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."
Four families of fallen servicemembers received next-day UPS letters from President Trump after a turbulent week in which Trump falsely claimed he had called “virtually all” of the families.
Updated on October 22, 2017.
The Trump administration is scrambling to defend the president’s characterization of his communications with grieving military families, including rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago. Donald Trump falsely claimed this week that he had called “virtually” all fallen servicemembers’ families since his time in office.
Timothy Eckels Sr. hadn’t heard anything from President Trump since his son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed after a collision involving the USS John S. McCain on August 21. But then, on October 20, two days into the controversy over the president’s handling of a condolence call with an American soldier’s widow, Eckels Sr. received a United Parcel Service package dated October 18 with a letter from the White House.
Senator John McCain and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly offered starkly different visions of service—and of America.
It was a week of powerful speeches. The least memorable, oddly, was delivered by the most naturally gifted speaker, former President Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Virginia. “Our democracy is at stake,” he said, before harking back to the trope of his 2008 campaign: “Yes, we can.” Compelling in the setting, but not special.
Far more powerful was former President George W. Bush’s indictment of Donald Trump that didn’t mention the 45th president by name. It was a cry for freedom as a theme in American policy, a denunciation of “casual cruelty” in American discourse, of “nationalism distorted into nativism,” of isolationism, of attempts to turn American identity away from American ideals and into something darker, driven by “geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.” In itself it would have been noteworthy.
Emma Perrier was deceived by an older man on the internet—a hoax that turned into an unbelievable love story.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love.
A stunning new speculative-fiction book by Naomi Alderman couldn’t be more timely.
One of the most succinct definitions of sexual harassment I’ve read over the past few weeks goes like this: For men, it’s anything they might say to a woman that would make them uncomfortable if it were said to them, but in prison. It’s glib, sure. But it gets at the fundamental imbalance of power that characterizes relationships between men and women. To understand what it’s like for a woman to be catcalled, or harassed, or propositioned, it isn’t enough for men to simply put themselves in that woman’s place. They also have to imagine what it’s like to sense the imminent danger in those interactions—to be weaker than their aggressor in every way, and to have that weakness woven into the fabric of society itself. As the adage often attributed to Margaret Atwood goes, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
A neuroscientist on how we came to be aware of ourselves.
Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?
The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right—and that has yet to be determined—then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species.
And there could be far-reaching consequences for the national economy too.
Four floors above a dull cinder-block lobby in a nondescript building at the Ohio State University, the doors of a slow-moving elevator open on an unexpectedly futuristic 10,000-square-foot laboratory bristling with technology. It’s a reveal reminiscent of a James Bond movie. In fact, the researchers who run this year-old, $750,000 lab at OSU’s Spine Research Institute resort often to Hollywood comparisons.
Thin beams of blue light shoot from 36 of the same kind of infrared motion cameras used to create lifelike characters for films like Avatar. In this case, the researchers are studying the movements of a volunteer fitted with sensors that track his skeleton and muscles as he bends and lifts. Among other things, they say, their work could lead to the kind of robotic exoskeletons imagined in the movie Aliens.
Donald Trump’s recent tweet about long-secret JFK files is a way for the president to try to reclaim a status that has repeatedly helped him.
One of the stranger aspects of having a conspiracy theorist in the Oval Office is that it goes against the way conspiracy theorizing usually works.
Conspiracy theories are a way to stand up, through disbelief, against the powerful. Those who spread conspiracy theories in earnest are, whether they mean to or not, partaking in an act of defiance against established institutions as much as they are questioning accepted truths. Usually, then, a refusal to believe the widely accepted explanation of how something happened originates from outside of official channels like government. A president might be the one accused of the conspiracy; rarely is he the one spreading rumors.
DeepMind’s new self-taught Go-playing program is making moves that other players describe as “alien” and “from an alternate dimension.”
It was a tense summer day in 1835 Japan. The country’s reigning Go player, Honinbo Jowa, took his seat across a board from a 25-year-old prodigy by the name of Akaboshi Intetsu. Both men had spent their lives mastering the two-player strategy game that’s long been popular in East Asia. Their face-off, that day, was high-stakes: Honinbo and Akaboshi represented two Go houses fighting for power, and the rivalry between the two camps had lately exploded into accusations of foul play.
Little did they know that the match—now remembered by Go historians as the “blood-vomiting game”—would last for several grueling days. Or that it would lead to a grisly end.
Early on, the young Akaboshi took a lead. But then, according to lore, “ghosts” appeared and showed Honinbo three crucial moves. His comeback was so overwhelming that, as the story goes, his junior opponent keeled over and began coughing up blood. Weeks later, Akaboshi was found dead. Historians have speculated that he might have had an undiagnosed respiratory disease.
Monday afternoon, President Trump delivered a press conference from an alternative reality, or perhaps a slightly-less-dark timeline. His relationship with Mitch McConnell is great! They have the votes for Obamacare repeal! The hurricane relief effort in Puerto Rico is a smashing success! Democrats are to blame for GOP divisions on Capitol Hill! These claims range from the highly dubious to the patently false.