I had an interesting call last night from the editor of the student paper I help advise. Seems a local media outlet had published a story that said many athletes on the school’s big-time sports teams had been using their scholarship money, which was meant to go toward rent and books, for things like mopeds and beer. The kid was worried he’d been scooped and so he sent a reporter after the story and the reporter turned up enough to put together a story for the paper. The editor then wondered if it really was a story, so he called me to bat it around.
In the discussion, I learned that what the athletes were doing wasn’t illegal (nor did the original story claim it was). The money apparently came to them in the form of a check or direct deposit in the amount that was slated to cover the costs of room and books and such. They were told what it was for, but weren’t commanded to use it for such a reason. The editor was arguing that people would be interested in the story, so it probably was a story. I pushed back with the idea that regular students (myself included a long time ago) probably got scholarships and spent the money on stupid crap and that didn’t make the paper. During my doctoral program, I got a pretty heady stipend for doing some teaching and being a graduate researchslave assistant. I can guarantee you, a goodly amount of that money landed on the bar of my local pool hall. (To be fair, I also used some of it to save for a wedding. The Missus and I pretty much ate nothing but Ramen for 18 months as we each put away 1/3 of our net income each month so we could blow it on the best party we could ever hope for. It was totally worth it.)
In the end, we decided that it probably wasn’t really a story, but it left me thinking. We hold athletes to higher standards because they are in the public eye. To some degree, they don’t do a hell of a lot to help themselves, especially at the professional level. There are things athletes do that are criminal, such as Donte Stallworth’s DUI. (As a Browns fan, I’m praying that Stallworth’s mug shot eventually surfaces so they can stop using the picture of him in his Browns jersey for every story about the vehicular manslaughter trial.) There are things they do that are publicly crazy, like the idiot who tried to climb through the drive-through window at Taco Bell after they shorted him a chalupa. (‘Roids, anyone?) There are things they do that are morally bereft, like the stories that keep surfacing about guys like Travis Henry, who has about 1,242,523 kids by just as many women. (Note to Travis: It’s called a condom. Use one. Also, realize that women aren’t vending machines.)
However, there seems to be a trend of having low-grade levels of stupidity leading to hand-wringing and moral outrage when it comes to athletes. I think about this every time I see stories about how collegeathletes are skipping classor blowing scholarship money on beer. We get calls for investigations, arguments against the culture of entitlement and then we go home and watch the Final Four and cheer like hell.
If we really believe that the use of money provided for scholarships like these deserves scrutiny for stupidity, I’m fine with that. If that’s the case, however, let’s be consistent across the board. I’ve yet to see anyone investigate a program like the one in Wisconsin, where valedictorians get a big chunk of their tuition paid for if they attend a state school. You can’t tell me that one of those kids didn’t find beer, weed or sex at college and suddenly drop off the GPA grid.
College is a time in which we do stupid things. It’s how we smarten up for later in life. The scar above your eye from the time you puked so hard on your 21st birthday that you slammed your head into the toilet bowl reminds you not to drink that much any more (or at least put the padded seat down when you do). The time you walked in to a midterm that you didn’t know was going on because you blew off four weeks of class taught you to pay more attention to your surroundings. The “Vanilla Ice Posse Member” tattoo you have on your shoulder reminds you that you should never match fleeting trends with remarkable permanency. Dumb is dumb, but none of this is illegal.
Being stupid is not a crime. And it’s probably not a news story either.