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."
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
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.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
Freed last March from Death Row after serving 29 years for a crime he didn’t commit, the Louisiana native died Monday of lung cancer.
On November 5, 1983, a jewelry shop owner named Isadore Rozeman in Shreveport, La., was murdered in a robbery. Glenn Ford, a local man who knew Rozeman slightly, was not guilty of the crime. But the next year, the 34-year-old was nonetheless convicted of Rozeman’s murder and sentenced to death. For the next 29 years, three months, and five days, Ford lived in a 8-foot by 10-foot cell in Louisiana’s Angola prison and spent most of his days in solitary confinement.
In March 2014, Ford was finally exonerated and released. But soon after gaining his freedom, Ford was condemned anew—this time by a lung cancer diagnosis. On Monday, he died of the disease in New Orleans, where a nonprofit organization had provided him with a home. Ford was 65.
The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it.
This afternoon, in announcing her support for removing the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asserted that killer Dylann Roof had “a sick and twisted view of the flag” which did not reflect “the people in our state who respect and in many ways revere it.” If the governor meant that very few of the flag’s supporters believe in mass murder, she is surely right. But on the question of whose view of the Confederate Flag is more twisted, she is almost certainly wrong.
Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.