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Hold athletes as accountable as other students for misconduct

Published: 5/13/2020 1:54:03 PM

Chip Ainsworth’s recent reporting on what he describes as the unjust treatment of the Amherst College lacrosse team by college president Biddy Martin (4/24, “Keeping Score: Martin’s mammoth mistake”) — was tainted not only by his obvious bias, but also by some important omissions and misunderstandings.

Most important was his glossing over that the Amherst lacrosse team was essentially on probation for previous misbehavior, including in 2019, sharing photos of a teammate with a swastika drawn on his face who had passed out at a party, and other violations, including vandalism in the dorms.

Ainsworth also misrepresents the prominence of athletics on the Amherst campus by stating it doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. This is true, but it does allow sports teams to loosen admission standards for a few team recruits each year, and Amherst is need-blind in its admissions, leveraging its huge endowment to offer scholarships sufficient for any admitted to attend.

In a small campus these athletics admissions represent a significant and visible portion of the student body. Amherst and other elite colleges have received unwanted attention for the misbehavior of their athletic teams several times in recent years, including sexual and racial incidents particularly troubling for schools whose evolution into coeducation and racially diverse student bodies are relatively recent in their centuries-long histories.

Coaches, whether their teams can brag of impressive win-loss records or not, are responsible for establishing exemplary team cultures, and each and every member of the team also plays an important role. Incidents like the racial slurs that brought down the Amherst lacrosse team seldom (if ever) emerge from a healthy team culture, and certainly all Amherst student athletes have been aware for years now that their team will be judged harshly for their personal misbehavior.

Until 1993 Amherst and its fellow NESCAC schools were ineligible for NCAA championship competition. The change apparently increased the level of competitiveness of Amherst College athletics, and lowered the standard of behavior. As an Amherst athletics alum, I’d hate to see athletics disappear from the campus, but I fully support President Martin’s efforts to hold athletes at least as accountable as other students for their misconduct.

Al Ladd is a resident of Colrain.


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