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Winter 1999

The Character Question
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Rabow, who is the coauthor with Tiffani Chin, of Tutoring Matters: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About How to Tutor (Temple University Press, 1999) has taught many UCLA student athletes, and has noted a distinct difference between their lives and the lives of the average students. "I had a varsity athlete as a student, and I had become close to her," says Rabow. "She was graduating and she was terrified. She didn't know how to boil water or balance her checkbook. She had been given special treatment since she was a child, since as early as she could remember. She had not been through the same things that other students had been through. She was not a member of the community."

Rabow believes the demanding schedules of these athletes keep them disconnected. Many, he says, live in their own world, spending hours each day training, surrounded by others who do the same. "In the case of the UCLA scandal, many of those players probably didn't have a handicapped friend to say, 'What you are doing is wrong,'" Rabow says. "I don't think they understood how strongly those physically challenged people felt until they showed up at court. I also think it becomes more difficult to have a dialogue and to see the complexity of these situations when they are immediately exploded in the press. The question is, how can we build compassion and understanding into the process.?"

The arena of organized sports has become, in several ways, central to the culture of scandal. Political reporting now has taken on the shade of a sports contest. Pundits judge the winners and losers of a debate on a given policy, instead of exploring the possible effects of the policy. The standard political talk show pits one team, the Democrats, against their Republican opponents, as if the battle, rather than the issue at stake, was of primary concern.

The use of sport as metaphor for politics seems especially inappropriate these days. Sports figures (perhaps liberated by Nike and Charles Barkley from the responsibility of acting as role models) seem to be misbehaving with an alarming frequency.

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