In July of 2006, after a concerted and what seemed to some to be an unfair and racist assault by the Seattle Times on the Chief Sealth’s girls’ basketball team, the Seattle School District stripped the school of its two recent state championship titles. Apparently complaints from all-white girls’ teams upset about being beaten by an all-black team, and “inside” information from the parents of girls on the Sealth team unhappy that their “superstar” kids were not getting the playing time they were “promised,” gave fuel to the Times’ scandal-mongering, which determined that players were “recruited” from outside the neighborhood where they were scheduled to attend school.
Many people noted the hypocrisy of the Times and the district’s position. Private and prep schools were allowed to “recruit” players from anywhere they wished. Other schools who prided themselves on having top-flight sports programs no doubt were guilty of the same thing as Chief Sealth—only they did not have unhappy, vengeful parents. One person who claimed to have “inside” information on the Bellevue’s nationally-ranked high school football team told me that he knew of at least one star player—a running back—who was supplied an empty apartment room in which he made an occasional visit to make his “residence” there “official,” except that he actually lived outside of Bellevue.
Now comes another Times “investigation,” which revealed that Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer—who dashed hopes of a return of the NBA to Seattle anytime soon by his purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers, contingent on his not moving the team—used his money and influence turn the fortunes of the perennially awful basketball team of the prep school his children attended, Lakeside High School. The school has a gigantic endowment of $190 million, which should be proof to everyone the imbalance in resources between public schools and the private schools that the well-off and rich send their kids to.
Lakeside was better known for its academics rather than its sports accomplishments, yet its basketball team went from two wins in 2008 to an overtime loss in the state championship game last year. How did it accomplish this? According to the Times, “Ballmer and his allies at Lakeside attracted basketball talent to the wealthy school and aided them with a series of questionable tactics that included anew basketball-focused nonprofit, cash for a coach, an unusual admissions process and weak enforcement of academic standards. One star player stayed at a $6 million mansion as he shuffled through three years of an academic schedule that almost ensured he wouldn’t get a Lakeside diploma.”
Am I reading something between the lines here? Is the Times insinuating another racial angle? Oh, I wouldn’t dream of accusing a newspaper that demonizes Latino immigrants of “racism.” Black players of “questionable” academics were brought in, according to the Times, to ostensibly “diversify” the school, but in fact to improve the basketball team’s performance. I would agree that there is something not kosher about this, but the real question is whether it is illegal—and if it is not, why not?
After all, the unfair advantage of private schools in getting any players they wanted regardless of where they lived was at the heart of what many viewed as the “unfair” and racist targeting of Chief Sealth, merely because they had the bad manners to win a couple of championships. Thus the Times’ “expose” is essentially valueless, save as another example of its hypocrisy; if white students with good academics had been the beneficiaries of questionable “recruitment,” there would be no “story.”