Big-time college athletics and the mind-body problem

Title IX 6/09/12

Do education and athletics mix? (Photo credit: dianecordell)

Last week, while addressing the issue of gender disparities in sport, I made reference to the problems with Title IX and offered some possible solutions. One sentiment I shared with Francis is that all the issues concerning enforcement of Title IX may be avoided if we separated collegiate athletics from their respective universities.

I must admit that despite being in the most rational of mindsets while reading through the literature, I had a visceral reaction to the possibility of the separation of athletics from academics. The debate on whether or not the growing business of collegiate athletics should continued to be supported by universities brings up the same reaction in me. I fear that if we further devalue sports in comparison to academics, we may pay a huge price health-wise; in body mind and spirit.

Sport in peril

I have written before, in many blog posts (here, here and here), on the theme of separation from our true nature as the primary source of our decline in health and vitality. Every example of this; from medicine to our food supply; is but a symptom of a greater threat.

That threat is what I call the hyper-cerebralization of our society.

Our culture has become much more infatuated with ideas as opposed to experiences. What is conceived within the halls of any given institution of higher learning is taken as gospel by the public whether in medicine, economics, sociology. Very little attention is paid to the well documented lessons from history let alone the oral tradition and intuition we’ve come to accumulate though out our existence as a species. Wisdom we’ve come to know through the millennia long experimentation of our ancestors is rejected for the latest and greatest study from the academy.

Mind over matter

Our athletic identities as expressed through collegiate sports have been under threat of subjugation by the purely intellectual pursuits. Opposition of athletics in universities ranges from accusations of false amateurism (Branch, 2011) to claims that the athletics detract from education (Brand, 2006).

René Descartes's illustration of dualism. Inputs are passed on by the sensory organs to the epiphysis in the brain and from there to the immaterial spirit.

René Descartes’s illustration of dualism. Inputs are passed on by the sensory organs to the epiphysis in the brain and from there to the immaterial spirit.

Myles Brand explains the possible origin of this corporeal sacrifice on the part of the American universities. He notes that our universities were heavily influenced by the 19th-century German scholars who were imported to spread the Humboldtian model of higher education. These post-Enlightenment scholars brought with them the type of rigid materialism and pragmatism that would eventually inspire the work Marx and Engles.

This shift from the metaphysical towards practical application led the Yales, and Harvards of America — originally founded to train clergy — to develop more research-based programs towards solving the more immediate social and technological problems in our developing nation. This was all catalyzed by the Morrill Act of 1862, which granted land to many more institutions for the purpose of research and instruction in the areas of agriculture and engineering.

The over-emphasis on mind before body still exists throughout college campuses everywhere. Sadly, it has even bled in to elementary education as shown by so many school districts that have cut funding for P.E. classes.

Too cool for school

The latest research in biochemistry, neurobiology, psychology and sociology can and will continue to provide us with all the evidence we need to justify a balance of physical and intellectual to those who undervalue collegiate athletics. The work of Dr. John Ratey alone has been enough to change the mind of some educators.

106655160_crop_650x440The final issue to be dealt with by those who wish to see sport remain within the university setting is that of amateurism v. commercialization. Branch gives example after example of the blatant profiteering and exploitation that takes place in the high-profile collegiate sports. He points out that at one point, Cam Newton displayed 15 corporate sponsors on his person at the same time.

Perhaps collegiate athletics should attempt to distance itself from such blatant commercialization; but isn’t industry what drove the explosion of our universities in the 19th century? In those days, academics leveraged the fruits of the industrial revolution and the new railways to bring their ideas, manifested as crops and goods, to the expanding American market. They abandoned their theological mission for one that would translate to more dollars and cents.

We are in dire need of anything that promotes health and physical activity today. In the 19th-century, we were hungry. We had a country to populate and an increased food supply was the most pressing need. We shifted our value from God, to food, equipment, military and other ideas that would translate in to financial stability. Today, that stability deficit lies in our physical bodies. The pendulum has swung far enough towards the mind and now it is time to acknowledge a little more of the body and spirit.

Taken as an isolated issue, the commercialization of NCAA sports should not be sufficient reason to disassemble our current system. If there are other factors (such as Title IX) that would argue for a remodeling of the NCAA, then perhaps we should take a look at both the policy and how it may be better implemented so as to allow for equal opportunity and widespread practice of physical activity.

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