Not Really Such a Brilliant Idea

This is a very peculiar comment in the Guardian. John Sutherland recommends that Blair and Labour imitate the American way of getting more racial minorities into higher education: via athletics. Why? He never really says. He does say he thinks it’s a good idea and that it’s been a great success in the States, but he doesn’t say why he thinks it’s a good idea, or in what sense it’s been a success. He does say that the athletics programmes created open doors through which not only black athletes, but also non-athletic blacks, could enter, but then he fails to explain what he means. He says the figures speak for themselves, but they don’t, at least not clearly enough so that I can understand them. What connection is there between the number of non-athletic blacks and the presence of athletic blacks? Do the athletes make the non-athletes feel safer, or less isolated? Do they have some unspecified effect on the admissions office? Sutherland doesn’t say.

He also says, oddly, that college athletes are held to high standards academically. He says they are required to maintain a B average, but fails to mention the well-known phenomenon of grade inflation, which makes a B a pretty low grade, frankly. Not to mention the pressure on teachers not to mark athletes down. He says athletes have to get 820 on the SATs…but doesn’t add that that is a very low score indeed. The fact is, there are plenty of people, black as well as white, who are not so charmed with athletics as the path to university for blacks. There is the implicit insult, for one thing, and there is also the implicit devaluing of academics as the logical criterion for an academic institution. There are the periodic scandals about corruption or flouting of the rules, there is the diversion of everyone’s attention from pesky old books to ball games, there is the amount of money spent on athletic programmes while teachers are fired and library hours are reduced. It’s not such a raging success as Sutherland says.

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