How Sports Attacks Public Education
"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." -
Edge of Sports: March 4th, 2010
of Maryland in defense of public education. It was just one link in a
National Day of Action that saw protests in more than 32 states across the
country. I am not a student, and haven't been since those innocent days when
Monica Lewinsky mattered, but I was asked to come speak at a post walkout
teach-in about the way sports is used to attack public education. It might
sound like a bizarre topic, but it's the world that students see every day.
At the University of Maryland, as tuition has been hiked and classes cut,
football coach Ralph Friedgen makes a base salary of 1.75 million bucks,
which would be outrageous even if the team weren't two-steps past terrible.
Friedgen also gets perks like a $50,000 bonus if none of his players are
arrested during the course of the season.
Ground zero of the student protest movement is the University of California
at Berkeley. Over at Berkeley, students are facing 32% tuition hikes, while
the school pays football coach Jeff Tedford 2.8 million dollars a year and
is finishing more than 400 million in renovations on the football stadium.
This is what students see: boosters and alumni come first, while they've
been instructed to cheer their teams, pay their loans, and mind their
The counterargument is that college athletic departments fund themselves and
actually put money back into a school's general fund. This is simply not
true. The October Knight Commission report of college presidents stated that
the 25 top football schools had revenues on average of $3.9 million in 2008.
The other 94 ran deficits averaging $9.9 million. When athletic departments
run deficits, it's not like the football coach takes a pay cut. In other
words, if the team is doing well, the entire school benefits. If the
football team suffers, the entire school suffers. This, to put it mildly, is
financial lunacy. A school would statistically be better off if it took its
endowment to Vegas and just bet it all on black.
If state colleges are hurting, your typical urban public school is in a
world of pain with budgets slashed to the bone. Politicians act like these
are problems beyond their control like the weather. ("50% chance of sun and
a 40% chance of losing music programs.")
In truth, they are the result of a comprehensive attack on public education
that has seen the system starved. One way this has been implemented is
through stadium construction, the grand substitute for anything resembling
an urban policy in this country. Over the last generation, we've seen 30
billion in public funds spent on stadiums. They were presented as photogenic
solutions to deindustrialization, declining tax bases, and suburban flight.
The results are now in and they don't look good for the home teams.
University of Maryland sports economists Dennis Coates and University of
Alberta Brad R. Humphreys studied stadium funding over 30 years and failed
to find one solitary example of a sports franchise lifting or even
stabilizing a local economy. They concluded the opposite: "a reduction in
real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area….Our conclusion,
and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that
professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city's
economy." These projects achieve so little because the jobs created are low
wage, service sector, seasonal employment. Instead of being solutions of
urban decay, the stadiums have been tools of organized theft: sporting shock
doctrines for our ailing cities.
With crumbling schools, higher tuitions, and an Education Secretary in Arne
Duncan who seems more obsessed with providing extra money for schools that
break their teachers unions, it's no wonder that the anger is starting to
boil over. It can also bubble up in unpredictable ways. On Wednesday night,
after the University of Maryland men's basketball team beat hated arch-rival
Duke, students were arrested after pouring into the streets surrounding the
campus. In years past, these sporting riots have been testosterone run amok,
frat parties of burning mattresses and excessive inebriation. This year it
was different, with police needing to use pepper spray and horses to quell
the 1,500 students who filled Route 1. In response, students chanted,
"Defense! Defense!" At the Thursday teach in, I said to the students that I
didn't think there was anything particularly political or interesting about
a college sports riot. One person shot his hand up and said, "It wasn't a
riot until the cops showed up." Everyone proceeded to applaud. I was
surprised at first that these politically minded students would be defending
a post-game melee, but no longer. The anger is real and it isn't going
anywhere. While schools are paying football coaches millions and revamping
stadiums, students are choosing between dropping out or living with decades
of debt. One thing is certain: it aint a game.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming "Bad Sports: How Owners are
Ruining the Games we Love" (Scribner) Receive his column every week by
emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]
(updated below - Update II)
The Obama administration has made explicitly clear its intention to deny civilian trials to scores of detainees, by sending some to military commissions and imprisoning others indefinitely without any charges. And for those cases where it has deigned to provide real due process -- such as its decision to try the 9/11 defendants in a criminal court -- it is moving in the wrong direction. Obama officials are clearly signaling their intention to reverse that decision and instead place those defendants before military commissions, and yesterday, yet another piece appeared -- this time in Politico -- describing the beautiful, loving, cooperative relationship between Rahm Emanuel and Lindsey Graham, which is now "embracing a wide-ranging deal pitched by Graham that would shut down the prison [at Guantanamo]; provide funding to move detainees to Thomson, Ill.; keep the Sept. 11 trials out of civilian courts; and create broad new powers to hold terror suspects indefinitely." And the endless cavalcade of Rahm-planted, Rahm-Was-Right articles (see the latest from the Post today) invariably features his opposition to civilian trials for accused Terrorists as proof of his Centrist though mistakenly rejected wisdom.
In contrast to America's still-growing refusal to accord basic due process to accused Terrorists, consider how Pakistan treats foreigners whom it apprehends within its borders on serious charges of Terrorism:
SARGODHA, Pakistan -- Prosecutors seeking to indict five Americans on terror-related offenses presented their case to a Pakistani judge Tuesday, laying out charges including waging war against Pakistan and plotting to attack the country, a defense attorney said.
The men, all young Muslims from the Washington, D.C., area, were arrested in December in Punjab province not long after reaching Pakistan. . . . The men could be indicted on as many as seven charges during their next hearing on March 10, lawyer Hamid Malik told The Associated Press. The judge ordered the defense to review the prosecution report presented in the Sargodha town court and to prepare a rebuttal.
If there's any country which can legitimately claim that Islamic radicalism poses an existential threat to its system of government, it's Pakistan. Yet what happens when they want to imprison foreign Terrorism suspects? They indict them and charge them with crimes, put them in their real court system, guarantee them access to lawyers, and can punish them only upon a finding of guilt. Pakistan is hardly the Beacon of Western Justice -- its intelligence service has a long, clear and brutal record of torturing detainees (and these particular suspects claim they were jointly tortured by Pakistani agents and American FBI agents, which both governments deny). But just as is true for virtually every Western nation other than the U.S., Pakistan charges and tries Terrorism suspects in its real court system.
The U.S. -- first under the Bush administration and now, increasingly, under Obama -- is more and more alone in its cowardly insistence that special, new tribunals must be invented, or denied entirely, for those whom it wishes to imprison as Terrorists (along those same lines, my favorite story of the last year continues to be that the U.S. compiled a "hit list" of Afghan citizens it suspected of drug smuggling and thus wanted to assassinate [just as we do for our own citizens suspected of Terrorism], only for Afghan officials -- whom we're there to generously teach about Democracy -- to object on the grounds that the policy would violate their conceptions of due process and the rule of law). Most remarkably, none of this will even slightly deter our self-loving political and media elites from continuing to demand that the Obama administration act as self-anointed International Arbiter of Justice and lecture the rest of the world about their violations of human rights.