Tuesday, June 28, 2016
On Criminals And College Athletics
That's the question I keep asking myself lately.
It seems to have added up for me from six months of lunacy, one where collegiate athletic departments have been caught up with such a large number of horrifying incidents.
There's serious allegations of rape by athletes at Baylor and Vanderbilt. Louisville hiring prostitutes to lure in potential recruits. The case of the Stanford swimmer who got off with a slap on the wrist after raping a young woman. They are literally everywhere, with new twists and turns coming in so fast it's hard to keep up with it all.
Even past scandals involving college athletes don't seem to keep themselves out of the news lately, either. The Penn State Jerry Sandusky story that never seems to die got a new lease on life when alleged abuses were revealed as far back as the 1970s. The when-will-it-ever-end revelations of sham classes at North Carolina. The continuous trickle of revelations at Miami (FL), where the latest is that football players got free use of luxury cars.
The most worrying thread that weaves itself through this collegiate offseason is the word "criminal" -- an offseason where criminals reveal themselves as students on college campuses, criminals that hang out with athletic departments, trying to get some of the fame, fortune and swag, and criminals reveal themselves in the management of collegiate athletics as well.
It's enough to depress any college football fan, and to rightfully make one think: Can it happen here?
Fans of Patriot League schools, including myself, pat each other on the back and tell ourselves that we are different than the rest of Division I.
We say, and believe, we do things the right way.
We don't admit people just to play football, basketball, or softball. We only admit those that have proven they can do the academic work at the high school level, and who have demonstrated that they really care about their education.
You need to get through admissions to get in, and you need to work hard when you get to Lehigh. There are few refuges for those Lehigh students that don't work hard on academics. I once knew a guy who took the Lehigh course "The Solar System" because he thought he would be taking a breather from his business curriculum. Instead, he was up many nights studying astrophysics.
If you get good grades, get a 3.5 or a 4.0 GPA and balance that with someone who also works equally as hard at their athletics, or other skilled extracurricular activities like, say, being an all-state trumpet player, the mistaken thinking is that you must also be a good person, one that won't be violent to strangers, one that won't attempt to force themselves on a woman, one that won't cover up for the horrific crimes of others, or steal, or vandalize.
And in many cases, we hide behind that fact. We mistakenly equate "working hard" and "being smart" with being a good person. We might look at our own lives, lives where we work very hard, trying to do the right thing, thinking we're smart, and then making the leap of faith that all Lehigh students are all like us.
If there is anything that this college football offseason has taught us it's that being a hard worker isn't enough to be a good person.
When Patriot League fans look around at our institutional peers in terms of students and athletes, generally we cast our eyes to the Ivy League, and sometimes the larger private Division I schools. In the past, that also meant looking up to schools like Stanford and Vanderbilt - which is why, I think, these latest athletics scandals, more than others, hit very close to home.
When Ohio State gets mired in a merchandise-for-tattoo scandal, it was very easy to compartmentalize that as a Patriot League fan. "That's something that only happens at a big state school," we say to ourselves at some level. "That can't happen here on old South Mountain. We have standards for our athletes and coaches."
But is that blanket statement really true anymore? Was it ever true?
You probably know the story of the Stanford swimmer who basically got a slap on the wrist - six months in prison - after raping a fellow student. Much of the outrage came from the father, who was sad to see his son's life ruined for "twenty minutes of action," minimizing the rape victims' hurt and grief to that one, awful word: "action".
What you may not be aware of is, at trial, the victim came forward and read a statement to the swimmer that raped her -- an incredible act of courage and one that made an absolute mockery of the result of the trial.
A full, graphic description of what happened to her behind a dumpster ought to be required reading for every collegiate athlete and administrator.
It should be required reading because it is devastating, difficult to read, and brutally honest. Multiple times, you'll probably want to turn away.
What makes the letter a must-read is that it clearly shows the stakes of looking a blind eye to campus rape, and to a lesser extent underage drinking. It also demonstrates what happens when some students are treated as privileged citizens.
As a alumnus Patriot League school, I cannot dismiss something like this and say it's the sort of thing that only happens elsewhere, not just something that happens at a place where athletics are blown out of proportion.
This is Stanford, one of the few places where, if a high school football player asked me what I thought about his offers to play football for the Cardinal or Mountain Hawks, I'd tell him to sleep on it and look into cheap flights to Palo Alto.
The fact is horrifying events like this can happen anywhere, any time, especially in situations where students are not in control of their faculties and situations.
A very long time ago, a horrifying rape happened at Lehigh, with mortal consequences.
In 1986, a Lehigh student, Jeanne Clery, was raped and killed in her dorm room. Her assailant, a Lehigh student, was able to gain entry for this random crime through three doors that were propped open. He would eventually be sentenced to the electric chair for his crime.
But her parents ended up suing Lehigh and spearheading an effort to lobby congress to sponsor the Clery Act, a bill that was signed into law. It mandated reporting of campus crime statistics, publishing of an annual report on crime statistics, and making timely disclosure of crimes that put students in danger.
The Clery Act is one of those rare pieces of legislation that has truly held institutions accountable for the campus crimes that occur, one that has been a shining piece of light that emerged from arguably one of the darkest incidents that has ever occurred on Lehigh's campus.
