Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drug Abuse, Child Abuse, Exploiting the Young (2 Sept. 2014)

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             Some Australians joke that the British government sent Australia their felons and North America the Puritans — and Australia got the better deal. Those Ausies have a point certainly this far: the American Puritan heritage can skew our evaluations of what's interesting and important, and skewing ideas of what's interesting and important — and good and evil — can skew policy.

            Two quick sports stories from my years at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, a "MAC" school, athletics-wise: The Mid-America Conference.

            One of my students was a football player who had transferred to Miami from what was definitely not a MAC school but a football power. I did not raise the question directly — tact isn't exactly my long suit, but I do have a vague sense of the concept — I didn't raise the question out of nowhere, but the conversation did take a turn where I could ask the obvious, "Why?!" Why did he give up a chance to play what is pretty much pro football and come to a relatively no-name school like Miami?

            His answer was that he didn't want to take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and that in the Miami program he wasn't pressured to do so. Specifically, there weren't "training tables" at Miami for jock nutrition (at least not back then) where assistant coaches would put pill bottles out at the end of the table, then turn their backs and walk away.

            Another student had played high school football, including a final quarter after the trainer, on the coach's instructions, had shot up his knees with a Xylocaine-and-cortisone cocktail. I asked the student how he was doing, and he said, "I can walk, but I won't be playing much football." It is interesting, if largely off the point, that the game my student finished wasn't all that important for the coach: their high school team won a lot of football games, and, in addition, the coach had tenure as a PE teacher. "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing" can be taken very literally, and this coach really, really wanted to win that game, which his team did, in part because my student kept playing when, on medical grounds, he should not have: really, seriously should not have.

            Olympic champion Michael Phelps's taking some hits off of a bong at a party isn't particularly drug abuse and in a sane, non-puritanical culture would not have been big news. What was done to my students was abusing drugs and, in the case of the high school football player, abusing someone large and strong but still, legally, a child — and someone who had trusted the coach and trainer. In a sane, non-puritanical culture, it would be news and a scandal indeed when coaches have sex with their players and bad indeed if they sexually exploit children; but it should be bigger scandals when you have routine pressuring of athletes to use powerful drugs, and a scandal leading to loss of licenses and serious prison time when you have a coach and trainer risk crippling a kid.

            Similarly with campus rape.

            Rape is a problem, period, and I am unconvinced that it is a bigger problem on US campuses than elsewhere and pretty well convinced that it would be most directly addressed by locating, charging, prosecuting, convicting, and imprisoning a relatively small number of serial rapists, with much of the remaining problem best handled through major changes in how American young people are brought up to use recreational drugs, most especially ethyl alcohol. Beyond that is the issue of the status of women in American society (and worldwide), and a robust feminist movement must work now and for a time to come on a wide range of criminal, political, and cultural issues that include rape but — a politically-charged "but" — but are not so centered on rape as to impede forming coalitions between and among women and men united for shared causes.

            In a society less tainted by puritanical prurient interest in bodily matters, the bigger stories about exploitation and abuse of the young would be the far less sexy (sic) issues of jobs for young people and the continuing defunding of programs for them with the notable and crucial exception of more prisons and police.

            Campus rape is an issue; bigger issues, for more young Americans over the long haul of their happiness is the set that includes degree inflation (the constantly rising bar of degree required for a decent job), requirement inflation (more credit hours required to get a bachelor's degree), and inflation inflation for the cost of a degree: primarily the reduction in State and other public subsidies for schooling that sends people into years of debt to go to college.

            Even limiting the subject to drugs in sports, and ignoring huge threats like misuse of antibiotics — even limiting the subject to sports and drugs, there are more important drug issues than Michael Phelps on the bong-o's or Lance Armstrong's doping schemes. Even limiting the subject to coachly abuse, there are other and equally serious problems that do not include sex.

            And when looking at American crimes against the young, campus rape is among them, but one are of offense among many. And dealing with campus rape can be an excuse for State Legislatures like that of California to look like they're doing something without paying the political costs that would come from reassigning priorities and increasing taxes to put more investment into programs for the young of both sexual "modal phenotypes" and the whole range of genders. 

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