"The Elephant in the Room" The "Athlete Issue" Part 2.

11:14 AM Marcellino DAmbrosio 19 Comments

            The high school social hierarchy places the most accomplished, confidant, and charismatic at the top of the social hierarchy. More often than not, these tend to be the athletes who participate in the most glorified sports: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Women’s Basketball, and Cheerleading. These individuals at the top determine what is socially acceptable and what is socially anathema. From a very young age, our youth are raised in an environment that that devalues authority (school teachers, principles, priests, etc), and stresses immorality, licentiousness, and drunkenness. Athletes of the glorified sports, in particular, are vulnerable to this environment, as they are raised to be “winners” and have the most access to these forbidden fruits due to their powerful position atop the food chain. Therefore, as the athletic teams have been brought into the Ave Maria community, a similar social hierarchy has begun to be formed and along with it the social norms at Ave Maria have begun to change as well. Retreat attendance is down, Mass attendance per capita of the student body is down, households are struggling to attract members, and the discussion of academic and theological topics over the dinner table is dwindling. These are immediate results of many reasons, but one prominent reason is the rapid influx of freshman athletes who we have failed to integrate into the University community as a whole. I am not so worried about immoral behavior, though that is bothersome, but about the kind of social environment that the University will foster in the coming years. Will households continue to be socially stigmatized? Will mass and religion be deemed “uncool” in the social ladder? Above all, how will those of the middle ground who come here open and willing to get something out of this experience be swayed?

            I’ve compiled some facts to add to the above argument as well as to the one you’ve obviously all read in my blog article. I hope this helps to clarify my position. I also hope that you will accept this as dialogue and not a diatribe. It has never been my intention to judge any individuals at this university or to downplay the positive experience many athletes have had here. I am merely pointing out the elephant in the room.

            In a recent survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, it was recorded that high school Athletes were, in general, more likely to have recently cheated on an exam, more likely to consider bullying an acceptable method to motivate people, and more accepting of grandstanding and smack talking before during or after games. The link to this survey is below. What I found most remarkable was that there is a distinct difference between male and female athletes, varsity and non varsity athletes, and athletes who participate in glorified sports versus cross country runners, tennis players, and gymnasts. Here are some scary statistics:

The highest cheating rates were for those involved in football (72%), girls’ softball (72%), girls’
basketball (71%), cheerleading (71%), hockey (70%), and baseball (69%). Female cross country
athletes (39%), male cross country (53%), male swimmers (53%) and female swimmers (57%)
were the least likely to cheat in school.

If you play football, you are 12% more likely to cheat on exams.

            I’m not the only one that is questioning the widely held belief that American athletics are good for character building, team building, and honesty. Check out what the founder of the Josephson institute says: “There is reason to worry that the sports fields ... are becoming the training grounds for the next generation of corporate and political villains and thieves.” Look. I’m not saying “if you are an athlete, you are going to be the next Enron CEO.” I am saying that there is reason to believe that the sports environment in America is unhealthy.

            So what are we to do? I would propose a plan of action, but I will not be here next year to move past the “diagnostic” stage. I made my attempt to help this year and I failed spectacularly. My purpose in writing this is to point out an issue that every one of us, whether Ave or Athlete, Esto or Lawless, Lit, Theo or Bio Majors, can make an effort to solve, simply by loving on each other, and not falling prey to this “I’m too cool for that” crap. It is also my hope that in the Fall of 2011, God will call some members of the Ave Maria community to a new, creative, inspired outreach to combat this changing social environment and to bring this school back to Our Lady. I will be praying for this University and her direction next year, as well as for all of you.

                                                                        May the love of Christ be with you.

                                                                                                Marcellino D’Ambrosio

An article on the survey:

The survey:

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  1. I was in a discussion about this in Theology of the Body on Monday, I was on this side of this argument. And after a little bit it was brought to my attention that this semester they have started holding talks from famous sports players who are Catholic. All the sport players are suggested to attend. I do not remember all the details, but it apparently has been going very well. Also I was informed that a lot of the sport players have come to Ave for the Catholic environment.

    With that being said, I still do agree with your blog and I do see it starting at Ave. I am not sure at the moment how to fix it but since I am going to be here for at least 2 more years I am going to do what I can to bring us back to one happy community again.

  2. Your study has no validity with things going on here at Ave. You said it dealt with high school athletes and not college. I bet many of these athletes that admitted to cheating on their tests did not have the ability to make make to college as an athlete or a student. They do not show the necessary hard work that transfers from the the classroom to the field which means they probably didn't work hard enough to accomplish the goal of becoming a college athlete. Your backing your statement with facts that are irrelevant to the "College" scene.

  3. You are right, it is not directly applicable to college level athletic programs, but that's not really my point, is it? The point is that America sports are not fostering ethical conduct. I'd say that has some validity in this conversation, don't you?

  4. There is a huge difference between students simply failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our authentically Catholic mission while being remorseful for their transgression; and quite a different situation of students failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission by scoffing, ridiculing, and disdaining our Catholic mission. Failure born out of weakness and concupiscence we can and must endure; failure born out of disdain for our Catholic mission we cannot afford to tolerate without losing the whole reason Ave Maria was founded: to be an authentically Catholic university, in the classrooms, in the dorms, in the Student Union building and yes, even on the athletic fields!

    The issue then that we need to address is understanding which students are failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and Catholic mission and why they are failing to do so, not to label “Athletes” vs “Ave’s,” where “athletes” means failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission and where “Ave’s” means living in accordance with our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission.

    If we were to use that criteria we would certainly see that some student-athletes are “ave’s” and some non-athletes certainly aren’t “Ave’s.” There are a number of great mission fits for Ave Maria who play on our athletic teams; conversely there are a number of poor mission fits who don’t play on our athletic teams. We need to address conduct, not see people as part of a group…if there are student-athletes failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission, then that needs to be addressed. If there are regular students, non-athletes, failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission then that needs to be addressed. If there is a larger percentage of student-athletes failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission in comparison to the general student body, then that needs to be addressed.

    What should be clear to all is that we definitely have a problem if students want to come to Ave Maria or are recruited, whether by admissions or athletics, and are encouraged to expect our campus culture to agree with their disdain for morality and academic pursuit within our Catholic mission. I always tell apps that “Ave Maria is not a party school, that we are the school for you if you are interested in becoming and being held accountable to strive to be the best that you can become: academically, spiritually, morally, professionally, socially, athletically, etc.; if you are not interested in that, then Ave Maria is not the school for you.”

  5. We can’t, nor do we need to, recruit only kids who are already living a moral and Catholic life…but we can and must be careful to let all apps, student-athletes or not, know what is expected of them: that we want more for them than just unchastity, drunkedness and drugs and that such misconduct won’t be tolerated here…if they are looking for a university environment that accepts such immorality then there are hundreds of other schools for them. Ave Maria is one of the few universities in the entire country, even amongst the so called Catholic universities, that wouldn’t be for them. Ave Maria is a school where we want our students to strive for morality, knowledge, virtue, excellence, etc.…inside and outside of the classroom. I don’t think we are clear enough in our expectations nor in holding our students strictly accountable, this goes for regular students (non athletes) and for student-athletes.

    We have compromised in admitting students who weren’t intent even on trying to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission; we have likewise compromised in allowing students to continue at the university who repeatedly scoffed at, ridiculed and deliberately disdained our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission. We have done this for the sake of numbers in our incoming classes and for the sake of retention, I think it has been a costly mistake, but not one that we can’t fix.

    I’m hopeful that we will be more clear in outlining exactly what we expect of our students and still get the numbers of incoming students we need, but of course it won’t come easy, nothing good does. Likewise, I’m hopeful that we can do a better job of addressing misconduct, understand why it has happened, let the perpetrators know that it is unacceptable and then move forward, with or without them.

    Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

  6. Joseph, your response sounds like a broken record-- while it was certainly well articulated, it essentially hasn't gone any further to engage Marcellino in his actual argument than most others. He has argued from a sociological standpoint that the highschool athletics culture is bad for character building in those sports which are the most socially glorified. He has argued that it is this social phenomena that is effecting Ave Maria. He has now given facts that support his argument. And even now, after there have been HUNDREDS of comments on this, you have just rehashed the same knee-jerk, don't judge/stereotype response-- there are good ones and bad ones. "We need to address conduct, not see people as part of a group." Seriously? The lack of serious thought given to my brother's post is unacceptable for people so classically trained, especially this far into the debate. If you are going to wax theologica on his wall, you should at least do more than just deny his conclusion.
    If you would like to deal with him like man interested in progress, then the “we cannot see people as a part of a group” is no longer available to you. It is both meaningless (as it is clear from the studies he presented that there are STRONG differences in moral activity in high school BASED ON THE GROUPING OF PEOPLE BY SPORTS) and cliché (there have been more responses saying exactly what you have said, although perhaps not so eloquently, than there are characters in the world “regurgitation”).

  7. Anthony,

    What cannot be denied and what I agree with your brother on, is that there is a destroying tendency in collegiate athletics, it’s isn’t intrinsic to sports; but rather, it is the fault of hiring mercenaries to play on a college’s athletic teams instead of fielding the team from amongst the student body…that would be true “student-athletes.” No one should go to any college primarily to play on one of their athletic teams, they should pick the college for the academics and the moral and spiritual life the university offers, all other considerations should be secondary…if a person primarily attends a college for sports we shouldn’t even kid ourselves and call them student-athletes, we should admit that they would be athlete-students.

    I've coached high school basketball for a number of years, I have seen young men change for the better because of the lessons learned on the basketball court, I have spoken about prayer and chastity to students in my capacity as a high school religion teacher and wasn’t as successful as I was as a coach in getting their respect and attention and ultimately in helping them see the moral life as something manly...and necessary for their Salvation.

    I always make it very clear to my players that the primary purpose of sports is to help them be more disciplined in every sphere of their life, spiritual, moral, academic, professional, etc.” I concede the fact that their studies may not always be fun, but that basketball is fun and that if they are willing to sacrifice in basketball, (whereas they might not be willing yet to sacrifice in devoting themselves to their studies or in their spiritual life) if they are willing to forgo the short term gratification in basketball for a long term victory, if they will develop the habit of work, self-sacrifice and diligence in basketball, those habits will help them be sacrificial in their spiritual and moral life and as we know, a virtue is the habit of doing the good. Hopefully the habits of hard work and self-sacrifice that athletes practice in their sport will carry over to their spiritual and academic pursuits as well. I can say experientially that the good habits emphasized in sports do carry over to other spheres of athletes’ lives.

    Also, I taught my basketball players to sing Gregorian Chant. I was struck by a point made by Dr. Treacy once, she was reflecting on what Plato said: that young men who just perform music will become sissies; young men who just play sports will become brutes. I told my players that I don’t want them to become sissies nor brutes, but rather Catholic knights, Catholic gentleman, virtuous virile men! So I had them be very aggressive and physical on the basketball court and after or before practices we chanted the opening verse from the Divine Office: “Deus in adjutorium meum intende, Domine ad adjuvandum me festina.” "O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me.”

    Anthony, I also want to respond to your objection about seeing and judging people as individuals and not as members of a group, it is absolutely true that we need to judge people and see people not as part of a group but as individual's. God does and will judge us this way. There is no respect of persons with God. He doesn't care if you are a high priest in the Sanhedrin, he doesn't care if you have a PhD after your name or you were a manual laborer as were St. Joseph and Our Lord, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are an athlete or a non-athlete…you and I and everyone will be judged based on our actions, on our responding to His Grace, on our acceptance or rejection of His Divinely revealed Truths, “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. (St. Mark 16:16) “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Matthew 7:21)

  8. “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall seduce many. And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold. But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” (St. Matthew 24:13)

    We should never let our charity grow cold, just because iniquity hath abounded. I think your brother has made some good points, although he was definitely too crass and unchaste in his writing, we should never snoop down to the level of those who we know are wrong to prove that they are wrong, if we want to criticize the unchastity of certain people we shouldn’t speak or write unchastely, we shouldn’t quote inappropriate and unchaste movies to prove our point that people shouldn’t be unchaste.

