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More letters from alumni about Student athletes

August 2, 2001

I am writing in response to the letter of George Showman '99 that appeared in the July 4 issue of PAW with regard to the issue of student-athletes. I found the letter not only poorly reasoned, but also offensive in its reliance upon stereotypes, unsupported generalizations, and prejudice. In the name of free speech, I welcome the appearance of that letter, but I would be surprised if I am the only alumnus/alumna to take offense at it.

Mr. Showman wrote that "I think the presence of recruited athletes detracted appreciably from my Princeton experience." It would seem just as likely that there have been undergraduates, especially those who hold dear the belief in the classical Greek ideal of a sound mind in a sound body, who feel as though the presence of unathletic classmates "detracted appreciably" from their Princeton experience. Mr. Showman is entitled to his viewpoint, but it seems like a sad, petty reaction to his surroundings. As both a recruited athlete (though I did not come to Princeton expressly "to play [my sport]" and a philosophy major, I find his letter pitiful for more reasons than I can name, not the least of which is that the degree to which it relies on narrow-minded stereotypes, hearsay, and faulty reasoning is contrary to Princeton's intellectual and moral principles. Liberal education is meant to broaden the mind, not narrow it. At Princeton we are supposed to team to investigate thoroughly before drawing conclusions and not to judge others based solely on surface impressions.

Mr. Showman refers to classes that "all undergrads knew to be easy and therefore attractive to elite athletes (there is a long list, and it is common knowledge." How is "elite athletes" defined here? Football and basketball players? Golfers? Crew? Wrestlers? Cross-country runners? Volleyball players? Upon what is that assertion based? A survey of a majority of Princeton's elite athletes? Earnest conversations with a majority of them'? Did he study with them? That assumption barely rises above the level of pure teenage speculation. And how absurd can it be to base an argument that condemns a class of people on "common knowledge." Being common knowledge is hardly a guarantee of validity; in fact it has sometimes been a guarantee of the reverse. Perhaps it is appropriate to remind Mr.Showman and his merry band of Chaucerian minstrels that it was once common knowledge that the Earth was flat or that some races are superior to others or that the application of leeches is the best way to treat illness. So much for common knowledge.

It is just as vile and illogical to assume that the elite athlete as a matter of course lacks intellectual prowess as it is to assume that the intellectual lacks physical prowess. This assumption, upon which Mr.Showman relies, is the result of a pernicious stereotype that

developed only in recent centuries. My own athletic and academic experience at Princeton showed me this. It was not unusual to hear athletes at practice or on road trips discussing theoretical physics, poetry, philosophical issues of personal identity, Hume's views on social convention, or the intricacies of biology. Our players discussed all the many mundane subjects of life as well, but the point is, these student-athletes were no less intellectual than any other students at Princeton, including Mr. Showman's acquaintances. (If anything, though, they were much better rounded human beings because they also possessed superior physical abilities. I am much more impressed by a theoretical physicist who also has a 40" vertical leap than I am by a Chaucerian scholar who has no muscular development.) Perhaps it should be pointed out that some people choose not to fall into a type; some people choose not to wear their intellectuality on their sleeve, not out of cretinism, but out of humility or even out of an adherence to the Nietzschean principle of the mask, which says that "that which is profound loves masks." I am just as ready to assume that about an athlete at Princeton as I am to assume that he is by definition less intelligent than his scrawny classmates.

Mr. Showman also states, "I simply don't think Princeton can offer both an outstanding academic and an outstanding varsity athletic experience (if you call winning a national championship outstanding)." I fail to see how anyone can make this remark without finding out directly from members or our national championship teams, such as men's lacrosse, what their academic experience was like. No mention is made by Mr. Showman of ever having spoken to or gotten to know such athletes. The remark is at best extremely presumptuous.

As a teacher and a coach, I regularly remind my students and athletes, to inspire them, that people who are one-dimensional, who are either excellent students or excellent athletes but not both, are, if not a dime a dozen, certainly neither as special nor as impressive as one might imagine. The truly special are those who excel in both areas, living embodiments of the Greek ideal or of Rodin's athletic sculpture "The Thinker." This is a value that was reinforced in me by Princeton. Elite athletes show others what human beings are capable of through superhuman self-discipline, determination, and poise. If Princeton were populated by only the one-dimensional intellectual, the type Mr. Showman seems to exalt, instead of the athletic intellectual, a more complete person, then it would be a much poorer place in all respects. On a purely factual level, I recommend that Mr. Showman review the statistics on graduation rates; most years that rate for athletes is higher than it is for nonathletes.

