Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Princeton women’s tennis vs. Reggie Bush

25th June 1934: Sports mistress Betty Green giving some tennis training to young school girls at Northwood College, Middlesex. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)I believe that the vast majority of people have lied, stolen, and/or cheated at some point in their lives. And in this group I also include members of the Tea Party, folks who are against gay marriage, Christian fundamentalists, and Muslims of all sub-types. Lying, cheating and stealing are parts of human nature, cutting through and across all categories, races, and socioeconomic classes of people.


Some people steal so routinely that they no longer categorize their behavior as stealing. They simply shop at the office without checking out or paying. In this I include the taking home of whiteout, paperclips, envelopes, pens and pencils purchased by the company you work for. Taking home printer paper is stealing – even if you convince yourself that it is OK because the company has reams of them.

I also believe that twin psychological motives explain the commonness of these less honorable aspects of human nature. First, most people lie, steal, and cheat because they feel narcissistically entitled to what they want to have. And second, because they do not expect to get caught.

But ever so often someone gets caught lying, cheating or stealing and we hang them out to dry. We do our own version of parading them in the public square. Except that the square is now our television sets and the sub-world of the internet which we all sometimes visit and where too many of us spend hours living – arguing with other faceless, nameless avatars about the lying, cheating and stealing of a caught member of the species, and perhaps even temporarily convincing ourselves that we are better than them. But we’re not. We’re all imperfectly human. Most of us just try to do our best.

Sometimes there is disparity in the way we choose collectively to punish a member of the species who has been caught. I say member of the species because there is something animalistic about collective stoning behavior. There is an adrenaline-driven aspect to the mass hysteria with which we deliver our 99 lashes – although thankfully ours are not as literal as found in some parts of the world. Sticks and stones.

Speaking of disparity, there is a woman tennis player who attends Princeton University and who received some $33,000. for tuition and books over the course of three semesters between 2007-2008. The money was paid to the varsity player and her parents by an alumnus who is a family friend. The acceptance of these financial gifts – this academic grifting as it were – is against the rules of the NCAA.

From where I sit, this is no different from what happened with Reggie Bush. He and his family accepted financial gifts from donors, including reportedly a house for his parents. The only difference that I can detect lies in the value of the gifts. But cheating is not defined on the basis of the value of the item obtained illicitly. The child who steals a chocolate bar from Wal-Mart may be punished differently from the adult who tries to sneak out in a new bra, but both acts are recognized as theft. One therefore expects NCAA rules to be applied consistently.

But besides a handful of newspaper reports, I have not seen much discussion of the situation involving the Princeton tennis player. But everyone has been losing their s**t over Reggie Bush. I myself am no fan of Mr. Bush. I find that there is something mulish and foolish and shallow about him. For a supposedly educated man, he seems barely able to string together an intelligent sentence. And when, in spite of all of your sporting achievements, your biggest claim to fame turns out to be that you used to bed Kim Kardashian, well then you’ve got a major problem. Maybe you’re lacking self-esteem.

Princeton has decided not to let Petra pay for Paulina. It will not punish the entire tennis team for the inappropriate actions of a single player. After all, it was the alumnus himself who reported his actions, kind of like Reggie Bush giving back the trophy he had clearly and indisputably earned in 2005.

Here’s Princeton President Shirley Tilghman explaining the decision-making in this situation: “We looked closely at the circumstances surrounding this isolated and inadvertent infraction and at the relationship between the alumnus and the student's family, and we are convinced that even though the alumnus is a long-time supporter of tennis at Princeton, he was acting only with the interest of helping a family friend pursue an educational opportunity for which her parents were not willing to provide financial support…We do not believe that this should have been characterized as a major violation, but we certainly regret the infraction and remain firmly committed to complying with all NCAA rules.”

It was a mistake. NCAA is overreacting. It was no biggie. But yeah, we’re sorry. And just like that the issue is closed. The student’s punishment will include vacation of her individual records for the three semesters in question. But the team’s Ivy League titles to which she contributed will stand. She will also face public reprimand and censure. Except I still don’t even know her name. I can’t find it anywhere.

Not that I need to. I have no desire to stone the woman. But I am getting kind of sick of the hysteria around Reggie Bush. And when he gave back the Heisman – that seemed to infuriate the masses even more. He was supposed to wait until it was snatched back from his cheating hands. He was supposed to be publicly humiliated. People will settle for nothing less as they sit there planning what else they will be sneaking home from the latest batch of office supplies.

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