In a Sports Illustrated article from an earlier era, Notre Dame President Fr. Hesburgh warned that college football should be “kept within proper bounds of time, place and emphasis.”
Christian author C.S. Lewis likewise laid out the inadequacy of newspaper reporting.
“…I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance.”
How would Hesburgh and Lewis react to ESPN’s reporting on the Tressel affair?
As is well known, the former Ohio State Coach’s demise resulted in stiff penalties for him and the entire Ohio State football program. During the episode, ESPN has maintained a somber beat throughout, and in this case invoked heavy Christian symbology to describe Tressel’s infractions:
“Instead of arguing its innocence, Ohio State admitted to its sins — or more accurately, former coach Jim Tressel’s sins.”
“Former Ohio State Coach, Jim Tressel, who was forced to resign in May, committed the ultimate sin for a college coach when he withheld information about the scandal from OSU officials and NCAA investigators.”
“Now Meyer and the rest of the Buckeyes get to pay for Tressel’s sins.”
“It might not be a new day for the NCAA but it certainly is a breath of fresh air. Even a program like Ohio State isn’t immune from paying the price for its sins.”
Language is important. To employ spiritual analogues in the service of commerce can distort society’s thought life, and recalls the challenges of proportionality and emphasis issued by Hesburgh and Lewis.
Because ESPN benefits economically from the current absence of a collective bargaining agreement for student athletes, it is particularly conflicted in its dual role as a steward of language and a marketer of college sports. In other words, buyer beware.
While Tressel may have sinned against his maker while breaking the rules, it’s not clear he did so against the NCAA, which is in the end an ephemeral entity, neither person nor God.
While this style of reporting has succeeded in maintaining public opinion against Tressel and in favor of the NCAA, does it not dilute our understanding of the absolute in favor of the relative, the eternal in favor of the temporal?