I have noticed at Princeton and outside Princeton that no one group has a monopoly on Philistinism. I encountered as many anti-intellectual nonathletes as anti-intellectual athletes during my enjoyable undergraduate days. It is very poor reasoning on the part of Mr. Showman to attach these attitudes only to elite athletes. Isn't it ironic that his letter appears in the same issue of PAW that shows us an honorary degree being bestowed upon William Russell, one of the greatest basketball players in history, the greatest champion in the history of team sports in America, and one of the most powerful minds any of us could hope to meet?

Because to do so would be too easy, I will resist the temptation to see Mr. Showman's letter as a self-indulgent, poorly disguised expression of individual insecurity. I find it instead very disappointing that such a poorly designed presentation could emerge from a Princeton pen.

Anyone who reveres reason, logic, open-mindedness, tolerance, and critical self-examination would be just as disappointed. However, if PAW's purpose in publishing Mr. Showman's letter is to remind us by counterexample of the intellectual and moral principles we are supposed to acquire at Princeton and carry with us beyond Princeton, then it has succeeded brilliantly. For that, PAW, I heartily thank you.

Peter J. Greenhill '81
Honolulu, Hawaii

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August 2, 2001

I am writing in response to the letter from George Showman '99 (July 4, 2001) in which he at some length states his objection to the recruiting of "athletes" and his preference for poetry-spouting Frisbee players.

George, get lost.

Dan Carmichael '41
Columbus, Ohio

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July 23, 2001

In his letter indicting Princeton's recruiting of student athletes, and in asserting the general incompatibility of study and athletics, George Showman '99 gives as an example of a "positive athletic experience on campus" the Princeton Ultimate Frisbee team, Clockwork Orange. Mr. Showman characterizes the team as made up of kids who couldn't make it in other sports, and who hadn't come to Princeton to play Ultimate, but had come together to enjoy the pleasures and lessons of team sports, while still retaining their cultured, "interesting" side. According to Showman, team members also had their priorities straight: when school work got serious, they would "let their sport fall by the wayside."

I am currently the head captain of Clockwork Orange, and I can say that Mr. Showman's notion of Clockwork Ultimate as a paridisical sort of bookish man's hobby-sport is completely inaccurate.

First, it is not true that Ultimate players are kids who weren't good enough to play other sports. Most of our players played varsity sports in high school, and a few of the were on junior varsity squads here at Princeton. Ultimate at the college and club level is a hard-played, fast-paced, physically demanding sport. It requires you to be in excellent practice and shape. During the spring, Clockwork has regular conditioning sessions in addition to our regular thrice a week practices.

Second, it is not true that nobody ever came to Princeton to play Ultimate. Ultimate was not the only reason I came here, but it was one of them, and I am not the only person on the team who factored in Princeton's Ultimate team when I applied and chose to come here.

Third, it is not true that we drop Ultimate like a brick the second school work intensifies. Clockwork, as you might have inferred by this point, is made of a hard-working, competitive, committed group of guys who really enjoy Ultimate and, through that work and commitment, aim to achieve team success. The lack of commitment that Mr. Showman extols as a virtue is absolutely revolting to me, and to everyone on the team that works hard, and makes sacrifices for its benefit. When work intensifies, members of Clockwork occasionally miss a practice or two. Generally, they deal, and work harder, and manage their time all the better (just like having a job in college makes one do).

It is true that I wasn't here when Mr. Showman "practiced" with the team in the late '90s. However, I know a lot about the players who composed the team then, and they were just as hard-working, committed, and intense as the players today. Denis Hu '99, who would have been the captain at the time Mr. Showman says he played with the team, is famous for being, perhaps, the most hard-nosed, intense competitor ever on the team. If Mr. Showman had ever told Denis Hu that he was letting ultimate "fall by the wayside" for a period because he had an Econ test, I expect Denis would have had the same response that I would have: "Don't bother coming back."

