Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/19/2009

The Hypergraphic teacher meets the college Football player right to speak sown on another person...

Today I cannot, as usual, for one day, stop my own writing. Nothing matters except that I write before I grade essays or do anything else. Students have the opposite problem. They must do anything, everything, before they write. And then they write with gadgets in their ears, their iPhones on the desks beside their computers in case a “text” arrives, Facebook open in separate windows beside their work.

How are we different, my students and I? Perhaps in that I evaluate (from L. ex- “out,”  L. valere “be strong, be well, be of value”) my writing as I go. Its value is obvious. It is precious, gems of insight, pearls of wisdom, rubies of expression. Enough! I do have some ability to evaluate my own writing. Yuck!

But I am at a loss how to evaluate a student’s statement in response to a question about the First Amendment protection of hate speech:

I agree [. . . .] that the First Amendment protects the person that is delivering the message, but it is not protecting those that can be hurt from the message. Patrick Johnson believes that hate speech messages can bring about dangerous and unwanted consequences. I agree because I believe that the messenger should be responsible for what he or she says.

What, exactly, is the value of this sentence? “Hate speech can bring about dangerous and unwanted consequences. . . .the messenger should be responsible for what he or she says.” I have tried to evaluate this student’s writing, fearing that as I evaluate his writing, I am somehow evaluating him. I am paid to grade his work, to help him improve the mechanics of his writing. My job is not to evaluate him. My job is not to evaluate the depth of experience from which he says, “The messenger should be responsible for what he or she says.” I am privy to some of his hard experience. He has trusted me enough to tell me a fraction of his history.

From another student’s writing: 

I have thought differently of Muslims or Afghanis but only because it is what America wants the public to believe. After 9/11/2001, there were always pictures and videos up on the news of different Muslims accompanied with 9/11situations. It went on forever, and still does today, eight years later. I had no problem with foreigners before all I saw on television was others killing American soldiers. Is that American Muslims’ fault? Absolutely not. I myself have fallen victim to fact-less slander but, I have realized it is naïve and people deserve more than that.

I know, because the student told me, he meant by “fallen victim” that he, himself, has spoken “fact-less slander.” I asked him, “Don’t you mean something such as ‘I have victimized other people through fact-less slander.’” “No,” he said. “When I say things like that, it hurts me. It makes me someone I don’t want to be.” 

Walt Whitman: 

I am the teacher of athletes,
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own,
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher. 
Song of Myself, 47. 

I am the teacher of athletes, young men and women who excel in their sports, robust in bodies of which they are proud (but few of them vain—the best athletes accept their bodies as the instrument of their craft, their art). I am the teacher of athletes badly used by the societies in which they grow up. Our colleges and universities use them to make money—how many $35,000 scholarships can the television rights for one post-season bowl game provide? 

I am the teacher of an athlete who knows that he has “fallen victim to fact-less slander, but. . . it is naïve and people deserve more than that.” If on Christmas Eve, you watch the right bowl game on TV, you will see him play. He is not, “beef on the hoof” as one Texas wag once called the football culture in Texas.  He is a powerful, talented, intelligent, thoughtful young man who has an uncanny ability to make friends. He is modest about his athletic ability. We have had conversations about the connection between his intelligence on the field and his ability to write. He is remarkably self-aware. 

I write about him in order to say that anyone who says of him and his friends, “Oh, they’re just football players—getting a free ride,” has herself “fallen victim to fact-less slander.” 

Just a business major

Some college athletes are “just football players.” About the same percentage as the business majors who are convinced (not without reason) that they will end up in the Bernanke-Paulson-Geithner crowd, ripping off America (2008 compensation Ronald Williams, CEO of Aetna Insurance: $24,300,112; Cigna CEO, H. Edward Hanway: $12,236,740; Coventry CEO, Dale Wolf: $9,047,469) *** for immoral amounts of money—enough to cause worldwide recession. That’s writing for another day when I wake up angry. 

“My” football players are delightful young people. Four members of the team were in one of my classes this semester. It’s possible one may be an NFL star some day—they know how unlikely that is—and then we will see how the “star” culture of America affects him, the proximity to the rich and powerful, men who buy and sell all of us, STRAIGHT WHITE MEN like Ronald Williams (oops! he’s a straight black man), H. Edward Hanway, Dale Wolf and Timothy Geithner, men who buy and sell whole football teams, vassals to make their money on top of money. 

Should one of “my” football players end up as the property of those RICH, STRAIGHT (mostly)WHITE MEN (think Jerry Jones) who think of all of us as the means to amass immoral fortunes that dwarf some states’ budgets, how he copes with fame and fortune will test the athletic programs of our university. And of classes like mine. 

The young man who knows he has “fallen victim to fact-less slander” wrote in a personal essay how he came to understand hate speech: 


Using her power to speak down...

I have a gay cousin who is very offended by speech like this, and not only does it hurt him, but it hurts me when someone talks about a gay person. . . .There is never any reason for one to discriminate against any group or individual with such speech because it does not accomplish anything but hurt to others. Not only do students not have the right to speak with each other like that, but [teachers and administrators] are on even a shorter leash because no one person above another has the right to use their power to speak down on a person. . . .


“No one person has the right to use their power to speak down on a person.” Hate speech: speaking down on a person. A phrase Whitman might say “destroys the teacher.” A phrase that at the very least renders the teacher superfluous.
*** Health Reform Watch
A Web Log of the Seton Hall University School of Law, Health Law & Policy Program


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