WBAA’s Community Voices: Lauren Ehrmann’s ‘The Power of Art in Growing Communities’

In this installment of Community Voices, Lauren Ehrmann shares the influence art has on a community’s well-being.

On a street just off Frankfort’s main square, tucked between a bakery and an empty storefront, sits Frankfort’s only art gallery, Studio 6. On any given Friday or Saturday night, long after the other stores on the square have closed, citizens of Frankfort can still see artists and patrons gathered in the warmly-lit gallery interior. Inside, local art covers the walls and artists sit in armchairs and talk to the gallery’s owner, Wendi Hall, brainstorming ideas for local art events and new projects.

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Studio 6 began its life as a pop-up gallery a little over a two year ago, as an initiative to help revitalize downtown Frankfort through art. Hall says part of the inspiration for Studio 6 was that many local artists had talked to her about ideas they had for improving the community through murals and projects on an individual basis, and she hoped that by starting the gallery she could create a “home base” and support system for local artists hoping to improve the community.

Of course, Studio 6 is not the only gallery of its kind. In fact, towns of all sizes have increasingly recognized the power of art to engage and revitalize the community. Arts initiatives have become more popular as communities turn toward art as a means of improving a town’s image and attracting investments and tourism.

A slew of relatively recent research has shown that the effects towns hope to gain from these organizations are not merely optimistic but founded in fact. Increased presence of art in a community has been shown to increase tourism as art events attract outsiders to the town. It also serves to improve the town’s attractiveness to businesses and potential homeowners, who are more likely to perceive a town filled with art as “up-and-coming”. Furthermore, businesses in the creative sector are more likely to relocate to a town which they perceive as having a high population of skilled, creative individuals whom they may hire. Finally, the presence of art in a community improves the self-image and civic pride of the members of that community.

These outcomes, of course, are not guaranteed. Not every effort at arts-based community development succeeds. According to William Cleveland, who has worked extensively in the field, more often than not art initiatives fail not because of a lack of enthusiasm but because of poor communication with partners or the community. A lack of clear goals or clear communication can lead to a lack of interest on the part of the community.

Communication has indeed been the downfall of many community-based art projects before they even began. Growing up as an artist in Frankfort, I have been very connected to the community of artists here. Artists, being creative people, tend to brim with ideas, and in my involvement with the artists in Frankfort, I have been privy to hundreds of schemes, plans, and dreams to use art to engage the town of Frankfort. It seems that every artist I meet has a project or idea to improve the community. But these proposed murals, events, and organizations mostly reside only in the artists’ minds, never to become a reality. Why? Because the dreamers lacked connections to those who could help make their ideas a reality.

Without good communication within the arts community in Frankfort, it was incredibly difficult for someone with an idea to meet others who might be able to help them implement it. Artists are an incredible source of ideas and creativity within any community, but without good communication, that potential will remain untapped.

This is where organizations like Studio 6 step in. By creating a centralized location for artists within the community, Wendi Hall has helped ensure people with ideas can meet each other and begin to cooperate with people who possess the skills they need to start making their plans happen. For example, imagine I were to head over to Studio 6 tonight and chat idly with Wendi about my dream of painting a mural in downtown Frankfort. In a few weeks, another artist may pass through the gallery and mention that they would really like to see more art downtown. Wendi may connect them with me, and now my idle dream of a mural has begun to gain momentum. Without a location or organization where information like that may be shared, however, my idea for a mural would have simply stayed in my head, never connecting with the people required to make it happen.

Already due to Studio 6’s influence Frankfort has begun to see more art and involvement than before. This winter, Studio 6, along with the Frankfort Arts Guild and economic development group Frankfort Main Street, held a festival called Fire and Ice, featuring ice carvers, an ice skating rink, and a beer garden, among other things. And beginning this May, downtown Frankfort will host art walks on the first Friday of every month. This is but the beginning of what could happen as all the disparate ideas that existed individually in our community begin to gain support and momentum. I, for one, am excited to see where art will take us next.

Lauren Ehrmann is a senior at Frankfort High School. She is a professionally exhibiting artist, a member of the Frankfort Arts Council and member of the Tuesday Night Inkers. Lauren is a recipient of the Wells Scholarship and will be attending IU Bloomington in the fall to study art history.

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WBAA’s Community Voice: Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop’s ‘Academic Integrity: When Athletes Expect The Education They Are Promised’

In this installment of the Community Voices Project, Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop discusses the details and implications of an athlete academic fraud court case.

On April 19, in a federal court room, lawyers representing former collegiate athletes took on the NCAA and the University of North Carolina in what could prove to be a landmark case.  At stake is “academic integrity,” a term that both the NCAA and its member institutions like to trot out when athletes are under investigation for academic fraud. Except this time, it is the NCAA and its member institutions (most notably UNC) who are the accused.

