Today’s NYT Magazine cover story by Michael Lewis, The Ballad of Big Mike, relates a rags-on-the-way-to-riches tale about a young football player at Ole Miss. Only the most compulsive Sunday NYT readers will have actually made their way through this dull yet strangely disturbing tale of an inner-city lad weighing 334 lbs. (which figure could only be discovered when he was placed on a cattle scale), who was informally adopted by a rich family in Memphis. This ‘adoption’ led to his magnificent transformation from an underprivileged under-educated refrigerator-sized semi-zombie into a privileged semi-educated refrigerator-sized football player.
The real pay-off for reading the entire article comes right near the end when everything is in place to get him admitted to Ole Miss to play football except for the fact that all his grades are D’s and F’s. This is of course unfair, to expect passing grades of a young man who functions as a human barricade to anyone who tries to get past him on the football field, but such is the arcane bureaucracy of college admissions, even at institutions with a strong investment in organized sports. Much drama ensues and his grades go up during his senior year with the help of a round-the-clock tutor, but it is still quite difficult to get him interested in anything academic. The family is stymied by his inability to identify even with literature that speaks directly to his own most deeply felt experiences, such as Great Expectations and Pygmalion (who wouldn’t want to identify with Pygmalion?).
So what do you do with all those pesky F’s on a football player’s report card? It’s easy! You just logon to Brigham Young’s Distance Education program. From there, you can pick from a variety of ‘Character Education‘ courses. Each of these courses costs $40 and can be used to replace the F’s on your High School diploma. As Michael Lewis brightly explains:
The B.Y.U. courses had magical properties: a grade took a mere 10 days to obtain and could be used to replace a grade from an entire semester on a high-school transcript. Pick the courses shrewdly and work quickly, and the most tawdry academic record could be renovated in a single summer. Sean [the ‘mother’ of the football player] scanned the B.Y.U. catalog and found a promising series. It was called ‚ÄúCharacter Education.‚Äù All you had to do in such a ‚Äúcharacter course‚Äù was to read a few brief passages from famous works ‚Äî a speech by Lou Gehrig here, a letter by Abraham Lincoln there ‚Äî and then answer five questions about it. How hard could it be? The A‚Äôs earned from character courses could be used to replace F‚Äôs earned in high-school English classes. And Michael never needed to leave the house!
As Sean, the adoptive mother remarks, ‚ÄúThe Mormons may be going to hell, …but they really are nice people.‚Äù