    In closing we have a real problem not only with some students who are playing sports here at Ave Maria; but we have a huge problem with the students not playing sports here at Ave Maria. We have 650 students, 100 of them or so play on our athletic teams…where are the other 550 for the nightly Rosary walk? For daily Mass? Why are so many of the young ladies here so immodestly dressed? I’m talking about students who are not athletes. I know several students who are athletes who go on the Rosary walk, attend daily mass and dress with Christian modesty.

    I’m most disappointed with the students I know come from good devout Catholic families and then end up being part of the problem, instead of the strong example of virtue that they should be here on campus. This is not to deny that there is a problem with bringing in students who don’t want to live up to our mission. One bad apple can ruin the bunch. One person bent on vice can bring down ten people into vice and sin; whereas the virtuous person may only convert one vicious person. Because our community is a mixed bag of the virtuous and the vicious, it is all the more important that those who know better, need to act better!

    Let me get back to speaking about sports, there is nothing intrinsically demoralizing about sports, if anything, all things being equal, sports will help a man become a better man, a more moral man. “Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses, gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator." (Pope Pius XII, Sport at the Service of the Spirit, July 29, 1945)

    The answer isn’t to get rid of sports, rather the answer is to make sure we don’t recruit kids to Ave Maria that are primarily coming here for sports, just like we can’t recruit students to Ave Maria primarily because they want to be in Florida or even because primarily they want to pray. As a theology professor here at Ave Maria once said, we are not a retreat center, we are first and foremost an institution of higher learning, the primary motivation for students coming to Ave Maria has to be the academic pursuit of the liberal arts, to use and develop one’s God given intellect to the fullest…all within the Catholic Tradition.

    If we recruit such students and from them, field our athletic teams, all the other problems will take care of themselves.

  9. I find that there is a growing mass of pretense throughout this campus. As much as you have a solid argument on the 'statistics' of athletes, I do think that you are grouping them together as one. Now, I'm not a huge fan of some of the teams here, because of their childish cliqueyness...but that isn't to say that this is a "problem" for Ave.
    And Joseph, your comment on how we have to judge people as an individual and not as a group.....we are not to judge ANYONE. ONLY God judges, we don't adapt that role in any situation.
    All we can do is try to guide them into a faithful life, not shun them or write a blog post and post it on facebook about how they are to blame for the low attendance in mass and retreats.
    Actually, the students who have stopped going to mass due to "peer pressure" or whatever juvenile term you would like to deem it - are to blame. We are supposed to continue with our faith regardless of who we become friends with right? So it's our fault if we let someone alter that.
    All in all, this sounds like you are talking about a mean highschool. This is a damn college. A university. If they want to be juvenile with the way they interact, let them. Blogging about it and calling them drunks and making them look bad is worse.

  10. Calling someone out on being juvenile is somehow worse than sitting on your ass and doing nothing? That sounds like some bullshit to me.

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  12. Marcellino,
    You make some powerful and insightful comments, but what do you think should be done to fix this issue? There are obviously problems with the American Athletic Culture and they are deeply rooted. However, the real question is what can and should be done here in Ave? Have you considered the arrival of the new president Jim Towey? He will definitely change all kinds of things including what happens with the Athletic Department. Supposedly, there will also be less desperation for new apps which should allow everything to cool down.

    On a national level, I don’t think that much can be done, at this level, for the following reasons:
    1. People always strive for the best, it is a human tendency, and some people are better at sports and will naturally gravitate towards them. The fact that there tend to be moral issues within these groups arises because sports are physical and therefore athletes have more physical problems.
    2. As it has been said, the primary issues of immorality that arise in athletic groups are probably as deeply rooted as the issues in non-athletic groups. I.e. to try and “fix” the problems in American Athletics is like putting a band-aid on leprosy, it won’t work in the long run.
    3. The caste-like hierarchy that you mentioned stems from people hanging out with like people. One of the primary reasons why athletes come up on top is that the media portrays sports as the “easiest” way for someone to make a name for himself and sports bring some of the quickest and short-lived responses to the human desires for individuality and success.
    4. Finally, the statistics you brought up do not point to a connection between sports and sin, but on the other hand it reinforces the idea that some people only do anything academically in high school and college so that they can participate in sports. As I have personally experienced, sports quickly become a drug-like addiction and it is only normal to expect desperation from people who risk losing participation in them.

