Frank Deford, renowned sports commentator and writer, presented the keynote speech for Hamilton College's Fallcoming Alumni Weekend on October 10 in the Chapel. Introduced by Professor Bob Simon as one of the world's greatest sports writers, Deford presented his lectured titled "Sports: The Hype and the Hoopla," a humorous account of some of the most serious issues plaguing sports in America today and the wonderful "soul" of sporting competition.
Deford began his lecture by describing his own career in sports writing; "I picked the right time to be a sports writer," he said, as sports today acts as a business, entertainment, and competition all in one. Although America is not an especially sports-minded nation, Deford claimed, Americans have the time and money to spend watching sports.
Deford delved almost immediately into a discussion about "the most important issue" right now in sports: drugs. He explained how spectators and sports commissioners tend to be quick to blame athletes who compete in individual sports like swimming, running, and biking, and tend to ignore drug-use in team sports. Although there is nothing more depressing than discovering that an Olympic athlete uses drugs, we should not turn a blind eye to athletes on team sports who may use performance-enhancing drugs, Deford said. "Maybe it is not the dark ugly drug culture; maybe it's just us!" Drugs are part of our lives today" he continued, and as athletes are our heroes and entertain us from our daily lives, we can often excuse them."
Moving onto college athletics, Deford said, "We have always had a conflict with athletics and education." Although many people believe it has only been in recent years that college athletics have "gone to hell in a hand basket," college athletics have been tainted since the very beginning. The very first college athletic competition, a crew race between Yale and Harvard in 1851, was scheduled so landowners could make money off the elite parents and students from the two Ivy League schools. Since the very beginning, Deford explained, college sports were all about revenue.
He continued his discussion of popular college athletics. "America is the only nation that mixes up academics with big-time sports. It is a peculiar institution." According to Deford, there is simply too much money, and people care about sports over school in America.
He also described the "two great myths" that surround college athletics in America. The first myth, which Deford himself claims to have heard for the last 40 years, is that next year, soccer will catch on in America. The second myth is that next year, college presidents will get together and "clean up the mess" of college athletics. Neither of these things are true, or will probably ever happen, he declared.
Athletic departments in general are gaining power, he explained, and their power will never be diminished because of the athletic scholarship. "Why don't other talented students get scholarships for their extracurriculars?" Deford rhetorically asked.
Too many coaches, parents, students, admissions offices and alumni support the system, making it difficult for it to go away, he said.
Deford discussed at length his own personal experience as a sports writer over the years, traveling to cover major sporting competitions and meeting with key players.
"Sports," he concluded, "really are one thing that embraces us all. Society is so fragmented today. We don't even watch the same television shows together!" However, Deford explained, sporting competitions have historically and continue to transcend geographical, socioeconomic, and racial boundaries in America and sports are one of the main unifying elements in American society today.
-- by Emily Lemanczyk '05