When we last heard from Sally Jenkins, she was saying that the reaction to
the Cole Field House violence was overblown and that what happened at the Duke
game couldn't compare to what happens in Cameron, which in a nutshell is
She's back again, this time with her take on the Knight
Commission recommendations about big-time college athletics, and surprise: she
again embraces minimum standards of behavior and performance. She calls the
Commission out of touch and naive.
Do we totally agree with the Knight Commission? No. And to an extent, she's
correct. John Thompson, who is a major proponent of education, has some
interesting comments here about education and some good things which have
happened and possibilities for more good things.
However, as she has done before, Jenkins has a knee-jerk reaction and doesn't
pay attention to reality herself. Her suggestion that books are meant
for everyone is obvious of course, but are colleges supposed to be nursemaids to
athletes who have no interest at all in books? Why should a school take in
guys like Chris Washburn, Marshall's/Florida's Jason Williams, or Lloyd Daniels
when they have no interest in opening books?
She lines up squarely with Jerry Tarkanian, who once said that if he
got some kids in college who couldn't read or write and they learned to read and
write some, then he had improved their lives, well, ok, but he failed to note
that a) most of the other students could read and write when they got there, and b) subverting his employer profited him directly. Like Tarkanian, Jenkins fails to mention her own vested interest in the continuation of the system.
She says "I'm sorry. I thought the idea was to send more people to
school, not fewer." She is correct in saying that the idea is to get
more people educated, but the mission of the University, in the broader and
higher sense of the word, is not to overcome illiteracy but to refine and expand
knowledge for the literate. There are other paths to the University
for people who, for whatever reason, have not yet mastered the basics. We
agree with Thompson that there is a role for athletics to bring people to
education, but it's a two-way street: you have to show some level of interest
and ability, just as you do in sports. It's not like he was giving scholarhips out to science fair winners who couldn't hit a jump shot.
There are a lot of dumb points in her article, which unfortunately seems
standard for Jenkins, but at bottom, here's what bugs us: consistently, she
seems to identify with the lowest common denominator, to accept the minimally
acceptable standard of performance and behavior - in other people. Whether
it's in the stands, the lockerroom, or the classroom, Jenkins consistently sides
against authority and established norms.
We're not suggesting she should snap on her jackboots or watch Dragnet 24/7,
though we find her fleeting nostalgia for the values of the 60s both touching
and banal ("I learned other things in college, things that were serious
and surprising. I learned that, left unsupervised, I would actually observe
something called an honor code. I learned that when authority is missing,
conscience blooms. I learned disobedience could have a political purpose. I
learned to look for truths hidden by appearances.").
But her tirade comparing Maryland fans to Duke fans was memorable,
and her suggestion here that a concern for the mission of the University
is a snobbish concern of the rich who would like to keep the poor out follows a
pattern of willfully distorting reality: authority inhibits conscience.
Disobedience is a virtue. Physical violence is not as bad as verbal
cruelty. Universities should not reform athletics because that will keep
kids who have no interest in getting an education out of college.
Her contempt for the hypocrisy of the powerful is duly noted, but our suspicion is that her contempt does not end there, and despite her rhetorical gestures of solidarity, her contempt is more grounded in bourgeois values than she would readily admit. Education and democracy are at the root of her argument, but we would be more impressed if a) she actually lives in Washington, and not Virginia or Maryland, and b) she sends any children she might have to public schools in D.C.
Our guess is that she lives in a comfortable suburb or established neighborhood, which would suit her status as columnist for the Washington Post, and that her family, should she have one, is carefully insulated from many of the things she finds acceptable for others.