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How this case unfolds is crucial.  The tenacious mythology of the collegiate sports model rests in the “student-athlete” moniker that the NCAA coined in the 1950s to avoid workers compensation liability. The term became the linchpin of the NCAA’s raison d’etre–to protect college students who are athletes from the evils of commercialization.  The “students first” battle cry against commercialization has kept the NCAA in business.  And it is BIG business, generating billions of dollars in revenues that go back to the universities. These billions go back to schools, like UNC, who are charged with educating these same “student-athletes.” The wheels of the money machine could well go flat if the “student” part of this equation no longer has the traction the NCAA needs it to have.

A lot is at stake, including the lives of collegiate athletes who go to college on an athletic scholarship to learn, contrary to the caricatures people often have about athletes as those who only care about their sport.  And it is the upturning of the landscape of the “academic integrity” mythology, which defines collegiate sports, that is at play in this court case.  It has been easy for public opinion to swing against athletes who are labeled “cheaters” when it comes to academic fraud. Will it be as smooth a swing for that same public to see the university as the fraudulent entity? The NCAA and its member institutions sure hope not.

Consider the facts of the case and just a few clues as to how the NCAA and UNC are going to argue against their culpability. The University of North Carolina, for more than twenty years, had a system in place for students to get “easy A’s.” Every university has its bunny classes. And students know what they are. But UNC took it to a different level.  Athletes were often steered toward these classes in order to stay eligible.  Eligibility, by the way, is an NCAA-derived and sanctioned system that ties academic standing to playing time.  In other words, you can’t play if your grades dip below a certain point. The NCAA says so. And its member institutions have used eligibility to amplify their “students first” mantra.  Eligibility is their proof that school comes first.

The problem comes at a school like UNC — which has a championship caliber basketball team just about every year — when those darn eligibility rules start to kick in for players they need on the court to win games.  When the championship is on the line, who has time for remediation for students in challenging classes?  There are more dependable ways for an institution to protect its investment.  For UNC the eligibility problem was solved by having classes that required a paper, didn’t include meeting with an actual professor, and where grading was done by an office staff person.

Here’s the part that trips people up: athletes did the work that was required of them in these classes. And in many cases, these athletes had no idea there was anything fraudulent about these classes. Academic advisors steered them toward taking the classes. In some cases, athletes were handed schedules that they had nothing to do with determining. The biggest mistake many of these athletes made was trusting the university that promised to provide them with a meaningful education.  In the UNC case, however, it was an easy leap for university officials, faculty, and fans to blame the athletes for cheating and to give the university the benefit of the doubt.

This time, however, some athletes are not going to settle for being scapegoated for a system they did not create.  Instead they are going to hold the NCAA and the university that promised them an education to its word.  So far the arguments from the NCAA and UNC attorneys lean heavily on denying responsibility and on obscure technicalities of the law.

The NCAA argues it is not responsible for the education athletes receive.  An interesting Pontius Pilate-like washing of the hands in an area where they most certainly have a stake.  We only have to conjure up a couple words to remember that: “eligibility” and “student-athlete.”  Consider for a moment that it is the NCAA investigating UNC for academic fraud — the same misdeeds that the NCAA itself is now being sued for in this case.  Do they have a stake in academic integrity or not? They are at once answering their own question with a yes and a no.  That’s a thin line of ethical standing. In fact, the line is disappearing as they speak.

And the university argues that the statute of limitations has expired on the case (which, they argue, is apparently three years in cases of universities having fraudulent classes in place for over twenty years) and they are claiming “sovereign immunity” as a state university.  In other words, “the emperor can do no wrong.” Unfortunately for UNC, that mythic immunity disappears when enough people can see clearly the emperor has no clothes.

The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, PhD is a theologian, minister and author of Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports. Marcia and her family have been involved in football in the NFL and at Division I collegiate levels for over two decades. She is also a middle school cross country and track coach in West Lafayette, IN. 

WBAA’s Community Voices: Helen Hudson’s ‘Boxing Their Way To Cooking & Healthy Living’

In this installment of the Community Voices Project, Helen Hudson explains the “meal-in-a-box” craze that has millennials hungry for more.

As the writer and creator of the Real Food column in the Crawfordsville Journal Review, a column which focuses on eating fresh food prepared at home, I would never have thought I’d be writing about food in a box….Why, my food writing began as a celebration of Crawfordsville’s burgeoning Farmers’ Market…but, an e-mail last month changed that.  In my inbox I found the nicest invitation:  one of my former students had invited me to lunch—which he would prepare and serve.

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When I arrived, he was busy chopping herbs and tossing greens, consulting a brightly colored recipe card.  We chat and catch up.  We chuckle about students, talk about education policies, muse about Africa, and bemoan the presidential race shenanigans.  All the while, my personal chef nimbly zests a lemon, brings pasta water to a boil, and points to the pretty appetizer plate of pears and cheese.  White wine was on offer.

Our conversation rolled on as we enjoyed our fresh, flavorful meal of beet pasta topped with “knick knacks” of walnuts, fragrant oil, herbs, lemon zest, and goat cheese.  Alongside the pasta was a green on green on ruddy red baby kale salad dressed with a Caesar dressing of the chef’s own making.  Salud!  Dessert of Greek yogurt topped with sliced nectarines followed.  In Indy or Lafayette, I would have expected to pay around $25 for such a fine meal, what with the wine, the dessert, and the appetizers.  I doubt any restaurant meal would have met this standard of freshness and bright deliciousness.

