a PAW web exclusive column
by Wes Tooke '98 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
11 , 2000:
One of my guilty little
pleasures is that I often read long strings of messages from a few
of the Princeton e-mail lists. I was browsing through a long series
of missives about a week ago when I came across a few entries written
in the wake of basketball player Chris Young '02's decision to sign
a $1.5 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates - a contract
that will preclude him from being able to play basketball for Princeton.
Several writers, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty,
wrote that they felt "betrayed" by Young's defection.
One of the signs of my
advancing age is that I reward arguments with which I disagree with
long, obscenity-laced tirades in the general direction of my computer
screen. Those e-mails received an especially vehement monologue.
The PG version of my speech, as I recall it, went something like,
"Are you telling me that Chris Young should turn down fantastic
money and a great opportunity because he has an obligation to entertain
you for the next two years?"
people rested their case on an argument that I found particularly
objectionable. They claimed that Young "owed" Princeton
something for the favor it had done in admitting and (partially)
educating him. In light of the fact that Young plans on returning
to Princeton for his junior and senior years-to study without playing
sports - that argument rests on the idea that Young can only contribute
something to the Princeton campus if he is playing basketball. And
that opinion demonstrates the ugly kind of intellectual snobbery
toward athletes that often seems ingrained in the subculture of
the Ivy League.
But after a few days
of simmering, I realized that beneath all that parochial stupidity
lay an engaging question: Do Princeton graduates "owe"
the university anything? The Annual Giving numbers alone suggest
that many of us feel on some basic level that we do. After all,
the university spends considerably more on educating us than even
nonscholarship students pay in tuition. But to break things down
to a crass notion of repaying the bill misses the central point
- and, I like to think, the reason that previous generations of
Princetonians gave so generously to the school.
So instead of physically
repaying Princeton, perhaps the best way to level the score with
the university is by representing it well in our chosen professions
- whatever they may be.
In Chris Young's case,
I hope that every time a sports reporter interviews him, the reporter
will walk away thinking that Chris was remarkably courteous, intelligent,
and well-educated for a professional athlete. Since I happen to
know that Chris Young was courteous and intelligent the moment he
arrived at Princeton, I also hope that Chris will use his education
to help leave the game of baseball a little better than he found
And even if Chris never
makes it to the major leagues, I think his story reflects well on
the university. He has proved that a superb athlete can come to
Princeton without giving up his dream of playing professional sports.
I hope that the basketball and baseball teams continue to recruit
and attract athletes who are good enough to turn professional whenever
they choose-and I hope those athletes will all have the good sense
to follow Chris's lead and complete their educations, if not their
collegiate athletic careers.
So good luck, Chris.
Wes Tooke is a regular
contributor to PAW Online. You can reach him at email@example.com