04/08/2013 04:58 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2013

American Values at Rutgers

With Rutgers University's Mike Rice video and subsequent firing now in the news, many are tempted to talk about the special treatment given to sports. This conversation makes me wonder, which special treatment are they talking about?
• Is it the fact that children who show athletic talent receive preferential treatment in school?
• Is it the fact that children who show athletic promise are more likely to receive financial support to go to colleges?
• Is it the fact that college athletes are sources of revenue for their schools and so the school bends over backwards to ensure that the top athletes can keep playing?
• Is it the fact that college coaches at large schools get paid substantially more than top researchers?
• Is it the fact that a coach's behavior is ignored by a university president unless a video goes viral while a hint of similar behavior from an academic lecturer would likely produce an immediate firing?

No matter which special treatment for sports you find most objectionable, the reality is that sports receives preferential treatment throughout our society. This preferential treatment is a reflection of American values since the values of individuals, groups and even societies are reflected in how time and money are spent.

American society has made it very clear that it values entertainment and athletics more than many other aspects of society. For the brief moment when they are viewed as special, we reward our entertainers and athletes by showering them with an inordinate amount of attention and large salaries. Then we move on to the next batch.

While time and money are being lavished on entertainment and sports, the foundations of society are being hallowed out. Our educational system, formerly the leading public education system in the world, is deteriorating while America's astronomical incarceration rate persists. Investments in America's infrastructure are ignored while millions stay riveted to March Madness and American Idol.

Is it nature or nurture that is driving our increasingly short attention spans and need for distractions? Why are political messages dumbed down to soundbites? Where is the space for intelligent discourse in America? Where is the demand for this discourse?

Media attention is focused this week on Mike Rice and Rutgers University but it will soon move on to some other snappy sports or entertainment story.

Rome was distracted by bread and circuses. America reaches for potato chips and TV while its future whittles away.

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