Not only had I eaten very well — watching this young adult cook with skillful confidence, employing excellent, fresh ingredients had taught me a lot.  My home chef was comfortable with herbs, spices, and other tasty items which none of us would have found in our grandparents’ pantries.  Today’s young (or not so young) cooks not only have the worldwide web at their fingertips, they have worldwide cuisine…and they have an ace in the hole.

Millennials like things crisp and clean, fast as the speed of a keystroke.  They like do-it-yourself projects. They like to accommodate busy lives by having all sorts of goods shipped to their doors.  Importantly, they also know far more than their elders about how vital it is to eat healthy foods.  Not lost on them are recent studies reporting that middle-aged and young people living now may be the first generation to have shorter lifespans than their parents, given the pernicious creep of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

To avoid such dire consequences, young professionals, especially, are pulling out that ace in the hole:  they’re opening up their iPads and subscribing to Blue Apron or another cook-at-home meal delivery service.

“Meal kits” composed of premeasured ingredients and recipe cards can now be shipped to your doorstep in refrigerated boxes for about $60 a week.  The kits contain ingredients for three meals, and will feed from two to six people at a cost of roughly $10 a meal.  Hundreds of small and mid-size farmers supply the fresh food.

I decided to turn over the local rock to see just who is tapping into this trend by posting a message on Facebook.  Within minutes, seven or eight enthusiastic comments blink onto my screen:  Respondents from New York City to California to Texas to Chicago say they’re getting fresh ingredients delivered to them. Lots of locals partake too.  As for Millennials, several respondents, all under age 40, noted that they have tried three or four different services and went on to compare them.

One local reply came from a young colleague who writes, “I will tell you that I’d never prepared a fish dish before in my life.  Now, I buy catfish on purpose.  Learning new preparation techniques has been really nice and I’m trying recipes I would never have tried on my own because of all the spices I would have had to buy and possibly never use again….I’m eating much healthier.  [My housemate and I] have thrown tiny dinner parties preparing bigger quantities of the same meals.”   Parents make peace with a teenage child when they cook together; couples get engaged while cooking together.

The extent of these businesses’ success can be measured by the stir they’ve caused in the Fortune 500 community:  Blue Apron is worth billions of dollars, according to its investors.  The many other meal-in-a-box companies springing up suggest that customers’ appetites for this service have barely been whetted.

If the goal is to empower new chefs, it looks like it’s working.  Still, I do hope all these Boxers, now equipped with cooking skills and a real taste for fresh food, will trek down to their nearest Farmers’ Markets once spring arrives. The local food will be even fresher and less expensive.

Cook up a storm, you pugilists!

 

Helen Hudson is a former Icelandic scholar, professor and teacher. Her educational career took her to Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin and Indiana — all away from her Iowa birthplace and upbringing. An addiction to her passion for food and sustainable living, she works with passenger mail and is involved with community organizations in Crawfordsville where she lives.

WBAA’s Community Voices: Tim Brouk’s ‘Greater Lafayette’s Burgeoning Concert Renaissance’

In this installment of the Community Voices Project, Tim Brouk describes Greater Lafayette’s fast-changing music scene.

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I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time.

As a lad growing up in St. Louis, I would pour over the concert listings in the local art weekly newspaper. I was a music fiend. And I wanted to be around live music at all times.

Several clubs would display their show calendars. It was like a beautiful buffet of sonic delights spread out before me. My mind would spin trying to decide on what shows to hit. Or at least try to attend. Since I was a teenager, money was tight and transportation never a sure thing.

Flash forward to last month, a social media post by indie rock legends Pavement displayed a scan from the calendar of the historic Philadelphia venue, Trocadero. All in the same month, acts like Beck, Rancid, The Offspring, Dead Milkmen, L7, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Guided by Voices and even Deee-Lite were slated to perform. This was from 20 years ago, at least. It brought me back to the my youth in the ’90s.

In Lafayette-West Lafayette 2016, We’re not there quite yet here. Greater Lafayette and Philadelphia are two different markets and we will never attract the same volume of great, amazing shows. But Local music fans’ prayers were answered in 2015 when multiple Lafayette venues upped their games. Improvements were made and daring shows featuring national talent were booked. This positive trend continues in 2016.

The one-two punch of Lafayette Theater and Carnahan Hall have made things year very exciting. Nationally touring acts from almost every genre have made a pit stop on Main Street in the past year, usually to enthusiastic crowds. Longtime promoters like the Friends of Bob live music co-op and others now have more and better options to work with. Smaller venues like The Spot Tavern and Knickerbocker Saloon improved their sound systems and showed better dedication to shows. The variety of shows booked has been appreciated.

