Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Comparing Sports, Arts Is Dangerous Business

A few weeks ago, I offered up the thoughts of Gary Walters, the distinguished athletic director at Princeton, that sport should be held in the same high regard as art.

I thought it was a rather interesting and cogent opinion for someone to posit, but in the fabled words of the longtime football announcer, Keith Jackson: "Whoa, Nellie!" Never have I suffered such a battering. I think the nicest thing I was called in the responses that poured in, dripping with blood, was "apologist dingbat."

But then, after I withdrew the slings and arrows from my person and assessed the reaction, I realized how almost all the responses didn't really bother to address the question posed: Whether, in fact, sport might be an art. No, they were just mad, full of rage and fury. But it did serve to inform me all the more how much antipathy there does exist toward the American system of school sports.

Here are just a few of the more restrained comments:

"Spare me please! Primary and secondary art and music programs are going the way of the passenger pigeon while college coaching staffs ... are compensated like CEOs."
"When was the last time we heard a news report about the band or orchestra at some ... powerhouse involved in a scandal where students did not take the tests themselves?"
"High school building and renovation plans always include gymnasiums and weight rooms, but auditoriums are more viewed as unnecessary expenditures."

And on and on. I think what exasperates so many people is that the situation only grows more lopsided, that sports in our schools and colleges are not only ascendant, but greedier and more invulnerable than ever.

For prime example, The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that donations to athletic departments have increased dramatically. College stadiums only become more opulent, so-called student-athletes more outrageous.

I'm afraid the game is over. In our American academia, the arts must be satisfied with the leftovers. Just consider the frank words of surrender spoken recently by John V. Lombardi, the president of the Louisiana State University System: "Mega college athletics ... prospers because for the most part we (our faculty, our staff, our alumni, our trustees) want it. We could easily change it, if most of us wanted to change it. All protestations to the contrary, we ... do not want to change it."

But Mr. Lombardi is only echoing what a certain Groucho Marx said in the movie Horse Feathers, when as President Quincy Adams Wagstaff, he asked the faculty: "Have we got a stadium? ... Have we got a college? ... Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow, we start tearing down the college."

That was 75 years ago. It hasn't changed, and, I'm sorry, but good people of the arts: it won't.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford