Superbowl Snobbery

I’m not a big pro sports fan, but I enjoy a good football game, and yesterday’s Superbowl certainly met that description. I noticed something during the game that I’ve seen before while watching pro football. The announcers mentioned during the game that Richard Sherman of the Seahawks went to Stanford. They also mentioned that another player, one whose name I’ve forgotten (there are others on both teams), had also gone to Stanford. Yet at no time did they mention that either Marshawn Lynch or Shane Vereen, the two star running backs for the opposing teams, had gone to the University of California, Berkeley (Cal). Both played much more of a role in the game than Sherman or the other Stanford player.

The comments were elitist at best, and possibly even racist. The implication was that these players weren’t just dumb jocks as you might expect because, hey, they went to Stanford. There may even have been an unintentional hint that it was surprising because they were black “speed” players in “non-cerebral” positions, i.e. anywhere besides quarterback, I suppose. However, this racist tinge may not have been behind it, since Lynch and Vereen are black, too. I think the announcers or copy writers simply had a perception that an athlete has to be unusually smart to go to Stanford, which makes the mention of their school noteworthy, whereas the others went to Cal, which is “only” a public university, and we all know any dumb jock can get into Cal, right?

Wrong! Wrong on both counts. As anyone who has ever followed college football knows, the top football schools, public or private, let in a ton (literally) of players on athletic scholarships who are nowhere near capable of entering the school on their grades or test scores. Plenty of semi-literate morons have gone to “elite” private schools to play football. O.J. Simpson is a notable example at USC, and don’t get me started on Notre Dame. On the other hand, all the top athletic schools have examples of highly intelligent athletes, of all races. I am reminded of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a UCLA graduate and probably the best basketball player of all time, who spoke at my son’s graduation. Jabbar was by far the best graduation speaker I’ve ever heard – articulate, witty, poised, with perfect grammar and a large vocabulary. For those acronym-challenged, UCLA is part of the public University of California system, like Cal.

True, Stanford has a lower admission rate than Cal now, making it harder to get into. In fact, it’s harder to get into than any university in the country, including the Ivy League, but that doesn’t make it tops academically. Cal still has more Nobel Laureates than Stanford and is extremely selective in admissions with only a 17% admission rate, and that’s with a statutory requirement that the university system must accept the top 10% of each high school’s graduates if they apply. In other words, if your child graduates in the top 10% of his or her California high school class, the university must admit him or her (although not necessarily the campus of first choice). So, announcers, how about some equal time for Cal if you’re going to mention schools.

I’ve never met Sherman, Lynch, or Vereen or even heard them interviewed. I don’t know how smart, dumb, or educated they are and it doesn’t matter to me. They’re all great football players who made for good entertainment from time to time. They do their jobs just fine. The television announcers? Well, I’m not so impressed with their intelligence. Thank God for the mute button.