On April 8, I had the pleasure of attending a Friends of Bob presentation of The Bottlerockets and Marshall Crenshaw at Lafayette, two national acts of the roots rock/alt country styles. This same bill came through the Lafayette Brewing Company about five years ago. Both were great performances but at the Lafayette Theater, the show seemed larger, bigger deal. The sound and sightlines were incredible. The crowd was healthy and enthusiastic.

Looking around at posters for upcoming shows at the theater, I realized that we are currently experiencing an unprecedented era of national acts — or at least the potential of quality, national acts — coming to Lafayette. Can there be improvements? Of course. Is there room for growth? Definitely.

Led by these downtown Lafayette venues, never has there been more out of town talent coming to the 47901. Unfortunately, local bands aren’t as plentiful as they once were. The peak of local talent came in the late 00’s. But there are certainly amazing Lafayette acts like Fergus Daly Band, Lucifist, and various bands with a member of the Miller clan in it that are benefiting from this venue renaissance as well.

I’ve been an avid supporter of Lafayette since the second day I lived here 16 years ago. But I’ve never been more proud to watch the activity of the aforementioned venues. If you were here in the abysmal scenes of 2000-2001, you would relish and be amazed at the state of the live music scene is today. Daring, young entrepreneurs like Dusty Schreiber and Jeff Hammann at the Knickerbocker, Paul Baldwin and Zech Baumhover at The Spot, Seema and John Warner at Carnahan Hall, and Nate Pientok and Jordan Scott should and must be commended. There are many others who must be thanked, including the thousands who go to shows every week.

While we’re not quite there yet, someday soon, a teenaged music nut will find the show listings of these aforementioned venues and will be in awe of all the amazing shows happening in his or her backyard. I bet that time will come sooner than later.

 

Tim Brouk covered the local music scene for 12 years as Arts and Entertainment Reporter for the Journal & Courier. Today, he is a proud employee of the Purdue College of Science and a music writer, photographer and videographer for thinklafayette.com.

 

WBAA’s Community Voices: Lauren Ehrmann’s ‘Art History in High School’

In this installment of the Community Voices Project, Lauren Ehrmann takes a critical look the importance of art history in the high school curriculum.

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For many, the words ¨Art History” conjure up images of endless art slides and interminable lists of artists and movements to recognize. Many view the class as a mere exercise in memorizing artists, dates, and masterpieces, useful only for those who work in art and preservation. As such, the class is often taken in college as the students begin to specialize in their area of study.

However, this view of art history is a crabbed and incomplete version of what the course truly represents. At its best, art history is the study of art and its place in our world, a study that brings together history, politics, math, aesthetics, chemistry, psychology, and anthropology, to name a few. It is a synthesis of many subject areas that allows the engaged student a window through which they may catch a glimpse of how the many threads of science, art and sociology combine to create the world as we know it.

For this reason, I argue that Art History courses should be offered widely at the high school level, a time when students have not yet narrowed their focus to a single subject area. Far beyond being solely the arena of specialists, Art History offers an opportunity for anyone with an open mind to understand how the many forces of our world fit together into a cohesive whole.

To understand why art history is needed in high schools, consider the day of an average high school student such as myself. The day may begin with Spanish from 8 to 9:15, followed by Economics from 9:20 to 10:30, and so on for Calculus, English, Art, Biology, and Government.

Each subject remains carefully within the boundaries of its allotted time slot, not daring to venture beyond and bleed into other classes. When the bell rings at 9:15, Spanish ends and at 9:20 Economics begins, and we will not discuss Spanish in terms of Economics, nor will we discuss Economics in terms of Spanish. With very few exceptions, this is how high school works.

What is missing from this type of education is the ability to synthesize the information one has been presented. I may know a great deal about Spanish, and I may know a great deal about Economics, but I am unlikely to understand how the economic state of Spanish-speaking countries influences their culture and in turn their language.

This ability to put together the pieces that is so lacking in most high schools has become increasingly valuable in the job market. In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink makes a case for a quality he calls “symphony.” He says it is “the capacity to synthesize rather than analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect the broad patterns rather than deliver specific answers.” Pink argues that symphony will become an important quality in a job market where straightforward, purely logical jobs will be increasingly taken by computers and outsourcing.

It is precisely this quality of symphony that art history offers. To understand a work of art, one must come to understand all the factors that go into creating it. It is not enough to know the title and the artist; one must understand the political and religious climate, the technology and materials used, the cultural and economic state of the region the work was created in, and the mindset of the artist. To study art history is to see over and over again how technological advances or the rise of political ideologies is closely tied to art and perception.

In the words of Carmel High School senior Mehar Attar, “Studying art history provides an entirely different facet of human progression from which to draw greater conclusions.”

