An Interview with Former College Athlete Jacob Sumners, Part II

By Drew Laurens

Click here to read Part I.

This is the second part of my conversation with Jacob Sumners. In it, we discuss the academic success of college athletes, kids and sports, and the destructive side of the sports we love.

DL: You said before that everyone’s an alumni when you’re winning. Do you think that the kind of money a university makes from alumni donations after a championship actually benefits the students there? I’m asking about students as a whole, including the athletes.

JS: It’s true that donations and financial support increase when a college team wins a lot of games. The money that the school makes sometimes turns into positive things for the whole student body like a new Fine Arts building or whatever. But the fact is that the sports teams need money reinvested in them in order to make more money the next season, perhaps with a bowl appearance or even a championship. So you’ll see sports teams’ needs take precedence over the school’s as a whole. They have to support the system otherwise they lose money on it. Most schools don’t start making money on their teams until they start winning for exactly that reason. And those schools trying to break into the sports side of things lose money for years. Continue reading


Tim Wolfe, Mizzou, and the Tigers

[Note: Drew Laurens will continue his interview with Jacob Sumners in his next installment on December 20th.]

By Drew Laurens

It is my belief that once a university invests heavily in a sports program, then the moral compass of the institution needs to be retuned. This is because all too often the lesson being taught at places whose sports teams have greater import than educational programs is this: when the price is right, then what is right will be done.

In Missouri a few weeks ago, there was news of a hunger strike, a school divided, and a university president, to use the terminology of the press, “toppled” from his position. The story of ConcernedStudent1950, as the on-campus protest movement has chosen to call itself, is still being lived out by the students and faculty at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) in Columbia, MO. The antagonizing incidents preceding the protests include racist and homophobic slurs being hurled at black students, as well as a particularly disgusting display of swastika in a campus bathroom. Even without the most recent events, racial tensions are taut there; after all, this is the same state in which Michael Brown was killed by a police officer just last year. Continue reading

Sport in American Culture: An Interview with Former College Athlete Jacob Sumners, Part I

By Drew Laurens

Jacob Sumners was a personal trainer at the gym I used to frequent when I got married and moved to Canton. The first impression I ever had of the guy was simply this: he’s big. He stands well over six feet tall and has very little body fat with some of the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen, and every inch of him is plated in muscle. He doesn’t look like a bodybuilder, though. He looks fit and tough and practical. He probably tips the scales at 275, but the way I’ve seen him move playing basketball and messing around in the CrossFit box belies his weight. Jacob played D1 baseball at Auburn University in Alabama for three years as a pitcher, so I believed his perspective would be helpful with this series.

During our first meeting, Jacob and I spoke about a lot of things. My primary reason for interviewing him was to get more clarity about the role and experience his college athlete status afforded him. I wrote a very biased piece about what I viewed as the unearned privilege our private university afforded to college athletes while I was an undergrad; perhaps I am seeking a little absolution for that with this project. The fact remains that my experience with athletics then was varied and unencumbered by school obligations, so I have no idea what it was like for Jacob or his teammates, nor did I know what his opinions were about the subjects we discussed beforehand. I tried to make sure he understood where I was coming from with my questions, so we actually spoke freely for a long time before I even began the interview. What follows is the first installment of our interview, which covers some of Jacob’s experience with college athletics, the bottom line driving sports programs at colleges like Auburn, and the benefits athletics are believed to confer. Continue reading

Sport in American Culture: What’s the Big Fucking Deal?

This will be the first of several columns by new contributor Drew Laurens dedicated to understanding and deconstructing the origins, implications, and legacy of sport and sports culture in the United States of America.  [Note: Please bare with us as we update the author information.  Thank you.]

One afternoon while I was driving home I was listening to an NPR teaser about a sports piece. In the middle of it, a six-year veteran of the NFL used the words “we would give up our lives” when describing the importance of the game of football to himself and his compatriots. This statement sent me into mental convulsions as I immediately thought of the very real brain health problems that chronically plague the NFL’s ever-growing pool of retirees. Did he know that people had given up their lives for this sport — years before they actually died? Did he not think about what he was saying? Did he not know that former players routinely commit suicide by shooting themselves in the chest so that we can still study their brains? What makes such a game worthy of this penultimate sacrifice?

Continue reading