LOCALE Quillvania, Greece
TIME circa 300 B.C.
ISSUE Renewed tenure for Quillvania's coach
CHARACTERS Burnatotle, a Philosopher; Millerpos, a Dental Extractor; Lorborstan, a Physician.
The discovery of the Quillvanian Dialogues, dredged up from the Aegean Sea by a young Greek mussel hunter who sold the amphora in which they were contained, unopened, to an Athenian antique dealer might have passed totally unnoticed in the flow of history were it not for the intellectual curiosity of Cecil J. Burnett, who recently brought the ancient papers to the attention of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. A former football player (left end, '30, '31, '32) for the university where he now teaches history of political philosophy and labor law, Mr. Burnett sensed in the Dialogues a significance which other scholars, who considered them merely a minor contribution to the philosophical literature of the period, had missed. To a man interested in sports (Mr. Burnett is a charter subscriber to this magazine) a parallel was obvious: the University of Pennsylvania, whose football team had gone through an agonizing three years of defeats (19 straight, a total of 23 losses in 27 games), was facing precisely the same dilemma as Quillvania had faced some 2,200 years before! In fact, Steve Sebo, the Pennsylvania coach, had become the object of such a storm of dispute—hangings in effigy, editorial blasts by the student newspaper, mass meetings and near riots (SI, Jan. 28, 1957)—that the dignity of the university was in serious jeopardy. Nor was the conflict entirely resolved when the university authorities, in adherence to noble Ivy League principles, refused to fire him and instead renewed his contract for three years. Harvard, the league's most hallowed institution, and obviously its Athens, queered that one thoroughly by firing its coach, Lloyd Jordan, who had turned in a 24-31-3 record over a seven-year period—the reason given was "poor teaching."
Thus it came about that Mr. Burnett, a whimsical and history-minded man, sent this manuscript to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Awed by this evidence of the timeless nature of man's struggle with his moral self, the Editors can only add the following lines spoken not long ago by Fritz Crisler, the eminent athletic director of the University of Michigan (SI, Aug. 6, 1956): "We have discarded the principles on which college football was established.... We are applying professional tactics to educational ideals.... We are taking refuge in subterfuge and by some of our practices have created hypocrisy in some individuals and some institutions. We are nourishing a monster which can destroy us if we admit we are powerless to direct, resist or control it."
By Zeus, old Fritz was talking just like Burnatotle, the Philosopher.
THE PHILOSOPHER: The answer, dear practitioners of the honorable art of healing, is to be found in Aristotle's Politics. You venerable ex-Olympians have sorely missed the first law of social dynamics. In Book VII of the Politics Aristotle makes the wise observation that the precondition for social unity of the body politic, and the one responsible for its inner cohesion, is likeness-of-kind. He was convinced that any great discrepancy between members of a social organism makes a community impossible. A community exists only where there is a tacit agreement among its members concerning the ethical virtues which they desire to strive for or wish to preserve.
THE PHYSICIAN: But sir! A social organism! Virtue! Community! These are stunning generalities. This is the great age of Greek science. Science's province is the dimension of matter, detail, phenomena, causality or sequence. You are concerned with ethical vapors. I do not consider Aristotle's social thesis relevant to our discussion about the desirability of continued tenure for our Olympic coach. Athletics are a preparation for war, and at our Games the only human objective is victory. I grant that the gods may decree our constant losses to others of the Hellenic League; but, if the gods' determination does not operate, then human intelligence and art, the application of scientifically ascertained causes to predetermined ends, must cooperate with chance. We have not been wisely instructed to make the most of our divine opportunities. In a word, we are poorly coached.
THE PHILOSOPHER: Victory is not the ultimate goal in war. Reconciliation, peace, unity and understanding are the ultimate objectives. War is an admission of failure of civilized techniques for reconciling differences. What you are actually proposing, dear Doctor, is that if a city-state achieves victory in war it thereby transmits failure into success! Absurd! Evil means cannot produce a virtuous end. And the same applies to our Games.
THE DENTIST: The only issue is the competency of the coach. Our young men of Athens are not at fault. Before the employment of our present coach, Sebeso, we recruited the best athletes the coin of our realm could buy. We still recruit some of the most promising athletes from the mines of Macedonia, although many are now going south. But in my day we were instructed in fundamentals. I am not aware that this regimen is now being followed. The coach is offensively crazy. It is a multiple offense to our good citizens to achieve only four victories in 27 events at the Games against other league members. I say to you, the coach must go! If not, then the veteran Olympians will retire to the groves of the Academe. And, by the way, what virile qualities of manhood did Aristotle ever demonstrate?
THE PHYSICIAN: Dear Burnatotle, I apologize for the impetuous harangue of my companion. He participated in the Games many years ago when they were brutish and crude. Although he was puny of stature he became a legend in his lifetime because of his courage, guile and speed.