Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
THE LATE JACK SCOTT FIRED FIRST SHOTS IN ATHLETIC REVOLUTION

THE LATE JACK SCOTT FIRED FIRST SHOTS IN ATHLETIC REVOLUTION

  • 0
Support this work for $1 a month

The media, when they have dealt with the recent death of Jack Scott, the passionate guru of the athletic revolution in college sports in the 1970s, have relegated him to a footnote in the Patty Hearst kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

This is a sad commentary on both the state of contemporary American education and contemporary journalism. Given the seamy character of contemporary American sports, when no one is shocked to read about athletes who murder, exhibit rampant greed and use drugs, the fact that Jack Scott first examined these distorted values over 30 years ago is even more remarkable.

Yes, Scott was a radical college professor who helped Patty Hearst in her 1975 cross-country flight from justice. His place in contemporary history should be secured, however, by his being the first scholar to reject the mythology of sports as a character-building activity, and then exposing the widespread abuses in sports -- violence, drug abuse and sex discrimination, especially on college campuses.

If that was not enough, Scott then put his theories into practice at Oberlin College from 1972 to 1974, by conducting what Howard Cosell called "the greatest Democratic experiment in the history of sports."

Oberlin's young and progressive president, Robert Fuller, allowed Scott the opportunity to launch his noble experiment when, in 1972, he named Scott athletic director and chairman of the physical education department.

Scott immediately tested Fuller's faith in him by appointing Tommie Smith as his assistant athletic director and track coach. Smith was a controversial figure in his own right, having been one of the black athletes at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City who, upon receiving his gold medal, held up his fist in a sign of protest over racism in the United States.

Once the existing Oberlin athletic staff heard who their new boss was, there were plenty of other positions to fill. Undaunted, Scott used the opportunity to surround himself with some of the finest young physical educators in the country.

In an unprecedented move, Scott allowed the almost all-white Oberlin football team to participate in the hiring of Cass Jackson, a black man, as head football coach. He also broke down the machismo atmosphere of the typical college athletic department by appointing Jane Mann as director of intramural athletics and Leslie Rudolph, a former all-American swimmer, as coach of the women's swimming team, heretofore an almost exclusive male province.

Most dramatically, the athletic revolution for women in high school and college sports began in earnest only when Scott created a prototype of a Title IX program by eliminating the faculty locker room and giving it to women students, and increasing the budget for women's athletics from $1,000 to $7,000.

As a result of this democratic movement in both sports and education, there was a renewed desire on the part of the student body to actively participate in athletics. Although physical education courses were no longer required, many classes doubled in size.

However, there was never widespread faculty support for Fuller and Scott. Many a liberal college professor at Oberlin turned conservative when told he'd actually have to share the athletic facilities with students and, by 1974, both the president and his athletic director were forced to resign from Oberlin.

Strangely enough, the first time I communicated directly with Scott was after he read an article I wrote bemoaning the demise of the Oberlin experiment in humane sports. Always the optimist, he tried to cheer me up: "Brother Ross," he pleaded, "Keep the faith. We will prevail. Yours in Revolution, Jack."

Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times was not as sure as Scott that the struggle to bring sanity to American collegiate sports would succeed. "The system Jack Scott confronted may be even more formidable than the others," wrote Lipsyte. "He challenges the values and priorities of intercollegiate sports, which in effect challenges this country's educational system."

A short time after Oberlin's aborted experiment in athletic democracy ended, "Jack's tendency to take a stand -- even if it put him and others at risk -- got him involved in the bizarre Hearst caper . . . the frenetic world of America's political underground," according to Jay Weiner, a Minneapolis Star Tribune sports reporter and a devoted ex-student of Scott's at Oberlin.

Unfortunately, the Hearst episode sidetracked Scott's productive work as a critic of organized sports in America, but in his never-ending quest to help athletes, Scott set a standard for literate sport autobiographies by assisting ex-NFL linebacker Dave Meggysey in the publication of "Out of Their League," which was the first publication by an ex-athlete that ripped through much of football's myth.

Scott also worked with and befriended UCLA basketball star Bill Walton. The next correspondence I received from Scott was penned on Portland Trailblazers stationery, telling me that a piece I had written for an obscure alternative newspaper on Walton's refusal to be the "white hope of the NBA" was, along with ex-Dallas Cowboy football player turned writer, Peter Gent's, article in Sport Magazine, the "best out there."

Scott became a sports therapist to help athletes in a more direct way until his death Feb. 6 from throat cancer.

Always the teacher and provocateur, Scott tweaked the sports establishment in print one more time, in 1980, by writing the introduction to "Jock: Sports and Male Identity," co-edited for Prentice-Hall by Dr. Donald Sabo of D'Youville College and myself. Scott, never an ivory-tower academic, in his introduction accurately predicted our book about the relationship between sports and masculinity "will be praised and damned, but it will not be called academic."

With the passing of Jack Scott, the continuing and even more desperate struggle to have more humane and open sports, while forever impoverished, must continue to be undertaken by concerned athletes, sportswriters and sports sociologists. Scott would demand no less.

ROSS T. RUNFOLA is an attorney and professor of social sciences at Medaille College, specializing in sports and gender roles in American society.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News