Authors: A.M. Hess
Taking One for the Team
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real people, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Teaching at a top ranked university in the Big Ten had its advantages. Free time and office space were not two of them. Kelly Shaw was in the middle of grading papers from her Introduction to English Literature 101 students. Many of the papers were worthy of reasonable grade, others wouldn’t pass at the high school level. She sighed, finishing another worthless read, hesitated and with a
red pen, wrote D-. This one would pass but just barely. Kelly threw the paper on a stack of others and went to the next.
The idea of being a college professor had such a romantic feel to it when she first graduated and went in search of a job. She would be in charge of fi
lling these young people full of information and preparing them for life outside the wall of academia. Landing a position with a major university added to the excitement of teaching and making the world a better place. She would be making a difference.
The first semester during her first year of teaching changed all that. The school had a similar curriculum
to many of the bigger universities. The prerequisites for any major degree were the same throughout and Introduction to English Literature 101 was one of the required courses. But not every student attended because they wanted the best degree from the best school for the best career. She had to put up with a lot of apathy, stupidity and ignorance. Add in the politics of the administration and other professors, it caused her to be frustrated.
that initial semester, Big Ten football was in full swing. Academics were one thing, but winning the conference title and a national championship seemed, at times, to be why the university had been constructed. A young man in her class was failing despite all of her attempts to educate and coach the lad. Kelly tried to help him but he refused to even turn in an assignment, any assignment. The kid rarely showed up for class and the result was a mid-term failing grade. He was the star running back for the football team. He had been one of the highest ranked recruits out of high school and she had the privilege of educating him to the point of being able to sign his future NFL contract.
Kelly discovered quickly how a failing grade would impact the team. A student
athlete would be placed on academic suspension and thereby removing them from the ‘Big Game’ until such a time that their grade had improved. But there was more to the university politics than she first knew. A failing grade would not be tolerated by the university; the school had a strict policy regarding scholarship student athletes. How that policy was manipulated was a surprise to the new professor.
While in her office that first semester, Kelly was graced with visits from both the Athletic Director and the head coach of the football team. The men arrived unannounced and interrupted her day at different times, but both conveyed the same message, don’t fail one of our student athletes. The Athletic Director, with the deep smooth voice of a politician sat across from her and explained, “Kelly, I know this is all new and exciting for you. I hear great things about your performance from your department head. The kids seem to like you and I think that you’ll have a very long career here.” He smiled and crossed his legs before going on.
“It’s come to my attention that Jarvis Edwards is having a bit of trouble in your class. Apparently he just can’t seem to grasp the information the way the other kids do. Now I understand how hard you’re working, but we need you to make an extra effort with this young man. I think it’s obvious that we have a vested interest in his academic success as well as his contribution to the football team. Kids like Jarvis are important to the university on a number of levels. We have increased applications when our team is on the national stage, we have increased donations and of course, we uphold the long tradition of winning.”
His message was becoming clear but he drove it home with his final thoughts. “I want to see you here in this position for a long time to come. And your success will be measured by the success of
the kids in your classroom. I consider this a personal favor but I want you to do anything in your power to get Jarvis Edwards a passing grade. I don’t care what you have to do, but let’s work together to continue the winning tradition of this university. If you can help me with this, when it comes time for you to make tenure, I will make sure that your contributions are known.”
He thanked her for her time, shook hands and was gone. The point was clear; give a passing grade to our star players and you will remain employed. Fail them and you will be dismissed with no hope of securing a position at any other university. Kelly didn’t need an interpreter to understand the meaning.
Coach Norris burst into her office a few hours later. The head coach of the football team, his demeanor off the field was much as it was on the field. He paced with a clipboard in his hand and a whistle around his neck. “Professor Shaw, I know you’re a team player and I need your help. The team needs your help. Hell, the university itself needs your help.” On the last statement he was pointing directly at her. “Now I know that Jarvis Edwards is not the smartest student you have in your classes, but he means well. The kid wasn’t brought here to be a God damned Rhodes Scholar; he was recruited because he’s a damned good running back. I need you to understand that when your grading him. Are you following me here?”
His pacing and loud voice would have been comical in any other setting, but the reality was that he was threatening her job as well as her academic standards. He went
on, “Every kid is good at something, in the case of Jarvis, it’s football. I know you get that, you see it in him, he ain’t never gonna be one of your best students. But you can do something great here, Miss Shaw. You can help us with this fine young man by working with him, by working with me and by working with the university to make sure that he’s on that field every week doing what he was brought here to do, win!” He held up a clenched fist to on the last word to accentuate the point. “Are you with me, Miss Shaw? Are you with me Kelly?” He changed the manner in which he addressed her to make the personal connection.
