Monday, November 23, 2009

Charles Eliot: Contra-athletics

1906 or so (Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, was a cousin of TS Eliot, and other arrogant, bourgeois puritans yankee edu-crats of the Eliot family)

---CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov. 27. -- """"The athletic outlook at Harvard grows more ambiguous every day, and, with the exception of tennis and rowing, no one can definitely say what games will be allowed by the Overseers and corporation during the coming year. President Charles W. Eliot, since his recent declaration that the discontinuance of football would do the university no harm, made several objections to-day to basket ball, hockey, and even baseball. """"
----"During his tenure, Eliot opposed football and tried unsuccessfully to abolish the game at Harvard. In 1905, The New York Times reported that he called it "a fight whose strategy and ethics are those of war", that violation of rules cannot be prevented, that "the weaker man is considered the legitimate prey of the stronger" and that "no sport is wholesome in which ungenerous or mean acts which easily escape detection contribute to victory."

He also made public objections to baseball, basketball, and hockey. He was quoted as saying that Rowing and Tennis were the only clean sports.[1]

Eliot once said, "Well, this year I'm told the team did well because one pitcher had a fine curve ball. I understand that a curve ball is thrown with a deliberate attempt to deceive. Surely this is not an ability we should want to foster at Harvard."""

We might agree to include Charles Eliot in the Oppressor class (not to say boring, pedantic, protestant, etc), but Eliot was not completely mistaken in regards to athletics. Athletics might be conducive to health, to fostering team spirit, and to generating revenues for a college foundation; but the football team has little or nothing to do with promoting science, scholarship and intellectual endeavors--the raison d'etre of a college or university (or high school for that matter). Heisenbergs are needed; even Hegels might be needed. Hercules are not needed.

The issue of Sports also pertains to representation, and taxation issues. Citizens have no inherent obligation to fund sports at a public university (or high school for that matter). Many American taxpayers (or taxation-minded politicians) complain about funding the Arts, and consider the arts non-essential, yet Sports requires even fewer cognitive abilities than playing classical music does. Playing Beethoven competently demands a scholarship of a sort; pumping iron for football practice does not. And while the health aspects of Sport may have a certain value (tho' injuries quite common as well), students (and all citizens) can certainly exercise and be healthy and strong, without the need of college athletic departments. Ending tax funding for athletics, especially team sports, in public schools--and public universities-- would save California hundreds of millions of dollars.

Athletic departments across the USA are not overly concerned with health per se, however; they are concerned with promoting the business of Athletics, especially that of Ball (whether foot-, basket-, or base-). At both collegiate and professional level, Ball is Big Money, and Universities are all about Big Money, regardless of the few token gestures towards academia, or Beethoven.

Eliot's point on the militaristic aspects of football merits some reflection as well. We might enjoy an athletic battle to some extent, but it's a usually just a matter of brute force (though baseball at least requires quite a bit of skill and coordination). A decent chess match involves a great deal of strategy; an overweight, steroids-fueled thug running over a receiver on the football field doesn't. (to be continued....)


sally said...

this is interesting
when i was at harvard
eliot house was known for its jocks
not quite so much as kirkland house
but still it was the 2nd most popular choice
among the jocks

J said...

Danke for posting Frau S.

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