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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Staff Editorial: Theology be damned, on Jack Taylor’s 138

On Friday, April 5, the New York Times published a column entitled “A Basketball Blowout and Its Celebration Raise Theological Questions.”

The author, Samuel G. Freedman, suggests that the basketball game in which Jack Taylor scored his record-breaking 138 points is “striking in ethical and even religious terms [because of] the context of Mr. Taylor’s performance.” By this, Freedman means Grinnell’s overall win, 179-104; he wonders why Coach Arseneault did not take Taylor out when Grinnell was significantly ahead.

Freedman couches his arguments in religious terms, citing Taylor’s quote that God’s “fingerprints were all over that game.” Amy Laura Hall, an ethics professor, has the final quote in the piece: “What strikes me in this story about Grinnell is that you have the unapologetic, brazen appeal to ‘Jesus’ right alongside the unrepentant quest to make a name for the school, the team and the player.”

If that was not interesting enough fodder for debate, check out Mr. Freedman’s own words: “A college that prides itself on its values—rigorous academic standards, commitment to the common good, historical involvement in the abolition and Social Gospel movements—inflicted a defeat so absolute that it borders on public humiliation.”

Whoa. Did we sign on to all that? First off, while Taylor is welcome to say whatever he wants about his religious affiliation, Grinnell has none. No Grinnell College press release claimed that Jesus caused this game or that it espoused Christian values. Why did a basketball game involving a secular college become so theological?

Secondly, what do Grinnell’s rigorous academic standards have to do with this “blowout”? We would argue that the System, the innovative style of play used by our men’s basketball team, is in fact very Grinnellian—the team plays by the rules while managing to entirely change the game. As for “commitment to the common good” and historical actions, does a basketball game, which has one loser and one winner, contribute to social injustice? We think not. Judge us on our community outreach programs, financial aid or commitment to diversity—not on one basketball game.

Taylor was not the only person who benefited from this game—the whole basketball team was a part of his record, and the whole Grinnell community, including students, alumni, staff, faculty and community members, enjoyed the ensuing 15 minutes of fame during which people could actually differentiate Grinnell from Cornell. David Larson, a Faith Baptist player, also broke a school record by scoring 70 points. All season, sports fans of all ages came up to Taylor and asked to be in a picture with him; this was an exciting event in DIII athletics.

Who is so hurt by Taylor’s record? While Faith Baptist lost this game, their lives, like Taylor’s, like all of ours, moved on the next day. In 20 years, no one will be crying in their beer about this game—in fact, those involved in any fashion will probably remember the one time they saw an athletic record being set and its subsequent coverage by CNN and other networks. As Doug Cutchins so rightly pointed out in his essay, “In Defense of 138,” the next day, Taylor, like all other student-athletes, woke up, went to class and continued to live life. Maybe critics should do the same, considering the game occurred five months ago.

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  • J

    JakeApr 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

    So keeping your best player in the game to set a scoring record, against an overmatched school of 302 students, when you are winning by 60 points is a cause for celebration? What if the final score was 220-to-14 and he scored 180 points? Wouldn’t that be even better? Wait til next year.

  • M

    More Da ToothApr 11, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Fair points, S&B, but make no mistake — there is much to celebrate, remember, and the like. It is still a fact that the GC SID checked with the MWC office to confirm the “validity” of the game in the morning of gameday. Yes, that’s BEFORE the game took place. TRUTH, is that the GC men’s team had a plan to set this record. Bully for them that they did — but one must also acknowledge that a record set not in the normal course of play but in a deliberate fashion and in a cherry-picked game; well, don’t be so self-important and cock-sure of yourself. Your best point is that life goes on. P.S. I am so offended that “secular” GC is convenient memory. Without the ministers of the Iowa Band and years of support from the UCC, vaunted Grinnell would be vaunted no more.