Jacob Dee GS
Princeton, N.J.
Head Captain
Clockwork Orange

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July 16, 2001

George Showman '99's letter trashing athletes on campus was interesting. What a shame George failed to learn that one of Princeton's core values is a commitment to excellence in all fields of endeavor.

Hopefully young George will mature, overcome his fears, and come to appreciate that every community's sustainability is dependent upon people with diverse talents and backgrounds.

Intolerance of any kind is unacceptable, even if the object of derision is guilty of wearing a sports bra or jockstrap.

Jim Petrucci '86
Flemington, N.J.
Coaptain 1985 varsity football

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July 12, 2001

I take offense at George Showman '99's letter in the July 4 issue of PAW. Mr. Showman claims that the "presence of recruited athletes detracted considerably [his] Princeton experience" and that "an outstanding academic and an outstanding varsity athletic experience . . . are mutually exclusive." The gross generalizations in his letter do a disservice to all student athletes.

Since I was a graduate student at Princeton, I was not able to compete on Princeton's varsity athletic teams. However, I did have the pleasure and honor of being a volunteer assistant men's track and cross-country coach from 1994-99. During that time I saw many dedicated student-athletes who had success both in the classroom and on the track. I cannot speak for other sports since I was only involved with the track and cross-country teams. However, since Mr. Showman neglected to provide any statistics or even any specific examples to back up his assertion that academic and athletic success are mutually exclusive, I do not feel the need to provide statistics to the contrary. I can, however, provide examples which disprove Mr. Showman's claim.

Scott Anderson '96 was an All-America miler at Princeton while majoring in economics. His academic work was of such a high quality that the NCAA awarded him a graduate fellowship, which he will use to attend the University of Chicago business school this fall. Since graduating, Mr. Anderson has run professionally, including going to the Olympic Trials, while working as an economist at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

Craig Anne Lake '95 was another successful student-athlete I became acquainted with during my time at Princeton. Ms. Lake has gone on to coach track and cross country at Columbia University. Under her short tenure, Columbia's women's teams have gone from last place finishers to contenders at the Heptagonal Championships. During that time, Ms. Lake has also received a master's degree from Columbia University, and still manages to both coach and run with her team.

Peter Kimball '98 was a Heptagonal champion in the 800 meters while at Princeton pursuing his economics degree. After graduation, he ran track professionally while working for the prestigious Brookings Institution. He has since left the Brookings Institution to start his own company involved in economic data collection and dissemination.

These three athletes are just a few of a large number of successful student-athletes I met at Princeton. In each case, their academic and athletic success continued beyond the time they spent at Princeton. Perhaps these were not the type of student athletes Mr. Showman met in his classes. I find it more likely, though, that Mr. Showman was surrounded by athletes like this his entire time at Princeton but did not know it because he was blind to the fact that some of his fellow scholars may have had talents outside the classroom as well.

Jason Rhodes *99
Princeton, N.J.

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May 31, 2001

I am thrilled to see the issue of recruited athletes back on the table, because I think the presence of recruited athletes detracted appreciably from my Princeton experience.

Though I avoided the classes that all undergrads knew to be easy and therefore attractive to elite athletes (there is a long list, and it is common knowledge), I found that many of the athletes in my classes would show up without having read the material and, much more seriously, unready even to try to engage in the subject matter.

I think this is simply because elite athletes don't have the time and energy to also be elite students. Not only must varsity athletes attend rigorous practices, but through team bonding they are drawn into powerful social cliques that swallow much of their off-field time and, through mechanisms too complex to enter into here, deprecate academic pursuits.

I simply don't think Princeton can offer both an outstanding academic and an outstanding varsity athletic experience (if you call winning a national championship outstanding); the two are mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, the best athletic experience depends on a sense of personal and team honour, and respect for the opponent, rather than from dreams of national glory and a potential future as a pro.

Not that I accuse Princeton's varsity athletes of bad spirit, but our current system certainly promotes something other than the fundamentals of sport. It must do so, because the fundamentals of sport come easily, without high price tags and elite training. As an example of what I consider a good athletic experience on campus, I offer Clockwork Orange, the Princeton Ultimate Frisbee team(s).

Ultimate is a club sport, administered completely by students themselves, and receives very little funding other than field-space from the university last I heard. When I used to practice with the team, in the late '90s, there were perhaps 30 students, men and women, who would come out to two or three practices a week and drive long distances to weekend tournaments. Often Ultimate players would be those who hadn't made it in other sports - I had never played any sport well - and it was beautiful to see these people learn and teach each other all the lessons that team sports offer.