Is it a bad thing for me to remind people of the crime that occurred here, especially as a fan of all Lehigh sports teams? After all, people don't come to Lehigh Football Nation to be lectured about crime on campuses. They come here to read some positive stories about members of the Lehigh football family, champion narratives on the trajectory of the football team, and light ribbing of Lafayette fans.
At one time I thought that it wasn't my place to talk about things like that, but as more and more of these revelations of athletes breaking the law across the country come out, I don't think so. In ways, I think it's timely to remind people that no place is immune from sexual assault and nobody should be above the law.
Lehigh students aren't more moral than other people because they work hard. There are Lehigh students get in trouble, because Lehigh students are human beings, young men and women that don't always make correct choices. Just because you are smart doesn't mean you make the right moral decisions.
What has sapped me this offseason is that I have been seeing the results of a lot smart people not making moral decisions.
Nobody can rightfully claim Joe Paterno was a dumb man. A Brown University graduate, he was inarguably one of the smartest football minds on the planet, never mind that he was once the athletic director at Penn State and was a force for all sorts of changes in the Penn State athletic department, most of them very positive.
But at a bare minimum he foolishly allowed Jerry Sandusky to wrap himself in his Penn State legacy, and when just a part of the extent of Sandusky's horrifying crimes came to light, there was no way to completely disentangle Paterno, Sandusky, and Penn State.
Sandusky's crimes also demonstrably sucked in the lives of Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, three smart people that chose to look away rather than take the claims of innocent children seriously. Their smarts might be preventing these people from going to trial in a timely manner -- a trial that has been delayed for three years and counting -- but their day in court is coming to explain why Curley, with full knowledge of at least one allegation against Sandusky, allowed Sandusky to retire with emeritus ranking and saying in his retirement speech that he had "thousands of youngsters he touches annually through his charity The Second Mile".
Undoubtedly they studied hard. Got good grades. They embarked in careers in athletics administration, law, and education. They probably got into athletics as a way to give back and do something positive. But what is very clear is that they did not make the right decisions in regards to Sandusky. As a result, they are criminals awaiting trial.
When you look at it in this way, every one of these scandals in the news is about smart people making bad decision.
Vanderbilt? Though transfer students, these students who were convicted of raping an unconscious female had good enough grades to be able to get into Vanderbilt, "the Harvard of the South". Head coach James Franklin, a smart man, came down and recruited themhimself. Franklin also allegedly saw a video of the act on one of the players' cell phones - and told him to delete it.
Louisville? Head basketball coach Rick Pitino undoubtedly is a smart man, but he allowed one of his staffers, Andre McGee, to give tickets to hookers who then allegedly danced, and had sex with, Louisville recruits.
North Carolina? Eighteen years of academic fraud were orchestrated by a web of very smart people, a complex scheme to have classes available to all students that were not worthy of a challenging institution of higher learning, to put it mildly. Somewhere at Chapel Hill, people who worked hard and god good grades in school made conscious decisions to conduct sham classes to keep students, and mostly athletes, academically eligible.
Baylor? Tale of rape by football athletes, and institutional systematic failures in reporting, followup and prosecution, came to light this year. President Ken Starr, a smart lawyer who got his master's degree at Brown, had to step down after admitting he read an email with the heading "I was raped at Baylor", while simultaneously saying he knew nothing of rape at Baylor. Head coach Art Briles, a smart man who suspended some team members for "violation of team rules", was finally let go by Baylor this past Friday at 6:57 PM Waco time.
Over and over we see the same situation playing itself out - smart people who should know better not stepping up, not doing the right thing. Intelligence was not enough to make them do the right, moral thing, to take allegations or rape, academic fraud, or violence seriously - over, and over.
Intelligence isn't enough. Intelligence is no replacement for morality - the idea that a person ought not to rape a woman who is passed out, or the thought that perhaps that allegation of rape ought to be taken seriously and law enforcement engaged. If there's one depressing thread that runs through all of these sad, awful, pathetic stories, it's that so few people actually do the right thing and that justice moves at a glacial pace, and too often comes to the incorrect conclusions.
It seems like there is a common sin that runs through them all - hubris. Hubris about being above the law - players who engage in a rape of a passed-out female, in some cases recording the evidence that convicts them, and then thinking that they will be able to get away with it. Hubris with administrators that think that by sweeping allegations under the rug, they'll be able to later plausibly deny that they knew about anything, even though the email headings say "I WAS RAPED AT BAYLOR".
What does that mean for us, for Patriot League fans?
It means vigilance.
I think it's very important to know that the exact same bad things that happened at all of these schools could also happen at Lehigh.
It is a foolish mistake to think that bad things could never happen at Lehigh simply because Lehigh is different. Lehigh is not different. These things can also easily happen at Lehigh if we simply make the shortcut assumption that because we're smarter, we've also got better morals than everyone else.
We cannot say that campus rape and institutional crimes are only the product of big state schools and big athletics programs. The same hubris could happen anywhere - the Ivy League, the Patriot League, or any school.
The secret to alleviate student crime and institutional crime is the same: to show that there is no place for hubris or superiority. The second you think Lehigh, or any school, is hubristically immune to the problems that plague society is the first step towards disaster.
It's also something that athletics administrators ought to learn, too, before I have to read another dozen articles of college administrators behaving badly.