Death threats after college athlete literacy study

Researcher Mary Willingham says many college athletes in profit-making sports cannot read at the college level. (Image from CNN video)

Researcher Mary Willingham says many college athletes in profit-making sports cannot read at the college level. (Image from CNN video)

Death threats travel faster than bad news.

The researcher who told CNN many college athletes struggle to read has received multiple death threats from a non-adoring public.

“Even more shocking,” said CNN, is that Mary Willingham’s employer, the University of North Carolina, is disavowing the research they paid for that says 8 to 10 percent of UNC athletes read below third-grade level.

In a press release, UNC said it does not believe Willingham’s story that she once tutored an athlete who could not read and that they have not seen the research they paid for.

Unfortunately for the university, CNN has copies of emails Willingham sent to university officials where she shared her findings.

When confronted with those emails, UNC changed its tune, saying Willingham did share her findings and did have permission from the university to do the research, but added a “meeting” with the bearer of bad news has been scheduled.

CNN says it questioned UNC many times about the research before publishing their story and vetted Willingham’s work. CNN also looked at data from several other universities and determined 7 to 15 percent of athletes at other Division 1 schools cannot read at the college level based on athlete SAT and ACT scores.

UNC bring in $72 million a year in sports revenues, but only nets $200,000. Sounds like they need to hire more people in marketing and fewer researchers.

More ugly truths:

102 comments Add your comment

Papa Truth

January 10th, 2014
8:54 am

A skill passed from generation to generation. Refreshing.

te29wr

January 10th, 2014
8:56 am

The funny part about this is few reporter can ask a question about anything without looking stupid , ie how do you feel about…… ?See after game questions and at half time.

like2013heismanwinner

January 10th, 2014
8:58 am

Dude can play some football but he can’t talk. I guess winning was all f$u wanted.

GUTRAKE

January 10th, 2014
9:02 am

Yea, instead of saying “I am poor.” He can say “I be a millionaire…”

notafan

January 10th, 2014
9:12 am

They need to hire marketers? How about accountants?

Amazed

January 10th, 2014
9:13 am

I don’t understand the last sentence. Why would marketing help this situation. It’s a classic problem with AJC reporters. Even when they have good stories to report, they don’t what to do with them. A more practical way to resolve the issue with poor academic performance by athletes is to not matriculate students who have no possible ability to do college level work. This, in turn, would force junior and high school level players to pay passing attention to their studies. Only the rarest athletes make careers in professional sports. Nobody seems to care about that athlete that doesn’t make the pros but is forced to enter a job market with no discernible skills.

EdUktr

January 10th, 2014
9:13 am

Perhaps Mary’s next job (after a suitable period of unemployment) can be with CNN—investigating how liberals came to make up a percentage of on-air reporters that’s double what it is in the general population.

George Mathis

January 10th, 2014
9:15 am

Amazed – Please look up the definition of “sarcasm.” Thanks.

Cat70

January 10th, 2014
9:19 am

I was a math tutor in college in the 1970’s. The class (prep. for College Algebra 101) included several students from the athletic teams. I was shocked to learn most of the athletes in the class could hardly read, and therefore had no chance of ever passing Algebra. I spoke with their reading tutor, and was told most of the athletes in my class read at a third grade level. I was sad for them then, and I am sad now to find things have not changed. Most of those young people never went on to become professional athletes or to get a degree. I love sports, but have often thought we should be more honest about college athletics. Classify them as farm teams as in baseball, and pay the players. Allow those who can make the grades to take the classes. That approach would at least help a few get degrees, and stop the farce.

mas30

January 10th, 2014
9:19 am

So she brings attention to an issue and gets threats? Guess the people in power just want to keep the dumb athelete exactly that and making them money.

BG

January 10th, 2014
9:26 am

Most colleges like Auburn, Tenn, South Carolina, Ole Miss, don’t make their football players go to class.

jerry

January 10th, 2014
9:31 am

@Amazed:
Mr. Mathis isn’t a real reporter. He specializes quips and “humor.”

Don't Tread

January 10th, 2014
9:37 am

I remember Jan Kemp getting death threats from a “non-adoring public” back in the day for her refusal to give athletes preferential treatment and suing UGA when they fired her for it.

There is nothing surprising about college football players getting and keeping scholarships when they clearly can’t pass college courses. It really is and has been about money ever since college sports became big business, and academics/ethics be damned.

The disgusting part of this story is that the university leadership threw her under the bus. In the not-too-distant past, they would have gotten away with it. Maybe Mary can sue UNC for defamation of character.

