Educating Our Student Athletes: Giving Them Too Much Safe Space Leaves Them with Too Little Knowledge

by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET) February 20, 2017

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If Cleveland Cavalier basketball player Kyrie Irving's revelation about the planet upon which we live reflects the kind of education our young people are receiving in 21st century America, recently confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos most definitely has her work cut out for her. 

While obviously the beauty of a free society is one is allowed to say what one thinks, Irving's recent observation should give us pause to ask: Are we guilty of failing to teach our young people even the basics of what is necessary to intellectually survival?

In a podcast discussion with his teammates, Irving announced his belief-and this is not a joke-that the Earth is not round. He adheres to the position advocated by the Flat Earth Society (most recently resurrected in 2004) our planet is flat! 

In his own words, Irving stated, "This is not a conspiracy. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat."

Interestingly, as Irving typed this, he and his teammates were on a flight-providing them with a vantage point, he suggested, that proved his claim. Alluding to a dubious group he would only identify as "they," Irving wrote, "It's right in front of our faces. I'm telling you. It's right in front of our faces. They lie to us."

Continuing with his otherworldly explanation, Irving said, "What I've been taught is that the earth is round. But if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that, can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all the planets aligned. Rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what's going on with these planets."

Irving attended Duke University where he was a freshman basketball phenom. He left in 2011 after only one year to play professional ball. So, in all fairness, "Earth is Not Flat 101" could have been a course Duke University reserves for its upperclassmen. (As a University of North Carolina graduate, the author could not pass up the opportunity to pick on Duke.) 

Nonetheless, after six years in the real world, if Irving still believes the Earth is flat, one can only assume, not only did Duke University provide him with too much safe space while attending, but that the Cleveland Cavaliers have done the same.

Irving acknowledges although he has seen photographs taken by astronauts clearly depicting a round planet, he remains unconvinced. It would be interesting to learn what he then thinks our astronauts observe as they orbit underneath a flat Earth. Or to query him on how a ship can depart a port, like Miami, head off in one direction and return to it from a different direction without ever backtracking.

When Irving left Duke, he made his father a promise he would still pursue a degree from the school and earn it within five years. He failed to do so, blaming the time commitment he had to give to play on the 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball team and his professional team. 

Like Master Po sharing knowledge with his young student training to become a Shaolin monk in the 1970s television program "Kung Fu," Master Irving shared his wisdom with his teammates, "Anytime you have a specific question, like, ‘Is the Earth flat?' or ‘Is the Earth round?' I think you need to do research on it."

But one only wonders how much research Master Irving has responsibly done on this issue. He clearly chooses to ignore observations of a respected "been there, done that" expert on the matter. In 1972, the last man to walk on the moon, twenty years before Irving was born, was the late Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan. As one critic points out, Cernan informed all doubters at that time: "I know we're not the first to discover this, but we'd like to confirm...that the world is round."

Irving is most likely a benefactor of an education system in our country that places more merit on athleticism than knowledge. His outlandish flat earth claim is a good example of why we need to take a serious look at the system and the special privileges given athletes that prevent them from obtaining a solid education. 

Studies already show the U.S. lags behind other countries in scores students are obtaining in math and the sciences. Thus, student athletes already suffering knowledge deficiencies from an ailing education system are even being denied the most basic knowledge about the world around them. In Irving's case, his whole world revolves around a basketball court. It has failed to teach him, just because his world is flat, does not mean ours is.

Sadly, the fact Irving's claim is even generating a national discussion is worrisome. It suggests he may not be the only one our education system has shortchanged. 

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.


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