Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tabor College, my alma mater, ends up in Sports Illustrated for all the wrong reasons

Well, I'd love to hear from some of my Tabor friends about this, but the story SI describes doesn't seem terribly different from what things were like when I was a student at Tabor 20 years ago, at least in my mind.

I even did a little research into WHY Tabor had a football team when I was there, digging through old stacks of the student newspaper. If memory serves, the team didn't exist until 1969. It started (and an existing soccer team shut down) more or less in order to stay in the KCAC—the worry being that the college wouldn't survive unless it maintained its membership in the athletic conference.

The football team seemed to exist in a different universe than the rest of Tabor, which was no lip-service denominational college: It really did (and does) take seriously the mission of Christ-centered learning. The student body was pretty white and devout. The football team …much, much less so. Every year or so, there'd be one or two players who really participated in church-related events on campus in a major way, and they drew a lot of attention, but often they were gone the next year, just like most of the rest of the team.

So the team didn't seem to square, even then, with either Tabor's spiritual or educational missions. I recall, in fact, my senior year of college putting the question directly to David Brandt, then Tabor's brand-new president. Why did Tabor persist in keeping a program that seemed to fit the campus so badly?

I don't recall his answer, in fairness: I do recall he answered it with a kind of smiling frustration reserved for the "you don't get how the world works, son," and I guess I did and didn't.

I'm disappointed that the current president, Jules Glanzer, elected to try to avoid attention by declining to speak about this with SI's reporter. In fairness: I'm no longer an ideal Tabor alum myself, being an agnostic liberal. And the story of who benefits and who loses from the existence of the football team at Tabor is complicated by hundreds of individual stories.

But I also suspect that the conflict between how Tabor presents itself, how it thinks of itself, and the different reality lived by much of the football team—well, public embarrassment of some sort was going to come at some point. I'm sorry that it took the death of a young man, a father, to heighten those contradictions. I hope, however, that Tabor will wrestle with the questions posed in this story with honesty, integrity, and fidelity to the faith it proclaims in the world.

Update: Final thought: It was clear 20 years ago that Tabor might not live without football, but would live in a compromised state *with* football. It seems like little has changed. I'm more clear-eyed than I was when I was a self-righteous 20-year-old about the need for and nature of compromise, but I still wonder if it's all ultimately to the good.

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