privileges for varsity athletes

I talk about myself a lot in this post so I should start by clarifying a few things.  I was an athlete while at high school and university and a fairly good one.  I kinda-sorta reached the national level of competition during a few years of university.  I once qualified to try out for the Olympics but knew my chances were so low, I went on a biology field trip instead of Olympic Trials.  In the world of competitive swimming, I was very good, but definitely not great.  Now, to talk about great athletes:

In Canada, I don’t recall receiving many privileges in support of my athletic training.  At university, my competitive swim training was entirely free and if I missed a class due to a competition, my professor was obliged to allow me to make up missed tests or  assignments or the like in another way.  Nowadays, athletes at university have to pay for some of their training.

There was a quiet scandal at my university about an American basketball player who had joined our school and basketball team.  Reports were, he wasn’t attending class nor handing in assignments.  The guy was only there to play.

Here in Korea, university students are not required to attend classes or take tests and have other benefits.  The Korea Times recently published an article on the subject -the first of a series.

“Recently, a professor talked indirectly about the privileges for athletes when he raised an issue over figure skater Kim Yuna’s teaching practice, arguing that as a senior at Korea University’s physical education department she lacked the qualifications to participate in teaching practice. The professor was threatened with a lawsuit by Kim’s agency and was overwhelmed by a Yu-na-supporting Internet mob.”

First let’s look at this specific situation.  If she were teaching physical education, then I argue that she has had more first-hand knowledge of teaching and coaching than almost anyone on the planet.  From the example of her own excellent coaches, to the lessons of anatomy she received with therapy from multiple injuries, she doubtless has the background to coach most sports.  At my high school, phys. ed. teachers also taught sex education and I can’t say one way or the other whether Kim Yuna would know what to say there.  In the US, sex ed is so politicized and regimented that proper training is probably unnecessary.

Second, let’s look at the general situation.  I have had many athletes who skipped classes with the university’s blessings and I don’t think many of them went to the Olympics.  Kim Yuna probably speaks English well, having trained abroad for many years.  My students, whom I only saw on paper, couldn’t string three words together.  I think the unnamed professor in the quote above has a point.

“In addition, the members of the 2002 World Cup squad including Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung, and Korean baseball players participating in the improvised World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2006, had their military service waived after each side got out of the group stage for the first time in history and reached the semifinals. Both exemptions were hurriedly established exemptions, which raised voices against the extreme favor.

In Korea, all able-bodied men over 20 are required to serve in the military for about two years under the country’s mandatory conscription system.”

“…”

“Looking back in history, there were some renowned sportsmen who joined the military, fought in wars and even lost their lives during their heydays. Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, the last player in MLB to bat over .400 in a single season, was called up to serve in World War II and Korean War, while Pat Tillman, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League (NFL), enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002 after turning down a contract offer of $3.6 million (4.25 billion won), only to be killed by friendly fire during his service in Afghanistan in 2004.”

There is a huge gap between the quotes above.

I don’t know much about Williams although I have met a pitcher who struck him out, but Tillman was a volunteer.  The whole argument over conscription is more important than that of a few privileged athletes but not one I don’t intend to get into now.

My main concern here is that the age of conscription is also the age of peak performance for many athletes.  For a competitive swimmer, losing two years to the army would require at least two years to return to that form.  The army training would keep the guy fit but all the subtlety of technique would be lost.  So a twenty-year-old, nearly-Olympic-level swimmer would join the army, then at age twenty-four would be in the same position.  Four years is a lot.

“But Park said there is no leg[al] evidence that medalists improve the national brand or glory by winning medals at international competitions.

“Who remembers where the gold medalist in canoeing at the Beijing Olympics came from?” he asked.”

I didn’t remember and so looked it up.  Still, I think the world knows that Korea is the home for Olympic violence (if it could be used to hurt people, Koreans win medals at it).  I think Park is likely correct but he has also carefully chosen his example. As a competitive swimmer, I had some tiny degree of recognition at school, but the team sport players on the basketball and hockey teams were far better known.  If Park had asked about the Olympic Gold medalists in Hockey, baseball, soccer or basketball, more people would have answered.

At the same time, Park Tae-hwan is famous among swimmers the world over.  If Park had asked canoeing enthusiasts, he would probably have gotten the correct names.

“Another problem is that medalists from the Olympics or Asian Games are awarded monthly pension money after they reach 60. Amid escalating negative comments on the system, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) is set to take an action to revise the current law.”

Wow.  This is something I would like to have waiting for me.  Rising to the level of Olympian is hard on your body.  I have already pointed out that I was nowhere near that level, yet I have some minor knee and shoulder problems now.  Perhaps Olympians or Asiad medalists don’t need assistance so much as everyone does at that age and a more universal care package should be arranged.

—————

Updated: The day after I posted this, I had a final exam with a student who is also an athlete and permitted to skip classes and homework.  The student, very correctly and responsibly, had informed me early about her training schedule and inability to attend classes.  We made arrangements long before the exam and I commend her planning.

The exam was terrible.  It was an oral exam and I ended up speaking more Korean than she did English to try to elicit any answers from her.  At the end of the exam, I wished her well, saying, “I hope you’re a good [sport name redacted]“.  Two coworkers overheard me and remarked on the backhanded remark.

This student presumably does well in her sport and her sport is a very competitive one in Korea.  If she had made it to the Olympics, she could have used that name-recognition to find work afterwards.  As she has not qualified for the Olympics, she is merely strong in her field but weak in background sports theory.

It reminded me of a student from a previous university who was permitted to skip my classes for most of the semester but somehow lost her protected status and suddenly needed to catch up on homework and prepare for an exam.  The outcome was not a good one for her.

One Response to “privileges for varsity athletes”

  1. Korean Gender Reader | The Grand Narrative Says:

    [...] Privileges for varsity athletes (Surprises [...]

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