A professor at Ohio State University has penned an extended apology and agreed to a program of “anti-racist” learning after writing an essay for “Inside Higher Ed” extolling the virtues of college football.
The original article, “Why America Needs College Football,” is largely lackluster; it is an essay about how Saturday college football games draw Americans together and provide a necessary distraction from the more difficult aspects of life in 2020 — its “great isolation, division, and uncertainty.”
“Essentializing college football might help get us through these uncharacteristically difficult times of great isolation, division, and uncertainty. Indeed, college football holds a special bipartisan place in the American heart,” professor Matthew Mayhew writes. “At a time when colleges and universities have been placed under extreme scrutiny, many people are questioning the very value and purpose of higher education. College football reminds many Americans of the community values that underscore higher education and by extension America itself.”
Put simply, Mayhew argues that, despite ongoing coronavirus-related restrictions on college campuses, college athletics should continue because everyone likes college football and it makes people feel better to watch it.
That, it turns out, is an offensive idea. In fact, based on Mayhew’s apology, which appeared late last week in the same publication, “Inside Higher Ed,” Mayhew was accused of abject racism and unbridled white supremacy.
“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,” he continues. “I have learned that words like ‘distraction’ and ‘cheer’ erase the present painful moments within the nation and especially the Black community.”
“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,” he writes. “I am struggling to find the words to communicate the deep ache for the damage I have done.”
To make up for his shortcomings, Mayhew says he is engaging in “anti-racist learning” with the help of colleagues and students. In his own words, he is addressing his “uninformed and disconnected whiteness” which he says he now understands “positions student athletes as white property.”
“I am designing a plan for change, for turning the ‘I am sorry’ to ‘I will change’—for moving Black Lives Matter from a motto to a pathway from ignorance and toward authentic advocacy,” Mayhew continues. “To do this, a colleague of mine asked me to center the question: What can I do to unlearn patterns that hurt and harm Black communities and other communities of color? My center is as a learner, so movement for me will involve unlearning and relearning by listening, reading, dialoguing, reflecting, and writing as a means for increasing my awareness and knowledge about systemic racism and the experiences of people of color and people who hold marginalized identities different from my own.”
There are certainly issues with college athletics, but Mahew’s apology seems to go much further than acknowledging the role college athletics play in society and what issues college athletes face.