Move over COVID-19. There is a new contagion loose in America. This virus attacks that part of the brain which develops and controls the adult male’s sense of self-esteem and courage of conviction. Its effect is felt quickly once the victim exercises any degree of independent thought contrary to the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy.
One of the most recent victims of this viral infection is Ohio State University Professor Matthew Mayhew, who succumbed to the intellectually debilitating disease shortly after publishing an opinion piece praising the return of college football at Ohio State.
Apparently oblivious to the fate that awaited him, Mayhew last month co-authored an opinion piece titled “Why America Needs College Football,” published September 24th by Inside Higher Ed. The symptoms of the disease swiftly and mercilessly manifested themselves.
Three days after Mayhew’s opinion piece was published, a fellow academic – Andrew McGregor, who teaches history at Dallas College in Texas – excoriated Mayhew in the same publication for writing in support of the long-standing Fall tradition known as “college football.” Mayhew’s prostration in the face of this politically correct onslaught quickly followed. The seriousness of the attack on Mayhew’s intellect became evident just two days thereafter, on September 29th, when his complete loss of self-esteem caused him to write an apology in which he berated himself for having voiced support for college football.
Some observers might feel compassion for Prof. Mayhew as he confronts the complete, and likely permanent loss of his intellectual courage. It is far more important, however, that we focus on the damage to our culture resulting from the emergence of the disease known as “cancel culture.” This emergent disease has gained a strong foothold in colleges and universities across the country. It threatens not only to erase our country’s diverse and vibrant history, but also to homogenize our culture so that no expressions of support beyond the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy are tolerated.
In this mean and joyless environment, the mere expression of support for something as benign as college football is verboten, not because it helps build character, personal skills, and teamwork (which it does), but because it is considered “racial capitalism” (whatever that means). In this worldview, offering students the opportunity to participate in such a popular sport is considered to be “exploitation,” therefore to be condemned not praised.
As bad as is the vehemence with which Mayhew’s since-repudiated love of college football was attacked, even more discouraging is how quickly he prostrated himself before the bullies.
There once was a time when it was expected that adults, especially ones employed by a major university like Ohio State, actually would defend their ideas with rational arguments, if those ideas were attacked. Such process was considered the very essence of an education.
The notion that ideas matter, at least to the degree of defending them in open debate, still can be seen in a dwindling number of public settings, such as debates in the British House of Commons. Sadly, however, in 20th Century academia here in the United States, the preferred – if not the demanded -- response to having one’s opinions attacked if they are not in conformity with the leftist orthodoxy du jour, is to admit error and meekly back away, as did Prof. Mayhew in his cringe-worthy mea culpa.
Like predators in the wild, “cancel culture” bullies have a knack for identifying and preying upon the weak. And while it is weak-willed individuals like Mayhew who are directly humiliated, many others will come to suffer as the Left collects another scalp it can wave at future victims, as an example of what will happen if any dare express wrong-think.
As an alumnus of USC, I love watching college football, and I will miss it greatly if NCAA officials do not permit the games to continue. What I miss far more, however, is the intellectual independence and courage that used to be hallmarks of higher education in America.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.