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January 31, 1992 - Image 87

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-01-31

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Special to The Jewish News


hey're watched on
television — every
move followed and
scrutinized. They're wor-
shipped on campuses,
courted by boosters and
admired by school children
who would love to someday
walk the same sneakered
path to stardom as a college
basketball player.
But behind the scenes,
their dreams of glory are of-
ten dashed. They're isolated,
living in dorm "ghettos,"
overwhelmed by school work
and rarely make it to the
National Basketball Associ-
ation. The high-scoring
guard hailed as a hero three
years ago may be flipping
burgers at a fast-food res-
taurant today.
For a sports fan, entree
into the world of basketball
warriors and the crowds
that worship them can feel
like walking into a childhood
dream. For a sociologist,
close contact with a college
basketball team could fill
volumes about the lives and
expectations of college ath-
letes. For Peter Adler,
sociologist and sports lover,
it was the chance of a life-

Adler, 39, spent a decade
studying and writing about
basketball players at five
universities in three cities.
The result is the recently
published Backboards &
Blackboards: College Ath-
letes and Role Engulfment,
which Adler wrote with his
wife, Patricia Adler, an
assistant professor of soci-
ology at the University of
Colorado at Boulder.
"I've always been a sports
fan," said Peter Adler, asso-
ciate professor and chair-
man of the University of
Denver sociology depart-
ment, in a telephone inter-
view from his office. "I was
able to live vicariously
through the players and be
part of the team."
Academic advisor to the
players at Tulsa University
in the early 1980s, Peter
Adler became an accepted
member of the team, earned
the nickname "Doc" and
was the darling of local me-
dia. One commentator called
the squad "the only team in
the country with its own
sociologist." He was also
privy — as both sociologist
and friend — to the many
problems players faced.
"There is a steady pro-
gression from idealism to
disillusionment," Adler
said. "They start out feeling

Sociologists Peter and Patricia Adler got an inside look at college basketball

that they can handle all their
roles —social, academic and
playing top caliber basket-
ball. By their junior and se-
nior years, they realize that
they're not on a course to-
ward graduation."
For reasons of confiden-
tiality, Adler does not name
the schools he studied and
the athletes are given false
names throughout the book.
There is a "generalizability"
of the findings, though, to
"revenue producing elite col-
lege sports," meaning Na-
tional Collegiate Athletic
Association Division I foot-
ball and basketball.
Shortly into their careers
athletes experience what the
Adlers call, in sociology-
speak, "role engulfment."
"While nearly all conceived
of themselves as athletes
first," the Adlers write in
their book, "they possessed
other self-images that were

In a new book,
two sociologists
chronicle the
player's road to

important to them as well.
Yet over the course of play-
ing basketball, these in-
dividuals found the
demands and rewards of the
athletic role overwhelming
and ... had to sacrifice other
interests, activities, and, ul-
timately, dimensions of their
They are rewarded by
coaches and boosters for a
good game, but a strong per-
formance in the classroom
goes unnoticed. "When they
go onto the basketball court,
10,000 people cheer and
they're asked for
autographs," he said. "If
they get a B in a class, no
one is cheering them for that
or saying 'good job' and pat-
ting them on the back."
Then Tulsa coach Nolan
Richardson (now at Arkan-
sas) — called "Coach"
throughout the book — tried
to emphasize the importance



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