I took AP Art History my junior year of high school. Unsure of what to expect, I was daunted by the size and sheer amount of information contained within the textbook I received on the first day, which my class later dubbed Goliath, in hopes that we, like Verrocchio’s David, would be able to vanquish the behemoth. However, as we progressed further and further in the course, I was continually amazed as the information presented seemed to clarify things that I had already learned. It was like the dots of my past education were suddenly connected. For example, I had learned about the split in the Roman Empire and the Church in both history and confirmation classes before, but until I looked at the stylistic differences of art of the time, saw and understood the differences between east and west, learned of the stormy political climate and the various orders of monks, I had not truly understood what the Great Schism was, why it had to occur, or what it meant for people then and now. When I saw the geometry of the churches of the Renaissance and the perfect tessellations of mosques, I finally understood the application of the seemingly pointless ratios we did in math class, and even realized that these abhorred formulas had profoundly affected not only my life but the way in which all of humanity views the world.

Admittedly, not every student who takes art history comes away as enthused about the experience as I was. Nor am I saying that art history is for every student in high school. But I believe the class should be offered widely, and recognized for what it is. One of the major challenges facing art history at the high school level is a misperception of the class itself and what it entails. Rebecca Cesare, the art history teacher at Frankfort High School, talks about how an incomplete understanding of the scope of art history originally led to a class that is too short in length (a mere 12 weeks) to cover all the material required, much less enrich it with discussion, projects, and debate. Moreover, students who do not understand the nature of the course may take it hoping for easy AP credits, only to be confronted with highly challenging, sophisticated, and academic content that they were unprepared for.

However, if properly supported, art history is an incredibly important offering at any high school, one which provides the unique perspective of symphony to all the disparate subject areas that students had previously understood only as individual subjects. It gives students a new lens through which to analyze the increasingly connected world and a greater understanding of how a change in any one part must inevitably affect the whole.

Students, prepped with this kind of understanding, will find themselves better able to understand their place in the world, and be better equipped to change it as a result.

 

Lauren Ehrmann is a senior at Frankfort High School. She is a professionally exhibiting artist, a member of the Frankfort Arts Council and member of the Tuesday Night Inkers. Lauren is a recipient of the Wells Scholarship and will be attending IU Bloomington in the fall to study art history.

Introducing Two New(ish) Arrivals: Annie & Chris

20160401_165556Hello listeners! I’m Annie Ropeik (at left, taking the selfie), the new economy and business reporter for your Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations — including WBAA, where I’m based. You also have never been formally introduced to Chris Morisse Vizza (at right, tolerating the selfie), your intrepid Morning Edition host of the past six months.

So, Chris and I sat down for a little chat about who we are and where we come from. Take a listen below, and come talk to us on Twitter at @aropeik and @chrismorisseviz.

WBAA’s Community Voices: Rev. Shoop’s ‘Universities And The Young Minds They Tend To’

In this installment of the Community Voices Project, Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop presents an essay on the NFL, head injuries and collegiate athletic departments.

 

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the National Football League, which currently generates more than $13 billion in revenue a year, is having trouble coming to terms with the connection between traumatic head injury and football. MarciaMountShoopHeadshot

It’s all over the news these days from the New York Times to the Washington Post and the evidence is clear: the NFL has systemically tried to minimize the magnitude of traumatic brain injury in football.  They have even created their own medical and scientific committees (for years chaired by a rheumatologist with no experience in neuroscience, Dr. Elliott Pellman) to discredit strong scientific data that connects repeated “subconcussive” blows to long-term brain impairment.

The NFL has also invested considerable time and money in order to generate their own studies and science using flawed data.  As the New York Times reports, some NFL teams reported zero concussions to the data gathering that helped to inform the league’s approach to concussions for the last several years. Even concussions as public as several that Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman suffered and the one that ended San Francisco quarterback Steve Young’s career were not reported for the study. Such faulty data suggests an intentional obfuscation.

Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, just recently called the suggested connection between Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, and football “absurd” because the body of knowledge is not there. Mr. Jones’ point is that we can’t really diagnose CTE until after death. And the only brains being studied are those that were donated because their owners suffered symptoms of CTE. Mr. Jones has the NFL’s own data to prove his point. Not to mention his team’s own lack of reporting to thank for the data’s “science” as well.

With so much revenue at stake, the cover-up makes perfect sense. Pardon the pun— it’s a no-brainer. There is more to lose in terms of revenue for the NFL than the league stands to gain by doing the right thing.  America’s sacred cow of profit generation can mask all sorts of morally indefensible behavior.  The tobacco industry showed us that. And so maybe we Americans are not surprised by such a massive attempt to protect the NFL brand at the expense of human lives.

It is fair for us to assume, however, that collegiate athletics stands on higher and firmer moral ground when it comes to head injuries and football.  After all, our institutions of higher learning are keepers of some of America’s highest moral ideals. These are institutions created not to generate profit, but to foster learning and growth.  These are institutions whose reason for being is to cultivate the moral fabric of our civil society, to kindle ethical standards for our economic, political, and social relationships.  These are institutions who boast of forming young minds to be their best and to realize their dreams.

Unfortunately those values seem to atrophy or even disappear when you walk in the door of athletic departments across the country.  These same athletic departments help generate revenue streams for the billion-dollar business of college athletics. When we take a closer look at athletic departments and their approach to the long-term health of their revenue athletes we see marks of an NFL-like obfuscation.

