Character must meet athleticism

Oct. 6, 2005, midnight | By Armin Rosen | 18 years, 4 months ago

Athletic department's emphasis on preventing drug use is right way to start the season

The "amateur ideal" is undeniably in decline. The once-revered concept of the amateur athlete as a moral and physical exemplar, a well-rounded scholar-athlete in the mold of Roger Bannister, who ran the first four-minute mile while studying medicine at Oxford, is not just antiquated, but gone.

This isn't to say that there are no longer athletes who can rake in fantastic grades while dominating their respective sports. There are several such athletes here at Blair. But the idea of amateur sports as a test of character is outdated enough to seem quaint, and the days of idealizing and romanticizing amateur athletes have been replaced by drug use, public intoxication and rampant academic ineligibility.

At least at Blair, the amateur ideal is, to borrow a sports phrase, making a comeback. After drug- and alcohol-related incidents involving Blair athletes last year, the athletic department has implemented a stricter drug policy under which violators will receive a year-long suspension for a first offense and a ban from Blair sports for a second.

In a recent Silver Chips Online article, Principal Phillip Gainous was quoted saying, "We have really ratcheted up the consequences of involvement in illegal substances." And there are a couple of unambiguous sentences thrown into the policy for the benefit of whoever hasn't realized it yet: "This is a non-negotiable policy. Zero tolerance will be applied."

And as far as the safety and the behavior of athletes go, there shouldn't be any negotiations or equivocations. Athletes have undeniably higher profiles than other students. Their letter jackets and jerseys set them apart, and they are frequently written about in "The Washington Post" and "The Gazette." They are the face and the character of Blair for coaches, athletes and fans throughout the county.

Blair is, of course, represented by numerous academic competitors as well, but none have the visibility or influence of student athletes, who, according to athletic director Dale Miller, are looked up to by the rest of the student body. "We want our athletes to be leaders of this school community," says Miller. "Nothing other than that."

Not every athlete can embody the dignity, spirit and rectitude of honest competition as, say, Lance Armstrong can. But it isn't so much to ask that athletes avoid the opposite extreme: embodying a lack of self-respect and basic responsibility, like Ricky Williams has.

It is because this has to be asked of athletes, in meetings similar to the one held for Blair's fall competitors on Aug. 20 that explained the new policy, that the "amateur ideal" now seems so naïve. This isn't something that should have to be reiterated. Athletes shouldn't have to be reminded that they have to respect themselves, their community and their school.

But studies and past incidents show such reminders to be necessary. A Boston University case study concluded that recreational drug use is as prevalent among high school athletes as nonathletes, while a study conducted by "Prevention" magazine suggested that alcohol use is significantly higher among athletes than nonathletes. Past studies of college amateurs also reveal an equal level of alcohol use among competitors and nonathletes. Meanwhile, Blair athletes were caught for alcohol use at both the homecoming dance and a home football game last year.

The athletic department has recognized that there is a problem and is doing what it can to keep its athletes clean. They have received no prodding from the county, as the official policy for drug use by athletes mandates nothing more than a minimum 10-day suspension, regardless of previous offenses.

As is so rare nowadays with anything involving sports, the athletic department acted purely and thoroughly on conscience. "We're very concerned about our kids. This doesn't have to do with them being athletes," said Assistant Principal James Short, who helped coordinate
the change in policy.

Although Short says that this policy was formulated with the safety of students in mind more so than student-athletes specifically, the reality is that this policy and others like it are important steps towards reversing the downward trend in expectations for amateurs.

He clarified that competition is a privilege and that anyone who puts on a Blair uniform shoulders the responsibilities that go along with wearing it — responsibilities to the community being represented, to coaches and teammates and most of all, to one's self.

Short has the right attitude. Perhaps the clarification of this policy and the tremendous consequences for breaking it will succeed in reminding athletes of their responsibilities and in bringing back the dignity and character that amateur competition so sorely lacks.

Armin Rosen. Armin is a Seeeeenyor in the Communication Arts Program. "I am a journalist and, under the modern journalist's code of Olympian objectivity (and total purity of motive), I am absolved of responsibility. We journalists don't have to step on roaches. All we have to do … More »

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