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."
Orr: “Sometimes a thing happens. Splits your life. There’s a before and after. I got like five of them at this point.”
This was Frank offering a pep talk to the son of his murdered former henchman Stan in tonight’s episode. (More on this in a moment.) But it’s also a line that captures this season of True Detective so perfectly that it almost seems like a form of subliminal self-critique.
Remember when Ray got shot in episode two and appeared to be dead but came back with a renewed sense of purpose and stopped drinking. No? That’s okay. Neither does the show: It was essentially forgotten after the subsequent episode. Remember when half a dozen (or more) Vinci cops were killed in a bloody shootout along with dozen(s?) of civilians? No? Fine: True Detective’s left that behind, too. Unless I missed it, there was not a single mention of this nationally historic bloodbath tonight.
How a radical epilepsy treatment in the early 20th century paved the way for modern-day understandings of perception, consciousness, and the self
In 1939, a group of 10 people between the ages of 10 and 43, all with epilepsy, traveled to the University of Rochester Medical Center, where they would become the first people to undergo a radical new surgery.
The patients were there because they all struggled with violent and uncontrollable seizures. The procedure they were about to have was untested on humans, but they were desperate—none of the standard drug therapies for seizures had worked.
Between February and May of 1939, their surgeon William Van Wagenen, Rochester’s chief of neurosurgery, opened up each patient’s skull and cut through the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the left hemisphere to the right and is responsible for the transfer of information between them. It was a dramatic move: By slicing through the bundle of neurons connecting the two hemispheres, Van Wagenen was cutting the left half of the brain away from the right, halting all communication between the two.
Educators seldom have enough time to do their business. What’s that doing to the state of learning?
It’s common knowledge that teachers today are stressed, that they feel underappreciated and disrespected, and disillusioned. It’s no wonder they’re ditching the classroom at such high rates—to the point where states from Indiana to Arizona to Kansas are dealing with teacher shortages. Meanwhile, the number of American students who go into teaching is steadily dropping.
A recent survey conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association asked educators about the quality of their worklife, and it got some pretty harrowing feedback. Just 15 percent of the 30,000 respondents, for example, strongly agreed that they’re enthusiastic about the profession. Compare that to the roughly 90 percent percent who strongly agreed that they were enthusiastic about it when they started their career, and it’s clear that something has changed about schools that’s pushing them away. Roughly three in four respondents said they “often” feel stressed by their jobs.
Has the Obama administration’s pursuit of new beginnings blinded it to enduring enmities?
“The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” In this way Ben Rhodes of the White House, who over the years has broken new ground in the grandiosity of presidential apologetics, described the courage of Barack Obama in concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran, otherwise known as the Iran deal. Once again Rhodes has, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the president’s premises more clearly than the president likes to do. The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.
A controversial treatment shows promise, especially for victims of trauma.
It’s straight out of a cartoon about hypnosis: A black-cloaked charlatan swings a pendulum in front of a patient, who dutifully watches and ping-pongs his eyes in turn. (This might be chased with the intonation, “You are getting sleeeeeepy...”)
Unlike most stereotypical images of mind alteration—“Psychiatric help, 5 cents” anyone?—this one is real. An obscure type of therapy known as EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is gaining ground as a potential treatment for people who have experienced severe forms of trauma.
Here’s the idea: The person is told to focus on the troubling image or negative thought while simultaneously moving his or her eyes back and forth. To prompt this, the therapist might move his fingers from side to side, or he might use a tapping or waving of a wand. The patient is told to let her mind go blank and notice whatever sensations might come to mind. These steps are repeated throughout the session.
Companies that overvalue alpha-male behavior need to change—both to retain female talent and for the bottom line.
When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, the research on its economic benefits is clear: Equality can boost profits and enhance reputation. And then there’s also the fact that it’s more fair. But the progress of women in the workplace is so far inadequate: Women are woefully underrepresented in executive positions, the pay gap persists, and the motherhood penalty is very real.
Barbara Annis is the founder of the Gender Intelligence Group, a consultancy that works with executives at major firms (including Deloitte, American Express, BMO Financial Group, and eBay) to create strategies to transform their work cultures into ones that are friendly to both men and women.
I recently spoke with Annis about her work and the challenges to achieving gender parity. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Exceptional nonfiction stories from 2014 that are still worth encountering today
Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best ofJournalism, an email newsletter that I send out once or twice a week. This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.
Millions of workers now go it alone—who will provide them with basic labor protections?
When Sara Horowitz founded the Freelancers Union in 1995, there was already evidence that the structure of people's work lives was changing.
Publishing and media jobs had started to move to more project-based work. Horowitz, a union organizer and labor lawyer by training, assumed that other industries would follow. As an expert in labor unions, she thought “it was really important to start thinking about how people [can] come together” to change laws and public policy, so that freelancers can obtain job-related “benefits—and community.”
Today, the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union boasts nearly 300,000 members, having quadrupled in numbers in just seven years. Freelancers in the union include technology consultants, copywriters, web designers, visual artists, business-development consultants, journalists, and professional coaches. They live all over the country, with concentrations in New York, New Jersey, and California.
What Westerners migrating to ISIS have in common with Westerners who sympathized with communism
In Political Pilgrims, the sociologist Paul Hollander exposes and excoriates the mentality of a certain kind of Western intellectual, who, such is the depth of his estrangement or alienation from his own society, is predisposed to extend sympathy to virtually any opposing political system.
The book is about the travels of 20th-century Western intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, and how these political travelers were able to find in such repressive countries a model of “the good society” in which they could invest their brightest hopes. Hollander documents in relentless and mortifying detail how this utopian impulse, driven by a deep discontent with their own societies, led them to deny or excuse the myriad moral defects of the places they visited.