Web Exclusives:

Tooke's Take

a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

October 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?"

The "betrayed" 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 it.

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 cwtooke@princeton.edu