    Thank you for reading this and I hope it helps to clarify some things and add new views to this important issue,
    Michael Klein

  13. well marcellino
    I find it ironic that you would speak about segregation and cliques.I would like you to know that that is how I always felt about ave maria when I got there, before the athletes. You and your friends were the cliques. you with your holier than thou ways. judging those that were not where you felt you were spiritually. you are quick to judge. what about to love? christ came to save the sinner. reach out and start acting christ-like if you want to be a true christian. dont just know the faith, for once just start living it. leave the judgement to God, it is not your place. that is MY observation....ps: this is not a judgement!

  14. Ella Bones, its unfortunate that you felt judged; though most paranoid people do. Your previous post bespeaks LOTS of emotion and very little rational thought. I'll give you the choice as to whether you'd like to take that post down or leave it up there to bespeak your current level of intelectual ability.

  15. Joseph. in your recent diatribe, you still didnt do anything rather than reject the conclusion again of course, this time you tossed in some scriptures about God's impartiality. Now, I am actually happy you went there, because it shows that we are talking across each other, and, ultimately, on the same page. You think that marcellino is arguing that all sports players are immoral sinners. if that was the argument that he is making, then you certainly would have destroyed his arguments by now. But I dont think that Marcellino is in the business of baring people from heaven based on social grouping. I think he is actually critisizing the social group itself... The culture. Now you revealed that you were open to doing that in the fist half of your post, so it seems that we are alright with doing that. If you need more assurance that we are morally allowed to judge social groups without judging the hearts of individuals, then lets look at some examples of scriptures in which th

  16. Oops. Somehow the last half of that got cutt off. Ill repost in a sec

  17. In your first paragraph you said that mass and religion was deemed "uncool" and that this "social hierarchy" has led to the decrease in mass attendance per capita student body. Religion is a preference along with going to church, nobody here thinks it is "uncool" to attend mass. 82% of the U.S. population is Christian, of that 82% just 43% attend church on a regular basis. My point is that as Ave maria continues to bring in more and more students it only makes sense that the percentage of students that attends mass will decrease. People are not ridiculed for going to church at Ave Maria, nobody deems them "uncool", to think that this goes on and that it is the fault of athletes is simply ignorant on your behalf.

  18. I wonder what reaction you would get if you walked your football locker room and started telling your teammates that you had just been "saved?" Perhaps an awkward silence at best? Maybe open mockery and jeering?
    Yes. I think so. I would. So why challenge him so defensively? Let’s call a spade a spade here shall we?
    You obviously don't get Ave Maria's apparent mission, Mark. I'll give you a hint. It's not to be like "the rest" of America. Why don't we let them to their mass and their "church"? The nearest state school probably has a much more exciting party scene, and practically no blathering religious fanatics to prick so annoyingly at our consciences.

  19. The problem here is you're worried about the schools student body, and you're not worrying about yourself enough. the Bible is quite clear when Jesus says pull the beam out of your heart before your worry about your neighbors splinter. I'm not saying you have a beam, but you shouldnt really be worrying about everyone else the way you are. You're trying to dictate social structure.Its kind of scary. And no, I havent notice a real hierarchy of any sort. If there was, I would ignore it anyway, and i would suggest you do aswell. that kind of thing goes away when ignored. Second, the culture will change inevitably. This is not a matter of people changing, its a matter of different people entirely. Im sure there are people who were part of the original Ave mission who would hate our current activites such as zombies and dorm wars thus deaming Ave as something thats become childish. Needless to say I dont think we should care, and likewise i dont think the jocks should care what all these people are saying. Despite popular beleif, no souls are being lost by having sport players here. This may sound concieted, but it just may be a good thing for them to be here. I'm not God so I cant see into everyones heart. Some people probably arent Catholic right now for a reasons totally justifiable by God, but when people convert I generally like to think its a good thing because I love and agree with my faith. Jesus is for everyone who conscious truly knows who Jesus is. This is is not something we can control, nor should we. With new sport members who may not be enbodyment of the Catholic ideal, our school will change, but personally I think a school needs to except the fact that these people are here for decent reasons and have just as much right to be here. THey're held to the same standard and get in just as much trouble for bad behavior. The school will have something to worry about when its theology department goes down hill and ignores matters of doctrine. This is different.