Reply to Mulcahy and McCormick

By William C. Dowling

Last week a New York Times article about my just-published book, Confessions of a Spoilsport, set off a bit of a firestorm at Rutgers. Athletics Director Robert E. Mulcahy was pleased to label a remark I'd made in the Times a "blatantly racist statement." President Richard L. McCormick denounced its "racist implication." A few New Jersey sportswriters joined the chorus. Soon the furor was making national news.

Here's what I said: "If you were giving a scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that's fine. But they give it to a functional illiterate who can't read a cereal box, then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That's not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school."

Mulcahy and McCormick got traction for their racism charge by trying to portray my remark as being about Rutgers athletes. But as dozens of examples in Confessions of a Spoilsport show, and as the Times reporter was aware at the time -- I've double-checked this with him -- I wasn't talking about Rutgers athletes. I was describing the huge number of academically deficient Div IA athletes nationally whose only "educational opportunity" amounts to the chance to get bogus courses, fake credits, forged transcripts, and the thousand other dodges sports-factory schools use to keep their winning football and basketball teams eligible.

Like many people, I think the claim of educational opportunity for minority youths is a cover-up for a retrograde booster subculture that uses minority kids for its own brutally cynical ends, and then throws all but a tiny handful aside. A major theme of my book is that Div IA athletics is the way through which this booster subculture asserts what I call symbolic ownership over state universities, marginalizing the brightest and most intellectually engaged students on campus. As Confessions of a Spoilsport shows in detail, that same booster subculture is well known for attacking, often viciously, any perceived threat to its dominance. In conducting what the Wall Street Journal called their "campaign of character assassination" against me, Mulcahy, McCormick, and Qualls were simply operating as spokesmen for that subculture at Rutgers.

For a response by a distinguished African-American commentator, click on

"Right On, Brother Dowling"