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Tom Gerdy Headshot

The Death of the Student Athlete

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CAM NEWTON FATHER BCS CHAMPIONSHIP
AP

Bribery, drugs, gambling, strong-arm tactics, cheating, stealing, and lies make for a full day in the life of a gang or organized crime member. One would think that living in a world that involves such things would make it hard to close your eyes and sleep at night. However, an adjusted and rationalized morality allows these "business" people to take any path necessary to accumulate wealth and power, yet still sleep at night.

A similar adjusted and rationalized morality has allowed bribery, drugs, gambling, strong-arm tactics, cheating, stealing, and lies to become a large part of the world of sports. There has always been pressure to win, but there is now an added phrase to the rhetoric. We have added "at all costs." The past several years in sports have shown us some horrible examples of the win-at-all-costs mentality run amuck.

Some indiscretions seem relatively minor, such as Derek Jeter pretending to have been hit by a pitch to get to first base or the New York Jets strength coach tripping a player on the sideline. Instances of gambling on your sport or drug-induced performances step things up a notch. Figure skating is not even immune to the idea of doing whatever it takes to win, and a leader in that sport took it to the top of the scale. If you aren't sure you can win, a thug just takes out your competition with an iron pipe.

College football crossed the organized crime win-at-all-costs line on several levels this year. Several occurrences involved athletes at schools with perennially nationally ranked football programs. Ohio State and Auburn took a step up the questionable behavior ladder right before their bowl games. Cam Newton's father "allegedly" requested a great deal of money for his son to sign a college scholarship with a certain school. A shell game was used to suspend Cam, then immediately reinstate him, so he could play in the BCS championship game. Ohio State players "allegedly" were caught accepting special compensation from local merchants. The decision was that they could play in their bowl game but would have to sit out five games in 2011. Evidently, the bowl games were more important than the lessons to be learned. After all, they are athletes first and students second. Aren't they?

Sportsmanship used to play a big role in sports, but winning at all costs is progressively moving sportsmanship out of the picture. By definition, sportsmanship involves fairness, courteous treatment of the opposition, and honesty as well as being a good loser and a graceful winner. You don't have to watch most sporting events for too long before you will witness players talking trash, taunting, playing dirty, or throwing a tantrum. It's hard to place the blame totally on the athlete because they learned the behavior honestly while watching some parents at their Little League games. You don't have to listen to much sports news before you will hear about activities of questionable morality and/or honesty connected to one sport or another. I guess sportsmanship has changed.

As low as some athletes have sunk in the name of sports and winning, in 2010 the action of a school administration won the award for totally losing sight of the true prize and the student-athlete. We all saw how it is all about the "W" at the University of Miami. The firing of head football coach Randy Shannon is definitely a low point in the world of college athletics. Miami's program was riddled with problems both on and off the field. In four years, Randy Shannon helped clean up a bad situation and helped many young men get an education. His players' futures were much brighter thanks to his leadership. The term student-athlete meant something to Shannon. He worried about his players as students, young men, and as athletes. In four years, his players' graduation rates rose dramatically, and their troubles with the law all but disappeared. It seems that Randy Shannon lost his job because he believed too much in the term student-athlete. With Shannon as the head coach, Miami's record was 28 wins and 22 losses on the field. It's a shame that we don't count the off-the-field victories when ranking championship programs. If we did, Randy Shannon would be All-World.

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