Letter to the editor: It’s time we had a public dialogue

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ZACHARY LUTZKY / THE FLAT HAT

Last Tuesday, as the Faculty Assembly convened to vote on three motions pertaining to Tribe Athletics and the slashing of seven sports teams, someone sent the faculty an anonymous letter attempting to undermine not only the motions but the faculty members who brought them.

“What are the qualifications of the three faculty members bringing the motion,” this person began, “that would render them experts on this particular topic and having a meaningful and unbiased opinion on athletics?”

Simple: intelligence, concern and duty. No other qualifications are required. When one learns that one’s institution is crying poverty following a $1 billion campaign and then attempts to cut the least expensive of its sports teams as a remedy, there are only two options: ignore or inquire. And who is unbiased? I’d rather have biased faculty who care enough to douse a dumpster fire than unbiased faculty who timidly watch it burn.

“How exactly were the students of these seven programs affected?” the author continued.

For years, they balanced successful academic careers alongside training 20 hours a week, identified their dream school where they could achieve scholastic integrity while also continuing to excel at their sport, arrived eagerly on campus, some for the first time, and then, upon arrival, got punched in the face. These students are experiencing grief, depression, insecurity and guilt. They don’t need you or anyone belittling their predicament or emotions. Yes, they can transfer. The school could have also made its announcement over the summer. It also could have chosen to employ facts. Perhaps some decisions aren’t as simple as they seem.

“For years, they balanced successful academic careers alongside training 20 hours a week, identified their dream school where they could achieve scholastic integrity while also continuing to excel at their sport, arrived eagerly on campus, some for the first time, and then, upon arrival, got punched in the face. These students are experiencing grief, depression, insecurity and guilt. They don’t need you or anyone belittling their predicament or emotions. Yes, they can transfer. The school could have also made its announcement over the summer. It also could have chosen to employ facts. Perhaps some decisions aren’t as simple as they seem.”

“What is the racial composition of the teams in these seven sports compared to the football (FB) and basketball (BB) program [sic], that appear to have been the target of the ire that we have seen these past weeks from select family members and alumni?  Could the motion be viewed as racially insensitive (to say the least), if these sports do differ from FB and BB in terms of diversity?”

We’re all bigots — the “select” thousands of us. I, who swam for the first predominantly Black, elite-level swim team in America (the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, which pioneered racial diversity in aquatics) and helped empower the minuscule Jewish and Black communities on campus by organizing annual Freedom Seders, am, in fact, the biggest bigot of them all.

And you? Where do you stand on the College encouraging young minorities to mush their brains into scrambled eggs every Saturday as inebriated masses scream wildly for their self-destruction? Where do you stand on universities guiding their football players to the blandest course offerings that leave them with vapid degrees and unchallenged intellects, while 98% never go to the NFL? What has William and Mary done to increase diversity without using football? And if we insist on pigeonholing minorities into sports, do you believe these students’ athleticism and work ethic wouldn’t translate to track, wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, if we fostered a cultural paradigm shift?

While we talk about race, let’s add sexuality. Shall I assume you’re a homophobe for condoning the College’s decision to exterminate the very sports — swimming, gymnastics — in which gays often participate?  Is this the finger I should point?  When others say “gays don’t play sports” who should I tell them has stolen their opportunities?  Who should I tell them has ripped apart their community of allies?  As a gay man, please, enlighten me.

“There are issues for example like Title 9, opportunities for minorities to get scholarships, opportunities for alumni and the community to engage (e.g. during a football game), which may lead to benefits that go above and beyond the nominal revenues. Why are we presented with a very simplistic cost analysis when we are missing on all the other parameters of the issue?”

Questioning the professors “simplistic cost analysis” doesn’t compute alongside your own vague, careless, “may lead to” arguments. If intangible benefits like flag-waving and face-painting and other social cues that remind us to be proud were so important to the institution’s newest rubric by which we value teams—1) Division-I identity, 2) financial stability, 3) Title IX compliance—surely, the College would have included it. Football has averaged a loss of $1.06 million a year for the last ten years. Numbers don’t lie. Neither does the tension between Title IX and football. The latter has no women’s analog. Football, with 63 scholarships and 100-plus-person rosters, no matter how you dissect it, is at the heart of virtually every Title IX “issue.”

“If on any issue that impacts a small group of individuals (in this case, students from seven sports, their families, and maybe some alumni who somehow got dragged into this following some intensive email campaign) we need to institute a “Task Force of faculty, staff, students” etc, how will we be able to make any decisions other than simply continuing ad perpetuum doing the same things over and over, just because we used to do them?”

To be clear, no one “got dragged” into anything. We’ve been storming Normandy voluntarily since the moment the school invaded our values. 30 percent is only small if your goal is for Athletics to be comprised primarily of football and basketball players.  Athletics can regain its autonomy when it stops rewarding some teams for hemorrhaging millions — ad perpetuum—while cutting others for becoming increasingly self-sustaining.  If you have five children and one of them won’t stop spending your money, do you punish the other four?

It’s time we had a public dialogue — you, I, this administration, and all the stakeholders who have something to say.

Email D.R. Hildebrand at drhildebrand@hotmail.com.