Just sayin'

January 10th, 2014
9:40 am

I was on the faculty at a division I school for over 30 years, and these findings are not surprising. Actually, UNC’s numbers are probably not too bad when compared to some other public universities. And when you get to private schools, I would guess the numbers would be even higher!

Dick Vitale can praise the dookies all he wants, but they all go after the same athletes.

The Ayatollah of Jack and Cola

January 10th, 2014
9:54 am

When will stop dancing around the real issue?

Whirled Peas

January 10th, 2014
9:55 am

This is not new. 35 years ago a basketball player at Creighton U in Omaha sued the school because he had attended Creighton for 4 years and could neither read nor write. He was not good enough to make it in the NBA and found himself facing a life of poverty. I’m sure the school settled out of court. They didn’t want the bad press that went with this.

Max

January 10th, 2014
10:01 am

This is a widespread problem. I tutored athletes while earning my Ph.D. and Mary’s results are consistent with my observations. A lot of athletes are in the “exploratory major.” Instead of being primarily a university student while being a student athlete, in most cases this is reversed. A student athlete reading at the third grade level is not uncommon.

USC-69

January 10th, 2014
10:19 am

The Jan Kemp lawsuit should put these death threatening bullies back to bed. I think we all know that big time college athletics is not about scholarly advancement but is a direct money maker and a very effective attention getter for the alumni who may donate as needed. One of my alma maters, USC, previously milked this system very successfully combining strong professional schools (medicine, dentistry, law, business, etc.) with successful athletics. The successful professionals were happy to donate vigorously to continue the progression of the O.J. Simpsons and others peripheral to the academic liberal art students. Having been caught, SC has now disavowed this professional athlete tract and, hopefully, will focus, as all Universities should, on producing educated, intelligent citizens. Let the professional sports industry train and raise their own future employees and leave the thinking, research, publication, analysis, recording, hypothesis generation, and critical assessment to the Universities that avoid physically destroying the brains of some of their so-called students who entered without being able to read and left without being able to remember their phone number.

MANGLER

January 10th, 2014
10:21 am

When I was researching colleges, the one that I liked the most was a small private school. One of the first things anyone I spoke with about the school said was “they don’t even have a football team”. My reply was “That’s why their tuition is half of the other schools that do”.

Susan

January 10th, 2014
10:37 am

So she brings the truth out and her life is being threatened? Really? It’s obvious that a lot of athletes are not the most intelligent people on earth. Some of them are, but the majority of them are as dumb as a doorknob.

Logic 94

January 10th, 2014
10:44 am

If colleges refused to admit the “athletes” that are unable to read… they could not field the best basketball or football teams. Not wanting to be called racist, they admit the student “athletes” that will never develop marketable skills outside of sports.

Does this report really surprise anyone?

Casual Observer....

January 10th, 2014
10:45 am

Funny. there never seems to be a problem with these “Dumb Jocks” when the football team collects 15 Million for playing in a BCS game, or when the school has tons of money ( see Alabama, Texas, UGA) to add to the general scholarship fund….. Its sad, and I wish this were not the case, but its no different than the Walmart worker that unloads the truck for 7.35 an hour so that the Walton heirs can be worth 35 Billion each…… Those at the bottom do the heavy lifting and get discarded at the end so that the class above can claim success……

rum

January 10th, 2014
10:45 am

Surprise,surprise. Like these universities do not know this. This has been going on for decades,just ask UGA. It’s al about winning and $$$$$$$$$$$$$. They could care less. I am surprised that they paid someone to do this research, knowing what the results would be. Do a study at Louisville and Central Florida and see what they find. It’s really a shame that taxpayers money is funding these athletes.

rum

January 10th, 2014
10:47 am

Basketball is even worse. They can enroll and play one semester without having to go to class and then move on to the NBA.

KGray

January 10th, 2014
10:50 am

Why get upset with the Research finding, when we all know that most Universities could careless if these athletes can read; because, they only thing they are concerned about is the revenue that the College and Universities receive. They use these players and the ones who don’t make it to a professional level are kicked out of school when their eligibility up and they are no longer a benefit to the University or the team. Let’s Keep It Real!

Casual Observer....

January 10th, 2014
10:50 am

Logic 94, This is only about race if you choose to make it such…. There are just as many dumb white kids on the baseball team as there are dumb black kids on the football team…. the only difference is that the football team makes a boat load of TV money and the baseball team has to car pool to the games…..

rum

January 10th, 2014
10:56 am

The new thing now, is the NCAA and universities are considering paying these players while they are in school. Give me a break. My daughter worked for a sports agency and you would not believe some of the stories she told about the illiteracy of some players.

