Writing for the Manhattan Institute’s blog, Jonathan Imber offers some pointed reflections on the student reaction to the recent scandal at Penn State. While our own Joe Carter dealt with the character of the students who were more outraged over the termination of a beloved football coach than they were over the horrific events as a whole on Thursday afternoon, Imber develops some of that initial shock into a larger critique of what he calls the “adolescent mindset” on campuses. Though his scope is broad and his essay raises multiple points of concern, Imber especially courts controversy when he turns his rhetoric against the sport of football itself (or at least its preeminence in the university):
“ . . . student protest at State College turned irrational and violent, vindicating all the critics of football über alles. Football is after all the preeminent expression of American adolescent culture, praised more for the outstanding programs than criticized for the many, many other less than outstanding ones. [ . . . ]
Football may be a metaphor for the game of life, but except for the audience it cultivates and the revenue that audience provides, it has very little to do with life. Pious educators hate that metaphor because so many players in so many sports are shortchanged rather than improved by their participation in such games. [ . . . ] The survival of Penn State, in the end, has to be about its educational mission, not its football program, and this realization will undoubtedly be experienced as one of the great adolescent disappointments of the first part of the twenty-first century.”
Is Imber’s criticism of football’s prominence a misguided attempt to find an easily identifiable target for post-scandal reform, or is he on to something in asserting a link between the place afforded flagship athletics programs, individual student behavior, and campus culture?