Short Column: On Northwestern, the Poisonous Culture of College Athletics & a Potential Path to Change

| July 27th, 2023

I went to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, a noted football powerhouse. During the years I attended the school, 1996-2000, we were anything but a powerhouse. I don’t remember the records each season but I’m pretty certain we lost more games than we won, and the student body enjoyed the work of our mascots, the Marauder and Henchmen, of which I was a proud member of the latter, more than the play of the athletes on the field.

Nevertheless, during this period, the football players had the run of the school. When they didn’t want to go to class, they didn’t, claiming they required medical attention. When teachers challenged their absences, they were strong-armed by head football coach Rich Hansen and the athletics department. Remember, these guys were not “bigger than life” on campus. They were crappy football players on a crappy football team. Nobody was afraid of them. But that didn’t matter. The fear that existed, if that’s the right word, was of the empowered athletic department.

I thought about St. Peter’s Prep as the stories of hazing at Northwestern became national news, due to the brilliant student journalism at The Daily Northwestern. This is not the space to rehash those heinous allegations, but as the stories now circulate through the whole of the university’s athletics department, one thing is clear: the relationship between academic institutions and athletics has been irrevocably broken by an economic empowerment of those running athletic programs and a cult-like exaltation of the most comically fraudulent label in our culture, the “student-athlete.”

College athletics, and mostly college football, is an abhorrent, repulsive, corrupt business. Universities salivate over the financial windfall provided an elite football (or sometimes basketball) program and relish the increase in application rate that accompanies that success. But the culture of college football is forged on pee wee and high school fields all over the country, every day. Coaches are adorned with an absurd infallibility, as if they’re not just guys who likes whistles and got a discount on dry erase boards down the local Walmart. Parents behave like grotesqueries; surrealist portraits of what it means to be an adult and raise a child. And the children, who are still children even when they’ve enrolled at university, simply don’t know any better. That is why when these allegations surfaced against Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, his players quickly released a group statement in his support. Not because they believe their behavior as a football team was okay, but because they were never taught to know any better.

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