I never planned to write this commentary. I hoped I wouldn't have to. But it became necessary because some readers, rather than use a web site to engage in an intelligent debate on issues, get much too personal. Name-calling might be acceptable in the bleachers but not on my blog.
It has happened in other cases but the most recent, involving my blog on "Public League in crisis," went over the top. In my view, it confirms all of my long-held suspicions about what is wrong with the Internet. I can't speak for other web sites because some bloggers are in business to count hits and page views, attract attention or make money. Not me. I just enjoy a good conversation. If we agree to disagree, so be it. But we can be--and must be--civil about it.
Sammy (whoever he is) isn't civil. And he refuses to engage in an intelligent debate because he has provided not one but two undeliverable e-mail addresses. You can't talk to a box of rocks. When I launched my web site in 2008, at the request of the Sun-Times, I determined I had to accept messages from anonymous e-mailers (who make up most of the Internet) but I wouldn't accept them from e-mailers without a deliverable or return address.
I tolerated Sammy and a few others because, in the past, they were objective and knowledgeable while dealing with other issues. But Sammy has gone off the deep end in the "Public League in crisis" issue, especially with his personal attacks on another reader/contributor, Curtis K. Jackson, who has some deep-seeded opinions about the subject.
Along the way, another reader, David Watson, a former CPS student and current lawyer who has brought up the subject of "Internet defamation." He has attempted to act as an intermediary between the two. The whole issue has gotten too personal, off the subject. We can agree to disagree but this isn't about guns or knives--or at least it shouldn't be. And I won't allow it.
To try to make some sense out of this madness, I re-read my original commentary on "Public League in crisis." The premise was about something I learned from the late Larry Hawkins when I returned to Chicago in 1968 to begin working for the Daily News: Sports is a very important part of the educational process.
In the wake of the Chicago Public Schools' drastic financial crisis--a $700 million budget deficit and the very real possibility that 2,700 teachers will be laid off--another issue had come to light: All Public League sports programs below the varsity level could be dropped, leaving hundreds of coaches out of work and thousands of students on the streets.
So I asked one of the most high-profile coaches in the city, Robert Smith of Simeon, who had just produced his third state championship basketball team in the last five years, to comment on the issue. He responded eloquently and straight forward without pulling any punches. He has grown up in the system and he knows what it can do for young people--and he fears what will happen if it is taken away from them.
Before Hawkins, few educators took sports seriously. They treated it as recess, fun and games. But Hawkins, in his role as director of special programs at the University of Chicago, recalled his career as a coach and teacher at Carver High School and pointed out that sports should be considered an important part of the total educational process. And he taught many CPS disciples, including Lee Umbles, Jim Foreman, Charles Stimpson, Glenn Johnson, Roy Curry, Sherman Howard, Luther Bedford, Don Pittman and J.W. Smith, who spread the gospel throughout the school system.
Even though Hawkins developed some outstanding athletes, including Cazzie Russell, Joe Allen, Pete Cunningham and Ken Maxey, he was more focused on participation for boys and girls and sending as many of them to college as possible.
What many educators failed to realize, before Hawkins brought it to their attention in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was sports were much more than winning and losing. Surveys indicated that sports kept kids in school, kept them away from drugs and off the streets, taught values and morals and discipline and made them goal-setters and overachievers instead of gang members and underachievers.
Sammy and others have suggested that the CPS budget deficit can be solved if former athletes, now making millions of dollars as professionals, gave back to the system. Smith pointed out that Derrick Rose and Nick Anderson have donated money to Simeon.
Even if every former CPS athlete donated money--and, unfortunately, the number of Roses and Andersons are few and far between and embarrassing--it wouldn't be nearly enough to remedy the problem. All the fund-raising and car washes and bake sales won't pay the bills.
What it takes, in my view, is some common sense and integrity in Springfield, in the General Assembly, in the governmental body that dispenses the funds that support the schools and build the highways. Education should be a priority, keeping kids in school, providing the necessary programs to give them a complete and diversified education, not paying for the trials of corrupt politicians.
In 2008, my wife and I, as residents of the city of Chicago, paid $3,153.13 in taxes to the Chicago Board of Education. In 2007, the figure was $2,975.62. In 2006, it was $2,731.12. As a taxpayer who supports the educational system, I'd like to know where those dollars are going and why the politicians in Springfield can vote raises for themselves while putting our youngsters on the streets.