CNN is doing some investigation of college sports, and here’s the lede of one of their stories:
Early in her career as a learning specialist, Mary Willingham was in her office when a basketball player at the University of North Carolina walked in looking for help with his classwork.
He couldn’t read or write.
“And I kind of panicked. What do you do with that?” she said, recalling the meeting.
Willingham’s job was to help athletes who weren’t quite ready academically for the work required at UNC at Chapel Hill, one of the country’s top public universities.
But she was shocked that one couldn’t read. And then she found he was not an anomaly.
Willingham did some research that showed that 8-10% of UNC-Chapel Hill’s former football and basketball players read at a third-grade level. She’s received death threats and also has been chastised by UNC, which issued a statement saying, in part:
We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our University with distinction. Our students have earned their place at Carolina and we respect what they bring to the University both academically and athletically.
UNC has asked to review Willingham’s data, even though CNN is reporting that she shared the data with them twice.
I worked in a NCAA Division I University for a few years (staff not faculty), and I had some contact with “scholar/athletes”. It was always hard to tell exactly what they did know, because each of them was surrounded by a coterie of enablers and helpers who greased the skids as long as they were performing, and their academic work was mainly special athletes-only classes with who knows what standards. But it was clear that some of those young men couldn’t read well at all. Unless they are fools, the UNC administrators who are going after Willingham know that, too. I’m sure if they re-work the data carefully they might find that it’s only 5% who read at a third-grade level, or perhaps the 8-10% read at a fifth-grade level. So what, it’s still a fucking disgrace.