Sunday, April 7, 2013

Big Money Sports Provides Training in Bullying and Harassment!: Notes on Rutgers Basketball

Rutgers's biggest problem is not Mike Rice. It's politicians digging into the university's infrastructure - taking the ongoing dismantling of affordable public education to the next level (first attack affordability, then attack the scene of education by taking away its working infrastructure, access to institutional memory, sense of community). As that complex, difficult story unfolds, Rutgers joins the Big 10 - this entry into big money sports is presented to the public as a fix. Because a winning, televised sports program makes a campus rich, right? One story is a cover for the other. 

Over the past four or five decades we've witnessed the emergence of a public culture in which one wants the best of everything - for oneself. That culture is centered in the delusion that all you need (to succeed) is to participate in a great competition - like March Madness or American Idol. All you need is a chance to be a winner! On television! But of course you are just fodder for the production of the image of victory. Even the winner is raw material for the actual product: the televised sport spectacle.  

Of course Mike Rice hurls insults, kicks and throws basketballs at his players. He's an overseer in a system that places the burden of supporting a state's public education on the backs of young, profoundly disenfranchised men. 

Was Mike Rice's behavior abusive? Yes. The whole story is a disaster. Everyone knew. Everyone worried about being sued. And now Eric Murdock (the whistle blower) is under investigation for extortion. How can you hold anything you hear against Murdock? If he had problems with Rice's behavior, real problems, as an assistant to Rice he was in an impossible position. Coming forward with those complaints is a career-killer. A permanent career killer. That is even more true for players. More than a few commentators have remarked on how easily the athletes seemed to take Rice's abuse.

Nothing about football and basketball culture as practiced in the NCAA lines up with the way we understand the right to be free from harassment and abuse. If we understood athletes as having protections similar to, say, employees, then NCAA athletes would be allowed to unionize. They are not. The NCAA works very hard, very hard, to render its athletes into children, students, apprentices, "amateurs" - anything but "professionals" (employees).

What these athletes need - more than this season of head rolling - is the right to organize to stand up for themselves, to improve their working conditions and support their education. They need a much better system, as athletes and as students. They - we - need a better university. 

HEADLINE: Big Time Sports Provides Training in Bullying and Harassment. Players Take It or Walk Away from Career. 

It is news. And, of course, it is not news. Buried underneath these headlines is a darker, more depressing story about the conversion of a great public education system into a giant system of indentured servitude - and here I don't mean the NCAA's exploitation of student athletes, I mean the generations of people that will spend their entire lives servicing unsecured student loan debt. 

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