Big dumb jock. ThatÃs the image of the collegiate athlete. DoesnÃt really belong in school, just there for sports, otherwise intellectually unfit. But thatÃs really a horrible misjudgment. It assumes there is only one kind of intelligence, even when we know otherwise.
Picture yourself in a foreign country. You donÃt speak the language so you appear ignorant, at least, if not stupid. You might have the exact answer to peopleÃs problems, but if you canÃt express it, no one can know of your intelligence. So, is language the only measure of intelligence? Is it a necessary tool for intellectual evaluation?
How about art? We take it for granted that gifted artists are intelligent, but you canÃt do justice to a painting by describing it. No one should evaluate an opera based on an authorÃs description (or a reviewerÃs). We believe artists are intelligent mainly because of their unusual creativity.
Creativity plays a role in other fields, as well, from business to politics. Larry Ellison never graduated from college, but heÃs earned respect because of the creative way heÃs formed a business. Our own president was a poor student but heÃs a world leader because of his soft skills.
Still, somehow, athletes are stupid even though they accomplish things the rest of us cannot. ThatÃs not intelligence, goes the traditional thinking, thatÃs just animal athleticism, instinct. Bull.
Anyone who has followed sports at the elite level will tell you that Ã¬gamesÃ® are very complicated intellectual puzzles. WhatÃs more, the knowledge they require must be internalized so it can be used in a split second. Take a look at a football playbook some time and see if you understand it. Now imagine you have to understand all the plays, your role in them, other peopleÃs roles and the chess game of what the other team will do. Now imagine all that as it changes from second to second. And make yourself respond in an instant, even when others are trying to prevent you Ã± physically, mentally and psychologically Ã± and you are in serious pain. That is the product of a brain at least as agile as the body.
Nonetheless, we think athletes are dumb. This is because of the way we measure intelligence in our society and the way we hand out rewards. Society rewards good scholars with well-paid jobs that buy expensive cars and homes. But then, the same is true of elite athletes. Yet, somehow, we feel that is different.
The argument is that sports are not productive and are not to be valued. How productive is opera? Politics (think about it)? Think about your own job and consider how meaningful it is to the world. Most of us are really just doing our portion, punching the clock, not moving mountains. We donÃt do anything others couldnÃt do for themselves, we just save them time, and they do likewise for us.
Besides, there are plenty of successful scholars who canÃt get rich because of the way society values their intelligence. Are we to assume journalists are stupid because they are not rich? Maybe we should. Or maybe we should recognize that there are many different kinds of intelligence, each applicable in its own way. And maybe we should judge on the basis of what people do with what they have.
Paul Swider is USF firstname.lastname@example.org