” He paid $50 million of his own money to buy into the Bobcats. His money comes from endorsements, mostly: Nike pays him handsomely to put his name on basketball shoes which cost the kids of this country $250.00 a pair — an amount of money that mothers of young boys and girls in the inner cities must somehow come up with in order that their children get the very latest in foot gear. And if you are hungry you can enjoy a meal at one of the steak houses that bears his name and even delight in a five-course meal “inspired by his life and career” for only $125.00.

In a word, Michael Jordan represents in so many ways the ideals and achievements admired in this country which stand in such sharp contrast with the ideals and achievements of the “Grecians and Romans” Plutarch wrote about. In case you wondered, this is called “progress.”