She was tired of being pushed around and bullied, but there was nothing she could do and still keep her job. Deciding to push back a bit she said, “But coach, how will I know?”
He stared back at her, “I’m not following you. How will you know what, Darling?”
Again she caught the use of the more casual name. “How will I know if Jarvis Edwards is doing what he was brought here to do?” She asked calmly. “I haven’t been invited to game all season.” She smiled coyly.
The coach was caught off guard by the meaning of her question. It took a moment before her replied, “Invited? Son of Bitch! You mean to tell me that nobody on my staff has been enough of a gentleman to bring you tickets to our home games?” He was smiling ear to ear, they had just made a deal. He would see to it that she was well taken care of. “I will bring that up at my coaches meeting this afternoon! I hope that you will accept my humblest apology for the over sight. In the mean time, I will have one of our equipment managers bring you over some tickets today!” He pointed to the ground driving home the seriousness of his intent. “I consider this a personal favor, Kelly. Our jobs are hard enough as it is. With your help I know that we’ll have our boys on the field each and every week. I know I can count on you.” He opened the door to her office and as he was leaving said, “I look forward to seeing both you and Jarvis on the field this Saturday.”
To top it all off she received an email from the Dean later
that afternoon. He wanted to personally thank her for her spirit of cooperation and dedication to the university. Apparently he had received glowing reports from both the Athletic Director and coach. He commended her for working well with ‘keys players within the university’s administration’. He was looking forward to seeing her soon and was certain that she would have a long and positive career in the English Literature Department.
In one full day early in her career, Kelly Shaw was told that she both an asset and a liability to the University she served. The message was clear; either play ball or they would hire someone else who would. Realizing that her option were limited, she chose to
join them. She would educate the students that wanted it and go along to get along with the rest.
The one positive that came out of her willingness to work with the athletics department was their gratitude. As promised, the coach had an equipment manager personally bring tickets to her office. The manager apologized for the simple oversight of failing to include her. He also promised that the mistake would never again be made. In the envelope containing the gift was a hand written note from the coach thanking her for the support.
Once they were certain of her loyalty, every coach from every sport at the university made sure to send Kelly season tickets to their home games. Basketball, football, baseball, wrestling, they all participated. She was sent sweaters, pull-overs, hats and all other manner of school regalia as a further ‘thank you for the support’ she was showing their respective teams. The bigger the athletic star, the more lavish the gifts. She learned to play along early in her career and she developed her own sort of ‘Special Education’ for the sports heroes she liked the best.
Kelly attended most every sporting event she could. The university thrived both academically and through their athletic programs. She enjoyed the success and grew close to her students. However it bothered her that some of the physically gifted got a pass from the school work just because they could catch, hit or throw a particular ball. Her anger came to a head the following year. A young male basketball player had informed her that he didn’t have to attend any of her classes. He was there only to play basketball and that was that.
When she tried to work with the young man he would insist that there was nothing she could do and he knew it. He said the coach would take care of everything. She had enough of his insolence and decided there was a way she could fight back and teach him some humility.
One afternoon at her computer she crafted an email addressed to the Dean, the Athletic Director and the coach of the basketball team. It read:
The pride I take in this university is unparalleled by anything I have experienced previously in my life. I feel that I have been welcomed into the family of professors and administrators and I want nothing but the best for this institution. For the past year I have worked tirelessly to make certain that our student athletes have been given everything necessary to keep their grades at the required level for participation. We need to work together to continue that same success and I need your help.
I am writing you today in an effort to head off a potential problem that could be devastating to the university as well as this year’s basketball program. Despite my efforts to provide guidance to Mr. Duncan Wells, it seems beyond my capacity to bring his grade to a passing level. As my schedule is already full, I am willing to offer extra tutoring at my personal home. This would have no impact on his training schedule and I feel confident that as a team we could elevate his grade long before it impacts his eligibility to play.
The issue before us is that Mr. Wells has no interest in participating in or out of the classroom. I am begging you to intervene immediately. Please strongly suggest to Mr. Wells that he take part in my offer to help through personal lessons at my home. If you can persuade him to work with me, I commit to you that he will receive a passing grade for the remainder of the year under my tutelage.