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This Case Was One For The Books
William Nack
February 24, 1986
Jan Kemp won $2.58 million in a suit that bared academic abuses involving the athletes at Georgia
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February 24, 1986

This Case Was One For The Books

Jan Kemp won $2.58 million in a suit that bared academic abuses involving the athletes at Georgia

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Kemp, who regularly attended Georgia games, vociferously protested the decision. "I thought it was important for a student to realize that if he did not try, then he could not remain at the university [of Georgia]," she said. What troubled her, she said, was that the athletes were getting the message that they did not have to work for their promotions.

"I feared they wouldn't do anything from then on out," she said, "because they [administrators] had practically announced to them, 'You don't have to do the work. You'll be taken care of.' " What particularly galled her at the same time, she said, was that a failing nonathlete had been dismissed from the university. At a pretrial hearing in 1983, Trotter, in trying to justify the promotion of the nine students, made what has become an oft-quoted remark: "I would rather err on the side of making a mistake."

Kemp prepared a formal letter of protest on the promotion of the nine athletes, but never sent it. Two days after she wrote it, on Feb. 3, 1982, Ervin demoted her from coordinator of the English program to teacher. That April, she says, she began suffering severe depression after she learned that her students were being approached to write letters against her and that her supporters on the faculty were being harassed. She was fired that August. After the two suicide attempts and her final release from the hospital in October, she consulted with her mother, Margie Hammock, and decided to fight her demotion and dismissal in court.

What surfaced during the trial drew a wide range of reaction. Harry Edwards, the black sociologist at the University of California who for years has decried the exploitation of the black athlete, said, "The Kemp case is only a tiny step forward because the practice continues of recruiting athletes on one dimension only: Can they play ball? The academic dimension is almost overlooked.... I'm very happy for her [Kemp] because of what she went through. I see everywhere university people scared to speak up...." Of Almand's memorable remark about prospective garbage collectors working their way up to postal workers, Edwards said, "The fraud continues. To be honest, Georgia should give a course with major credits in sorting mail."

Julian Bond, the black state senator from Atlanta, said, "It's just pathetic, awful, that athletes are discriminated against at Georgia. They're denied an equal education. They're kept from competition in the classroom so they can compete on the playing field, and the time has long passed when something has got to be done." Bond recognizes, however, that the problem really stems from inadequate education at the elementary and high school levels. "We're not preparing our children to get college educations," Bond says.

The trial brought to light the fact that the Georgia school systems produce gifted athletes who graduate from high school barely able to read or spell. If they have a 2.0 average and can run a whole lot faster than they read, they are candidates for athletic scholarships.

Dooley, once the chairman of the American Football Coaches Association's Ethics Committee, admitted during the trial that, "Because of the similar approaches by other institutions, we were placed in a position of offering scholarship aid to student-athletes who were very, very poorly academically prepared. It became obvious that we had to take some numbers that were high risk." In other words everybody else was doing it so Georgia had to do it, too.

Georgia president Fred Davison similarly tried to justify the university's recruitment practices by saying, "We have to compete [with rival schools] on a level playing field." Referring to Georgia athletes, Davison also said: "If they leave us being able to read, write, communicate better, we simply have not done them any damage."

Davison, whose dismissal was called for Sunday in an editorial in the Athens Banner-Herald/The Daily News, testified that it was theoretically possible to offer scholarships to revenue-producing athletes—i.e., football and basketball players—even if they achieved a minimum 400 score on their SAT tests, while non-revenue-producing athletes had to score at least 650. Asked if the standards were lower for revenue-producing athletes because they made money for the school, Davison said, "If you want to ask me if they have utilitarian effect to the university, certainly they do."

What do some other college sports officials think about the Georgia case? Gene Corrigan, the director of athletics at Notre Dame, said, "I just don't want to sound holier than thou. What I'm saying is that there might be 50 or 60 other schools that could make the same claim as Georgia." Doug Single, the AD at Northwestern, suggested that schools with high academic standards should schedule each other and not worry about playing schools with lower priorities.

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