Soon after I became chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh in 1957, a rumor spread that I intended to de-emphasize varsity athletics. The suspicion arose from the fact that our admissions requirements, like those of some other universities, were becoming too exacting for many a halfback. As a number of superior athletes found themselves excluded, the public inferred that I was either indifferent or downright hostile to sports.
The city brooded. When, for example, I did not find time to attend basketball games I was described as a basketball hater. Such suspicions did not abate until approximately a year later, and then only after I had invited Pittsburgh sportswriters to lunch and emphatically assured them that I not only enjoyed athletics but, more to the point, I believed superior athletes were, as a breed, not incongenial to a scholarly atmosphere. I felt reasonably confident that most athletes regard college as more than a place to sojourn in lieu of going directly from high school to work.
But impressions are one thing and documentation another, so I found my curiosity aroused when officials in our athletic department recently embarked upon a survey the like of which no college, so far as we know, had ever undertaken. They simply asked themselves: what becomes of college athletes after they have had their education? Coaches, to be sure, have tiresomely assured us that athletic grants enable young men to make something of their lives. But have there not been a good many failures, too, among the muscular youth we have made room for in our classrooms? The coaches do not tell us, nor indeed do they know.
Nettled by the absence of hard data in this realm, Assistant Athletic Director J. Clyde Barton set out to discover what had become of Pitt's athletes. He spent more than a year tracing the whereabouts of 1,678 Pitt lettermen, whose performances in our colors date from the year 1900 to 1960. To each man Barton sent a rather detailed questionnaire, and from fully 1,391, or 83%—among them physicians, physicists and millionaires, policemen, factory workers and even a few unemployed—he received answers. Those answers are revealing and—for those who consign athletes to stereotypes—perhaps even astonishing. They are especially pertinent today, when antagonists of aid to athletes quite properly have brought their arguments up to date by asking:
First, in view of disclosures of scandalous collusion between college basketball players and professional gamblers, can anyone continue to insist that intercollegiate sports build character? And secondly, in times of population explosion that crowds our classrooms, of unrelieved international tension that demands strength of purpose, and of breathtaking search for knowledge, can colleges afford to be distracted by such fribble as Saturday afternoon's big game?
I say they can, for the values of sport, intensively played, are not incidental.
We at Pitt award our athletes grants in aid, and we go home from our stadium a good deal happier when we have beaten Penn State than when, as in the past two dark football seasons, we have not. We cannot insist with utter certainty that the course we have chosen is the right one, but we pursue it as honestly as we know how, aware that times have changed—that guile can be viewed no more insouciantly in the athletic department than in the academic halls. At this moment Pitt, Penn State and Syracuse universities—all long-standing rivals on the field—are taking steps to see that the responsibility for maintaining sanity and integrity in our sports programs will lie directly with the heads of each institution. I shall explain these steps presently.
Meanwhile, returning to our survey, it may be said that, judging from the 1,391 data cards on file in Clyde Barton's office, the start we have given our athletes does have every appearance of having been worthwhile. Our data, for one thing, explodes with surprising force the myth that athletes generally could not care less about their studies. Over the years Pitt has been particularly sensitive to this general misapprehension, for there exists a veritable repertory of trite jokes about college athletes recruited from our own western Pennsylvania coal and steel region, the popular insinuation being that such boys, for all their mesomorphic references, are rather dull. So attentively do the nation's football scouts comb the region that many like to say they carry United Mine Workers cards, and no college, I am sure, has drawn more heavily on these athletes than has Pitt.
Still, our survey shows that no less than 517 men—or 37% of the cases in our files—have gone beyond their baccalaureates to earn advanced degrees. And remember, the great bulk of our letter-men matriculated prior to the current emphasis on graduate work. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, although our campus has had a Phi Beta Kappa chapter only nine years, keys have been awarded to seven athletes, including our young freshman football coach, Bill Kaliden.
The bare statistics, of course, do not begin to describe the brilliance with which so many of our lettermen have pursued their careers. Statistics do not explain that while Peanuts Lewis, a pugnacious guard on our 1930 Rose Bowl team, may have dislodged a few teeth from the mouths of opposing linemen, he has more than atoned by pioneering new techniques in lower denture prosthesis; that Harry Colmery, a former Pitt baseball player, is referred to as the chief architect of the G.I. Bill of Rights; that Len Monheim, a sprinter, is internationally renowned for his innovations in anesthesiology. One might add that Doctors E. T. Lewis and Leonard M. Monheim, though frequently lecturing abroad, also enjoy scouting and recruiting for our coaches. If they .do not answer to the description of the effusively infantile alumnus recruiter, perhaps it is the stereotype that is suspect.