A superficial look reveals evidence of “best practices” and new and improved concussion protocols. Diagnostic tests have found their way to sidelines, more care is taken to not return players to the game who are symptomatic, helmets are confiscated to prevent ill-advised returns to the field, and coaches are supposedly taken out of the decision-making loop on return-to-play choices. Objective medical personnel are used instead to make the call.

Beneath the surface of these “best practices,” however, there is clear evidence of a refusal to take a hard look at preventative measures and other data that could help to truly protect the young men and women who play sports in our universities. And the NCAA, which is composed of its university member institutions, has charted the course for further research on head injuries. It is investing in studies that compare the brain imaging of concussed athletes to the brains of athletes without concussion diagnoses who have been playing in similar conditions.  If the science of subconcussive hits is heeded, however, this approach shows its own set of fatal flaws. If this sounds too disappointing to be true, look no further than Purdue University for a case in point

No other school in the country, perhaps in the world, has the caliber of engineers and scientists that Purdue has.  In the stellar ranks of Purdue’s faculty are two tenured engineers, Tom Talavage and Eric Nauman.  These two men are part of Purdue’s Neurotrauma Group, which is engaged in cutting-edge research on sports-related head injury.  The amazing thing about the work these men are doing is that they can see brain changes using Magnetic Resonance Imaging in players who have never been diagnosed with concussions.  Their unique approach is unmatched and rests in their method of taking pre-season scans that enable clear evidence of brain changes in players who are asymptomatic and undiagnosed for concussions.

This study not only generates unique and potent data about the effects of repeated subconcussive blows, but it includes new helmet technologies and data-gathering techniques that could save football from its own demise. In short, the Purdue Neurotrauma Group has proven methods of prevention, not just protocols for treatment after a concussion happens. Concussions are just the tip of the iceberg. As postmortem brain studies are showing us, football players who may not have ever been diagnosed with a concussion have brains that suffer from CTE.

Talavage and Nauman have the technology and the data to fill in these blanks. And better yet, they have the technology and the data to make football safer. What an exciting prospect to have such a ground-breaking and practical study right here in the Big 10, one of the two wealthiest sports conferences in the country.  It is clear that Purdue has an opportunity to not just do the right thing by its athletes, but to set the pace for concrete ways to prevent head injuries in sports.  All the conditions are there for a win-win situation.

The Purdue Athletic Department, however, has chosen not to participate in the study.  The presenting cause of the decision to pass on participating is the cost.  Figures ranging from $20,000 for partial data gathering on a select group of contact sport athletes to $400,000 a year for a more inclusive approach with all athletes at Purdue are what Talavage and Nauman quote as the cost (in a recent episode of the podcast Going Deep: Sports in the 21st Century). The larger university has also opted not to channel funds toward this study in its newest round of fund allocations. The technology for profound and effective prevention is there, the willingness to invest and participate in it is not.

In this case, a university’s lofty values of lighting the mind are sidelined for motives no one seems to be able to name.  If the NFL is any indication, it may be that the moral calculus of doing the right thing gets lost in the maintenance of a lucrative money machine.

If only universities like Purdue put their money where their mouths are, or at least where the brains of those our universities say they want to light with knowledge are, then the NFL would be a foil to a more excellent way on display at places like Purdue.  The greatest threat to the long-term health of athletes at every level is not concussions; it is the moral ambivalence of the institutions they work so hard to please.

 

The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, PhD is a theologian, minister, and author of Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports   Marcia and her family have been involved in football in the NFL and at Division I collegiate levels for over two decades. She is also a middle school cross country and track coach in West Lafayette, IN. 

 

So Long And Thanks For All The Clicks

Last Tuesday, a funny thing happened to our web traffic counters. Here’s how it looked in Google Analytics:

Hamilton Clicks

See that vertical line that seems to come from nowhere? That’s because, in a normal hour, WBAA.org gets anywhere from 10 to 100 clicks. In the 3 p.m. hour last Tuesday, we got nearly 4,400.

Also, a normal hour might feature as many as 30 visitors to our site simultaneously. On Tuesday, we topped EIGHT HUNDRED at one time. Confused, we went to Twitter. And then it all made sense:

LMM Tweet

Note the web address that’s truncated in Mr. Miranda’s tweet. Through the magic (and vagaries) of search engine optimization, the composer of the wildly popular (and, as of last week, Grammy-winning) hip-hop musical “Hamilton” managed to find our posting of NPR’s story about the fact that one of the show’s songs opened the Grammy telecast.

By all rights, every one of these clicks belongs to NPR. But we’ve now gotten nearly 20,000 clicks we might never have gotten, thanks to one link on our site, reposted from a story on last Tuesday’s Morning Edition.

NPR social media guru Serri Graslie summed up this phenomenon nicely in one tweet:
SG Tweet

A happy accident, to be sure.