The kicker is that these kids were really interesting people, who would mock each other in pregame poetry (I remember one particularly grand spoof of Chaucer that went on for pages and pages), and who, when exams came around, would let their sport fall by the side so that they could achieve their academic goals. None of them had "come to Princeton to play Ultimate."

Princeton's recruiting of athletes is equivalent to offering sports scholarships, because the degree is valuable and is made affordable to all who are admitted.

It is my fervent wish for Princeton that the administration will someday find the chutzpah to abolish recruitment.

The athletics department will then be able to focus on supporting sport as a spirit-building rather than a horn-blowing activity.

With due respect to the exceptional, true "student-athletes",

George Showman '99
Montreal, Canada

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W.E. Schiesser *60 tells us (Letters, May 16) that the ambitions of the athlete lie not with her studies but her tournaments. No doubt he is an honorable teacher, schooled in the learned arts. Not to disprove what Mr. Schiesser spoke, but these learned arts unfortunately do not extend to matters of grammar, syntax, and rhetoric. I should do Mr. Schiesser wrong, though, were I merely to attack, without split infinitive, the form of his plain blunt speech.

Surely this honorable teacher gladly would have adjusted his schedule to tutor the athlete of whom he wrote. Of course, from the athlete's response, it appears that she was offered a single appointment, which she could not attend. (Perhaps some details were omitted from Mr. Schiesser's small, half-page column.) I assume the same fate would befall an English major who had not "the writ, nor words, nor worth, action, nor utterance" to devote all treasured time to Mr. Schiesser's engineering class. But I certainly see the merits of the singular pursuit of the "computer code" as I drive home each day through the diminished shadows of Silicon Valley.

There are places for these singular pursuits; thankfully, Princeton is not such a place. The rich legacy of Princeton is embodied in the distribution requirements, encouraging exposure to a variegated palette of education. Fortunately, that education includes athletic endeavors. So, in answer to the seemingly rhetorical question of the honorable teacher, it sounds as if physical therapy and training for a tournament might be far more important than the creation of some computer code, given the options. And a true question for Mr. Schiesser: Did you even ask the nature of the "tournament?"

R. Wardell Loveland '81
Redwood City, Calif.

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Concerning the statement in Brian Casazza's letter (April 4): "How many other heavily involved students have to study on buses under dim light, miss classes and labs for travel, and start studying when they are exhausted from four hours of grueling practice or games?", this is an accurate description of the circumstances that athletes often face resulting in poor academic performance. I can certify based on many years of teaching that the effect of these circumstances is often quite apparent.

For example, during the past few days I received an e-mail from a student indicating she could not write a computer program I had assigned to the class. I replied that I would be in my office the following day and would be glad to sit down with her and work out the program. She responded that she could not come because of having to go to physical therapy after class followed by practice for an upcoming tournament.

What is more important -- learning to formulate a problem and write a computer code to analyze it, or attend practice and a tournament? If the answer is the latter, then I think it is not possible to learn all that has to be learned in a demanding field such as engineering under these circumstances. It is not fair to the faculty to continually be asked to accommodate such disruptions in the teaching schedule with additional assistance, make-up quizzes, and make-up labs. If we were asked to do this for the entire class, our courses would be dysfunctional.

I think student/athletes have to decide what is more important, academics or athletics, because generally there isn't time to do both well.

I suggest completion of the academic program and degree is the better choice. The athletics can still be included on campus, as time permits, or after completion of the degree.

W. E. Schiesser *60
Bethlehem, Pa.

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Unlike Brian A. Casazza '87 and J. Kenneth Looloian '43, I think Bowen and Shulman's The Game of Life is on the mark. My four years on the swimming team was a wonderful experience. But the basic reason I attended Princeton was to become what Mr. Casazza refers to as a "proper-minded intellectual." Isn't that the rationale for having a distinguished faculty? Games, parties, sprees, meets, bull sessions, etc. were welcome diversions, important but secondary; playing fields and dance floors are always available. Intellectual stimulation is not.

While we should all respect athletic achievement, we don't need winning teams to be a great university.

Joe Illick '56
San Francisco, Calif.

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