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Home/Rod Dreher/Professor Recants Love Of College Football

Professor Recants Love Of College Football

You thought college football was innocent fun? Check your white privilege! (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Early in the Live Not By Liesproject, I gathered information from Eastern bloc émigrés to the US, trying to see what they meant when they said that America today was starting to remind them of life under communism. One of the things I heard over and over from academics had to do with the compulsion to confess one’s supposed sins against woke ideology, and to abase oneself for having violated ideological purity. Czechs talked about the show trials of the early 1950s, in particular.

Today, Inside Higher Ed publishes a spectacular example of this in American academia. A sad and broken man named Matthew J. Mayhew, a professor at Ohio State, denounces himself for — well, read it for yourself. Excerpts:

I recently led a piece in Inside Higher Ed titled “Why America Needs College Football.” I am sorry for the hurt, sadness, frustration, fatigue, exhaustion and pain this article has caused anyone, but specifically Black students in the higher education community and beyond.

I am struggling to find the words to communicate the deep ache for the damage I have done. I don’t want to write anything that further deepens the pain experienced by my ignorance related to Black male athletes and the Black community at any time, but especially in light of the national racial unrest. I also don’t want to write anything that suggests that antiracist learning is quick or easy. This is the beginning of a very long process, one that started with learning about the empirical work related to Black college football athletes.

Rather than make excuses, I should talk about which facets of the article that I have recently learned are harmful — through my students, wider social media community and distinguished academics like Donna FordJoy Gaston Gayles and Gilman Whiting.

I learned that I could have titled the piece “Why America Needs Black Athletes.” I learned that Black men putting their bodies on the line for my enjoyment is inspired and maintained by my uninformed and disconnected whiteness and, as written in my previous article, positions student athletes as white property. I have learned that I placed the onus of responsibility for democratic healing on Black communities whose very lives are in danger every single day and that this notion of “democratic healing” is especially problematic since the Black community can’t benefit from ideals they can’t access. I have learned that words like “distraction” and “cheer” erase the present painful moments within the nation and especially the Black community.

More:

I am just beginning to understand how I have harmed communities of color with my words. I am learning that my words — my uninformed, careless words — often express an ideology wrought in whiteness and privilege. I am learning that my commitment to diversity has been performative, ignoring the pain the Black community and other communities of color have endured in this country. I am learning that I am not as knowledgeable as I thought I was, not as antiracist that thought I was, not as careful as I thought I was. For all of these, I sincerely apologize.

Read it all. I can’t decide whether it’s hilarious, or a sign of terrible psychosis.

Here is an excerpt from Live Not By Lies:

Heda Margolius Kovály, a disillusioned Czech communist whose husband was executed after a 1952 show trial, reflects on the willingness of people to turn their backs on the truth for the sake of an ideological cause.

It is not hard for a totalitarian regime to keep people ignorant. Once you relinquish your freedom for the sake of “understood necessity,” for Party discipline, for conformity with the regime, for the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, or for any of the substitutes that are so convincingly offered, you cede your claim to the truth. Slowly, drop by drop, your life begins to ooze away just as surely as if you had slashed your wrists; you have voluntarily condemned yourself to helplessness.

Matthew Mayhew does not think college football is racist. He has been psychologically brutalized by bullies into thinking that something innocent that he loved is somehow counterrevolutionary poison. Here’s a link to the piece he wrote last week talking about how great college football is, and how it can bring us together through this Covid crisis. Excerpt:

This election season has demonstrated how stifled, polarized and dangerous our political differences have become, and college football can remind us of respect — even in the wake of deep disagreement. We can root for different teams, scream at the players, argue with the refs and question the coaches, but win or lose, at the end of the day, we leave the stadium, watch party or tailgate with a sense of respect for the game and the athletes that train so hard, leaving it all out on the field every time. Indeed, if a player is injured, the entire stadium usually applauds, not just fans from one team.

Deep difference doesn’t have to lead to disrespect.

In addition, football players become beloved community figures beyond the boundaries of the stadium or campus. Football gives players a platform to make statements about issues they care about. We have seen student athletes taking part in protests and making demands for racial equity. We have seen student athletes kneel to protest police brutality. Colleges and universities should take many more steps to empower athletes to engage with the community. Depriving them the opportunity to play doesn’t accomplish that goal.

Finally, let’s not forget how low the morale of this country has been over the last six months or so. People are fed up with the new conditions and limitations that the coronavirus forced onto their lives, and they need an outlet. They need those lost football Saturdays gathered around the TV. The need the socially responsible tailgate as a means of experiencing some modicum of normalcy. This all may not make sense for the people who did not grow up in places where college football was part of the identity of the state. Here in Ohio, everyone is a Buckeye.

It took only five days for this professor — a man who is quite accomplished — to be reduced to begging forgiveness for the ideological crime of liking college football.

In this excerpt from Live Not By Lies, the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz talks about why people like Matthew Mayhew succumb to totalitarianism — and why the collapse of a college professor is a bigger deal than we might think:

It’s possible to miss the onslaught of totalitarianism, precisely because we have a misunderstanding of how its power works. In 1951, poet and literary critic Czesław Miłosz, exiled to the West from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident, wrote that Western people misunderstand the nature of communism because they think of it only in terms of “might and coercion.”

“That is wrong,” he wrote. “There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.”

In The Captive Mind, Miłosz said that communist ideology filled a void that had opened in the lives of early twentieth-century intellectuals, most of whom had ceased to believe in religion.

Today’s left-wing totalitarianism once again appeals to an internal hunger, specifically the hunger for a just society, one that vindicates and liberates the historical victims of oppression. It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings of “victims” to bring about “social justice.”

The contemporary cult of social justice identifies members of certain social groups as victimizers, as scapegoats, and calls for their suppression as a matter of righteousness. In this way, the so-called social justice warriors, (aka SJWs), who started out as liberals animated by an urgent compassion, end by abandoning authentic liberalism and embracing an aggressive and punitive politics that resembles Bolshevism, as the Soviet style of communism was first called.

What you learn when you dive into the histories and the literature of the Soviet era is that it was not uncommon for true-believing Communists to denounce themselves, even if they knew that it was a lie, and that they had done no wrong. It was more important for them to preserve the Dream that gave their lives meaning than to even save their own lives. If they had to be destroyed to protect the Lie, so be it.

What a horror show academia has become as the Woke Revolution has proceeded. I can’t say it enough, though: do not think for a minute that this is going to stay on campus, and only affect academics. This way of thinking is spreading like a virus through lots of American institutions. One more passage from Live Not By Lies speaks to the dangers from these ideas being taken up by networks of intellectual elites:

In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter. Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed networks and powerful institutions.”

This is why it is critically important to keep an eye on intellectual discourse. Those who do not will leave the gates unguarded. As the Polish dissident and émigré Czesław Miłosz put it, “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.”

Arendt warns that the twentieth-century totalitarian experience shows how a determined and skillful minority can come to rule over an indifferent and disengaged majority. In our time, most people regard the politically correct insanity of campus radicals as not worthy of attention. They mock them as “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”

This is a serious mistake. In radicalizing the broader class of elites, social justice warriors (SJWs) are playing a similar historic role to the Bolsheviks in prerevolutionary Russia. SJW ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice—as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy—functions as a pseudo-religion. Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, SJW ideals are transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.

Did you ever think college football would be stained by cultural politics? As the Bolsheviks taught, there is no such thing as, for example, “football for football’s sake.” Everything is political. That is what it means to live in a totalitarian society.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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