Wally Renfro plays defense for the organization, and the system it represents, at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
It cannot be a uniformly happy task these days to represent the NCAA in public. In quavering voices, decades-long fans ask how the sports they've loved since childhood could have become so seamy; journalists press the case for systemic change. In the quest for a silver lining, the NCAA's president, Mark Emmert, recently argued that the fact that five high-profile coaches have been fired over the last 14 months -- in scandals ranging from child rape to academic fraud -- was actually a sign of returning health.
It fell today to Wally Renfro, the vice president and chief policy adviser to the NCAA, to defend his association, while seated on a stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival between what a defender of the status quo might regard as the Scylla and Charybdis of reform: On his right, Taylor Branch, the civil rights historian and author of an article in The Atlantic last fall decrying "The Shame of College Sports"; and on his left, Joe Nocera, who since Branch's article has used his New York Times column to conduct something of a crusade against the NCAA.
It did not much help Renfro that two seats away, to Branch's right, sat Craig Robinson, the men's basketball head coach at Oregon State University, who repeatedly testified to the moral confusion of the existing system. Robinson said that even if "100 percent of my guys" graduated, if the team performed badly, he would lose his job. "It doesn't matter who my sister is," he added. His sister is Michelle Obama.
Robinson said that his efforts to balance the "educational part" and the "entertainment part" of the "big business" of college sports made him unusual. "I'm sort of the exception to the rule," he said, explaining that some of his counterparts "are in this game solely for monetary gain."
While acknowledging flaws in the system, Renfro laid down three main lines of defense:
It was ever thus: "I've been with the NCAA 40 years, and this is the third or fourth cycle of crossroads I've been through," he observed at one point, and at another: "There have been scandals as long as I can remember.... We're just imperfect as human beings."
The colleges themselves are to blame for many of the problems, including low academic standards. "It's just patently wrong -- I wanted to use the word immoral -- to bring in people who can't be academically successful."
It is the informed choice of college athletes to accept the status of unpaid amateurs in order to participate in the NCAA system. This was the argument he returned to most insistently. "Those who choose to play understand that. They can go to Europe and play. They can go to the pros."
This last argument clearly exasperated Nocera, who repeatedly insisted that athletes dreaming of pro football careers, in particular, had no real choice but to pass through an exploitive college system. In baseball and hockey, he said, athletes did have a "legitimate choice" -- minor leagues, where players are paid -- that worked quite well. "You're running a business," Nocera finally snapped. "You have employees, you should pay them -- it's really that simple." Renfro did not respond.
Branch argued that the NCAA's regime stripped athletes of basic rights. "It's imposed on the athletes without their consent," he said. "The athletes are not members of the NCAA. They don't have a vote." Warming to his argument, he described a hypocritically paternalistic system that forced "the blessings of being an amateur" upon athletes who earned millions for their universities. "North Korea is the only country in the world that has this level of control over people," he said.
To the argument, offered by the moderator, that college scholarships represented compensation for athletes' work, Branch shot back: "It's like saying because your employer provides health care you don't need or deserve a salary."
Beyond asserting that athletes voluntarily enter the NCAA system, Renfro never directly addressed Branch's argument about rights, though he did seem to get tired of hearing it. At one point, he reached out and patted Branch's arm. "Man, I've got a lot of respect for you as a civil rights historian, and I'm so glad about that." The implication appeared to be that he didn't have an equal amount of respect for him as a critic of college sports.
Asked if the present system would exist in its current form would exist in ten years, only Renfro, of the four panelists, said that it would.
But Renfro was by no means indifferent to the scandals. Pressed about the "underground economy" fueled by poor kids' dreams of pro basketball careers, he said with unmistakeable sadness, "Basketball right now has probably the dirtiest underbelly of any collegiate sport."
He added, "I'm really sick of heart for that -- I don't know how to fix it."
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
Jim Gilmore joins Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, and leaves the race after a poor showing in New Hampshire.
Jim Gilmore’s candidacy this year was improbable—but even more improbable was the minor cult of personality that developed around it.
The former Virginia governor never had a chance. Not, like, in the sense of Lindsey Graham, a candidate with national standing but no path to the presidency. More in the George Pataki sense: a guy who had no real business in race, but was running anyway. Except that Gilmore made Pataki look like a juggernaut. Also, Pataki saw the writing on the wall and had the sense to drop out in late December. Gilmore soldiered on, and ended up as the last of the truly longshots to leave.
The result was that Gilmore turned into a sort of folk hero. Not for voters, mind you—he managed only 12 votes in Iowa and 125 in New Hampshire, and his campaign was funded largely by loans from himself. Because of his low support in the polls, Gilmore only made the cut for the very first kid’s-table debate in August, and then again for the undercard in late January. Other than that, he was shut out completely.
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A photo series reveals what expectant mothers in various countries bring with them to the hospital.
For most expecting mothers in the Western world, a hospital bag is something that makes the birthing process marginally more comfortable. You’ve just brought a new being into the world; you deserve to wear your own sweatpants.
But in some parts of the world, hospitals are so bare-bones that women in labor must tote everything with them, from rubber gloves to water pans to gauze.
To draw attention to the difficulty of giving birth in regions where water is scarce, the organization WaterAid recently dispatched photographers to ask expecting and brand-new moms in various countries to open up their hospital bags. Here are their photos, as well as lightly edited interviews with the moms conducted by WaterAid.