Tales From the Industrial University

Adam Weinstein posted a gripping essay on Deadspin today. The title is sort of clunky (“Jameis Winston Isn’t [t]he Only Problem Here: An FSU Teacher’s Lament”), but it does encapsulate Weinstein’s main idea, which is that upper-echelon “college” football, as institutionally structured in the contemporary United States, does terrible things to colleges, especially to student-athletes and the people who teach them.

We love football, and we really love winning, and while we might be pseudo-intellectuals who idolize tweedy, critical theory-spouting professors, we hate it when they denigrate the game’s presence on campus. We want to do right by these players. One of mine was from a sugarfield shantytown best known as the AIDS capital of the state. I hope he never goes back. “You’re like, ‘Fucking A, man, this is awesome,'” my co-worker Derek says of teaching big-name players. “You’re part mentor and part fanboy.” (The names of the FSU instructors in this story have been changed to protect their identities and the identities of their students.)

But we’re increasingly flummoxed by the football culture surrounding Tallahassee, one that’s grown malignant with the wins and the scrutiny, like a traditional Islamic country turned radical and defensive, its craziest pilgrims whirling around Doak Campbell Stadium, the black cube at the center of their Mecca. It’s a culture that tells these adolescents that their highest calling is to sacrifice their bodies in the grassy shrine, that all else is distraction. It’s the same culture that’s now undergoing paroxysms of wild paranoia to spin Benghazi- and Trayvon-style conspiracy theories that might explain these obviously baseless allegations against Jameis Winston, the teenager whose prophetic power can reduce old white men to joyful sobbing.

As a football fan who teaches college, I found Weinstein’s narrative chilling, though not very surprising.

I should note that my experience teaching NCAA athletes has been much different, although granted I teach at a school that doesn’t have a football program and isn’t particularly sports-crazy despite being generally obsessed with fitness. The athletes whom I’ve taught have displayed the same wide range of talent, civility, interests, and work ethic as the overall student population; often I don’t even realize who plays sports. That is probably a good thing.

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