Build Operate Transfer (or: How I Learned To Stop Hiding And Love Transparency)

It’s possible you missed the controversy last week about why West Lafayette leaders didn’t know more about the bid they were about to approve in the biggest project the city has ever undertaken. It’s also possible the answer to their question (“Why wasn’t this more transparent?”) is this old chestnut: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Everyone hopes that, about three years from now, State Street will look something like this:

StateStreetMasterPlan_July2014_MKSK

But first, the city and Purdue University have to fork over about $120 million to Rieth-Riley construction company and its Plenary Roads State Street group of subcontractors.

City officials last week said Rieth-Riley beat out Walsh Group (the same folks responsible for this summer’s I-65 bridge sinking in Tippecanoe County) and Macquarie Group (the same folks who were part of a consortium responsible for leasing the Indiana Toll Road for nearly $4 billion that then had to give it back a few years later when they realized they couldn’t manage the project anymore) because Rieth-Riley proposed doing the most for the $120 million they were about to be handed.

The contents of Rieth-Riley’s and Walsh’s bids were known only to the State Street Joint Board, made up of reps from West Lafayette and Purdue who’d signed confidentiality agreements stating they couldn’t talk about the contents of those bids until a public hearing announcing the winner. Here’s the relevant piece of Indiana Code:

IC 5-23-5-6
Disclosure of contents of proposals

Sec. 6. The governmental body may refuse to disclose the contents of proposals during discussions with eligible offerors.

Note the word “may” in the above paragraph. That’s a word that, in legal lingo, gives WIDE leeway. It’s not “shall” or “must.” Instead, it’s kin to “can” and “could”. And, much like “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing, “may” also means “may not.”

That said, herewith a modest proposal about how the process can be done better the next time someone in Indiana decides to do it: pit the offerors against one another publicly.

Think about it: Everyone agrees the State Street project will not cost more than $120 million, so this is different than a standard sealed bid process, where companies are competing to do the same project for the least cash. Instead, they’re trying to do the MOST project for a DEFINED amount of money (or less).

So it’s a public-private partnership game of chicken that should be conducted in the most public way possible — heck, you could hold it in a town square and sell popcorn if you did it the right way — it would be FUN to watch. Use these simple instructions:

  1. Tell Rieth-Riley and Walsh to send their best negotiators and prepare presentations of what they can offer.
  2. Reserve space in a large park and publicly advertise the meeting.
  3. Make popcorn.
  4. Put Rieth-Riley’s and Walsh’s people on a stage and let the city’s mayor act as auctioneer.
  5. Flip a coin and decide who bids first.
  6. Each side gets as many opportunities as it wants to better the other side’s proposal, with Walsh and Rieth-Riley making alternating bids. Each side can either bid down the cost of the project or bid up the number of items included.

You could even let the people vote, right then and there, whether they like what they’re about to get. It’s the kind of public input and decision-making that just DOES NOT OCCUR now. You want people to feel connected to this project and proud of their government for getting it done? This is a better way.

And it’s both perfectly transparent and completely legal. Everything is done out in the open, within the confines of the law and in a way that unquestionably seeks public input and approval for the final design.

Please note also that the city is not obligated in any way to sign off on the “winning” bid if it doesn’t like it. If neither is impressive enough, ask for more proposals. This ensures the project isn’t just slapped together and rushed through; that only quality is accepted.

Since this was the first BOT project in Indiana involving a University, there were bound to be hiccups and stumbling blocks. And Indiana’s business-friendly legislature tends to write laws which err on the side of the 800-pound gorilla (in this case, Purdue). So it’s incumbent on those businesses to act as openly as possible.

Did Purdue, as University counsel Steve Schultz said multiple times at a meeting last Thursday, “follow the letter of the law” with the State Street bids? No question about it.

But could Purdue have been more open? Certainly.

There’s still every reason to believe the project will be good and that West Lafayette will be changed for the better. But there’s no reason for Purdue officials to say they’re “puzzled” when the West Lafayette Redevelopment Commission asks for more transparency.

The law is written in such a way that if you’re not hiding anything, it’s easy to make a public show of that. To do otherwise only invites questions.

But there are other ways to use this broadly-written law so that the next time this is done, the prevailing question is: want butter with that popcorn?

 

 

 

Introducing WBAA’s Local Voices Project

Some months ago, WBAA began talks with a number of local experts on an idea to create more local content and engage the many learned members of the community in a conversation.

From those brainstorm sessions the Local Voices Project was hatched, wherein five West Central Indiana residents will, once a week and on a rotating basis, shed light on topics in which they have expertise. We plan to broadcast these essays during Here and Now on AM 920 and to post them here on the news blog.

Below you’ll find the first of those posts, from The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, who will be covering sports.

Before we start, a few disclaimers:

  • WBAA’s Local Voices Project consists of opinions from our contributors. Though in some cases the pieces will deal with timely topics, these should not be construed as news content emanating from the WBAA newsroom, NPR or any other affiliated organizations.
  • Authors’ opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of WBAA, Purdue University, NPR or any employees of the above-named groups.
  • WBAA reserves the right to edit the pieces that make up the Project, both for time and for content (though we will try to minimize both, in hopes the essays will air and be posted in the authors’ own words as much as possible).

