Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Could Have Been the Next Michael Jordan! By Tanner Nelson

The next Michael Jordan was what he had to live up too. The possibilities were supposed to be endless for this superstar. However, one fatal night not only shocked the world of college basketball, but also the University of Maryland, as Len Bias was pronounced dead due to an overdose of cocaine. Bias was thought to be someone who could challenge the career of Michael Jordan and be the next great legend in the National Basketball Association. However, there were other side effects that resulted in his death. Recruiting violations, drug arrests, and political resignations all were caused by Bias’s death that had their own significance upon the University of Maryland and the surrounding society (Hilliard, 1993).
The death of Len Bias was more than the passing of a person and basketball superstar for the University of Maryland. The social reasons surrounding the drugs involved around the area of College Park, Maryland, forced tougher recruiting attempts for coaches. Parents did not want to send their children to school at Maryland and potentially be involved in drug activity. The publicity surrounding Bias’s death was so great that everyone knew what was happening and how it happened. The influence of the media hurt Maryland’s recruiting, and eventually, put the University under investigation by the NCAA. Not many people realized that the death of a collegiate basketball player could lead to such tremendous side effects (Hilliard, 1993).
One of the more interesting political concerns involved with Lenny Bias’s death involve the actions of University of Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter. When the Chancellor retired, it showed the “illumination of the college President in-relation to big time intercollegiate sport.” John Slaughter was an example of how the major University representatives affected collegiate sport. From Dr. Schultz’s lecture, history of political sport is about conflict and power. Slaughter held a very high position, and his portrayal of the entire Len Bias situation displays how high-end university employers have the power to reform intercollegiate sport (Hilliard, 1993) (Schultz, 2009). This political power shown by upper level members of the university can have an educational impact that most do not realize. Behind the scrutiny of the tragedy of Len Bias, there is another form of controversy involved in education. According to the New York Times, Bias’s coach, Charles “Lefty” Driesell, was not concerned with academics and the graduation rate of his players. For example, Len Bias was supposedly only nine credits short of graduating with a bachelor’s degree, but ultimately after his death, it was found that he needed twenty-one. The day after his death, the Maryland men’s basketball team’s academic advisor quit because of the coach’s lack of care about education (“The New York Times,” 1986). I think that this proves true for other schools, but the death of Len Bias supports the idea of athletic supremacy but intellectual inferiority (Freedman, 1992). The term “student-athlete” is used very loosely, and the death of Lenny Bias showed how a little bit of political power and a lack of educational support can remove “student” from this term.
The importance of Len Bias’s death not only exposed academic, political, and drug- related controversies, but also was relative to stereotypes from the past. The emergence of the African American athlete was established during the time in which racism was prominent; this did not give African Americans the same advantages that whites possessed. I think that Len Bias’s death was a signal that there was still some interracial segregation based on the articles that followed the tragedy (Schultz, 2009b). For example, all three articles that I have cited include a portion on the lack of focus on education from Coach Driesell, which supports athletic superiority but academic inferiority (Freedman, 1992). Lenny Bias’s death not only hurt those around him, but also African Americans looking for that next superstar that they could dream to be.
Imagine being called the next Michael Jordan. Now imagine everything disappearing, just like that! This is essentially what happened to Len Bias and the University of Maryland. Len was in position to be playing professional basketball and be the next superstar. Maryland was looking to use Len as a springboard to land more top shelf recruits, but that is all gone. Len Bias’s death affected more than a few close friends and supporters of this university. His death was implicated with politics, coaching, and educational aspects of the University of Maryland!

Works Cited

Freedman, M (1993).“Playing ball.” American Scholar. 62, 312-315.

Hilliard, D (1993). “Lenny, Lefty, and the Chancellor: The Len Bias Tragedy and the Search for Reform in Big-Time College Basketball (Book Review).” Sociology of Sport Journal. 10, 213-215.

Schultz, J. (2009). The Relationship between Sport and History. Lecture presented in KNES293. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

The Scandal Behind the Tragedy. (1986, June 28). New York Times (1857-Current file), 26.
Retrieved April 13, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 120550992)

Recommended Readings

The Scandal Behind the Tragedy. (1986, June 28). New York Times (1857-Current file), 26.
Retrieved April 13, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 120550992)

Freedman, M (1993).“Playing ball.” American Scholar. 62, 312-315

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