With that, here’s Marcia’s kickoff post, in her own words:

There is something comforting about believing you live in an either/or world.

That’s one of the reasons sports have such a hold on human kind. They create clarity in an ambiguous world—there is a winner and a loser, a home team and an opponent, and clear lines drawn for what is out of bounds and what counts as the field of play. And sports give us the assurance of a level playing field where everyone plays by the same rules and everyone has a fair shot if they work hard enough.

Sports are, however, more often a mirror for society’s grey areas than they are an antidote to our most vexing social problems. Even still, those who have the power to tell us the narratives of sport today want us to believe sports are either/or. Many of the most difficult issues facing the world of sports today could be substantively addressed if the powers that be could just let go of their grip on the either/or architecture that has defined revenue sports in America.

My monthly contributions on sports will be an effort to cultivate a deeper conversation about the most pressing issues facing the world of sports today: race, economic justice, concussions, issues of gender and sexuality, and how revenue sports fit into the mission of our country’s institutions of higher learning to name just a few.

Such a deeper conversation begins here by dismissing from duty the red herring of “pay for play.” The warnings of the evils of “pay for play” keep us from thinking rationally about what is fair for collegiate athletes. Dismissing the red herring from duty clears the way for us to take a more substantive look at a particular issue of economic justice for collegiate athletes: what rights and opportunities athletes who compete at the collegiate level have to be entrepreneurs and to participate in the American marketplace.

Far from an abstract question, this issue is as live as they get. The NCAA convention convenes this week and a proposal that seeks a change to NCAA bylaw 12, concerning student-athlete self-employment, is on the docket. The vote by the 65 Power Five conference schools and the fifteen student-athlete representatives elected from the Power Five is January 15.

One important thing to note about this proposal is that no matter if it passes or fails, there are some things that will remain true for student-athletes who want to start their own businesses:

  • Student-athletes cannot start a business that has anything to do with sports. Prohibited business ventures include anything to do with fitness, sports apps, sports memorabilia, or sports videos.
  • Student-athletes cannot use their identity as an athlete to promote their own businesses. For example, a football player cannot have a picture of himself in his jersey on a promotional flyer even if the business has nothing to do with sports. The football player cannot use his accomplishments or influence as an athlete to promote his business venture.
  • Student-athletes cannot receive any discounts or special deals from vendors, suppliers, or contractors in starting their own business. For example, if I am a student-athlete and I want to start my own tee shirt business (non-sports related, of course) I cannot get those tee shirts at cost from a vendor as a special deal to help me get started.
  • Student-athletes must supply 50% of the seed money for the allowable business and no one in the athletic department can have a financial interest in the business.

Anyone who has ever started his/her own business may be having a visceral reaction to these restrictions. What does it mean to start you own business if you can’t trade on the things that give you the most influence and social capital? How can you effectively find investors if you can’t turn to the people who know you and your abilities the best? How many college students have the seed money they need to start a business venture themselves? How many families of college students have adequate resources to provide their student-athlete with such financial capital?

Far from an either/or proposition of either paying collegiate revenue generating athletes for their revenue-generating work or not paying them, the quagmire of economic justice in collegiate sports is a tangled web of rules and regulations that create ridiculous obstacles for student-athletes to just be on a level playing field with other students. Consider for a minute that engineering students, music students, math students, computer science students all have the freedom to trade on their skills and expertise in their area of study to start their own businesses.

Just for fun, let’s consider what would actually change if the bylaw change proposed by the PAC 12 passes. The Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, and Big 12) now have the ability to vote together on changes to NCAA bylaws for the sixty-five schools in those five conferences. Here is what the Pac-12 proposal would change:

  • Student-athletes who have the green light to start allowable businesses from the compliance office at their university would be able to use their name, picture, or likeness on promotional materials about their business. In other words, the Pac-12 proposal seeks a change to the current NCAA bylaws that prohibit student-athletes from putting their name or picture on a business card or other promotional materials.

It might sound like a no-brainer to you to say someone should simply be allowed to put his/her name on a business card or flyer promoting a new business. How do you start a business if you can’t even put your name on a business card? Good question.

And this conversation does not even scratch the surface on all the restrictions that student-athletes face when it comes to benefiting from their name, image, or likeness. They can’t sell a jersey that they own on eBay. They can’t agree to sign autographs for $100. They can’t have a yard sale and sell some of their team gear that they don’t use anymore. Shouldn’t collegiate athletes be able to participate in the American marketplace with the resources and social capital their hard work gives them? Another good question.

And if collegiate sports really embodied the fair play we want to believe they do, those with the power to change things would substantively address these important questions. Instead, student-athletes will continue to be disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the either/or mentalities of those who think things are just fine the way they are.

The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, Ph.D. is a theologian and author of several books including Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports. She lives in West Lafayette with her family. She blogs at www.marciamountshoop.com and you can follow her on Twitter @mmountshoop