Just Me

January 10th, 2014
10:57 am

Logic 94, you should really change your name.

Your first sentence suggests that the schools must accept the weaker students in order to have a successful team. Your second sentence suggests that the schools must accept the weaker students because they don’t want to be called racist. Those points don’t go together. Either the school wants these students or they don’t.

JM

January 10th, 2014
10:58 am

“All over the country, athletes are used to produce revenue. I’ve seen what happens when the lights dim and the crowd fades. They’re left with nothing. I want that stopped.”

-Jan Kemp, 1986

Just Me

January 10th, 2014
10:58 am

It’s not just these ‘good ole boys’ schools. Stephon Marbury went to Georgia Tech and he’s dumb as a box of rocks.

Casual Observer....

January 10th, 2014
11:14 am

I think the problem is that society is sending these kids to school under false pretenses…… These kids go to college to major is their respective sports…. THAT’S IT!!! True, not all of them will be successful as pros, but not all Tech grads will go on to be John Portman either….

mike

January 10th, 2014
11:19 am

So the study was only done on athletes who bring her school millions of dollars each year. How about testing the rest of the student body. Or better yet just get rid of football and basketball and you won’t have to worry about whether an athlete can read.

SAWB

January 10th, 2014
11:22 am

College Presidents need to stop worrying about issues of race, Tile IX, TV Ratings etc, etc and do the right thing. Simply require all student athletes to meet the same standards as the average student. Once things shakeout I think they’ll be just fine, but it’s going to take a level of courage that most of these self-serving politically correct academic weenies don’t have.

The Geezer

January 10th, 2014
11:30 am

Anyone who turns on her employer deserves to be fired.

It happens in the business world and it should happen in the academic world.

Fletch

January 10th, 2014
11:53 am

Dude…7 – 15% of ALL students don’t read at a college level in this country. We shoehorn any kid who can graduate from high school if they are in anyway disadvantaged. Do you ever wonder why it is way easier to transfer into UGA than it is to get in as a Freshman? Well, the leg-up kids fail out and a few 1000 seats open up – you can call their admission office and ask, a friend of mine did when his daughter didn’t get in even though she was an A student from Marist, soccer team captain etc. They filled their quota of smart, beautiful suburban girls so they had to let in some more sympathy cases.

Fletch

January 10th, 2014
11:55 am

Oh, his daughter went to Vandy on an academic scholarship if that tells you anything about how backwards the admission process is in fair for everyone liberal amerika.

Bernie31

January 10th, 2014
11:58 am

The Football GOD’s have been Angered…. Their wrath has been stirred by the Groaning of the Modern Day Gladiators.

Bumper

January 10th, 2014
12:01 pm

Kudos to Mary Willingham. Shining the light of truth where it causes discomfort to wrongdoers (see e.g. Edward Snowden), especially when the wrongdoer is your employer, is an act of tremendous courage.

She’s getting the same backlash that Jan Kemp got for ratting out UGA years ago.

PB

January 10th, 2014
12:03 pm

This sort of reminds me of the Jan Kemp case at UGA quite a few years ago. She would not pass some athletes in remedial reading class she taught, and got fired. Sued university and won several million, and got her job back. But when went back to UGA, not surprisingly was shunned. Later moved to Nebraska or somewhere. Some people said she was a nut, but she was right in what she said and did. Died a few years ago. Sad story.

Tim T.

January 10th, 2014
12:15 pm

This is not really a fair assertion. I was a very well reader in 2nd grade learned to read a lot gooder when I got to 3rd grade. Also, by deduction, it is obvious the “athletes” in question did not issue the death threats because they could not read the report.

Dr. Phill

January 10th, 2014
12:16 pm

I taught for over 20 years at the college and university level, and I think that the problem is worse than stated in the study. If institutions raised admission standards for athletes to that of regular students, there would be fewer criminal arrests and the quality of football play would not be affected. The NFL could easily afford a system of minor-league teams that would allow player development and entry to the NFL for athlets unable or unwilling to attend college. Presently colleges are serving as a free training program for the NFL, and scholarship players are tossed aside by some college programs when they don’t meet coaches needs or expectations.

Domin8er

January 10th, 2014
12:28 pm

I think they should kill people who use death threats.

Mick Dee

January 10th, 2014
12:30 pm

I’m not saying ALL football players are poor students, but it’s a shame so much of our economy goes to them.

Look in high schools and pick out the athletes with the worst academic contributions. As a group, it’s the football players. But our booster programs build them stadiums and glorify them. The whole misguided culture of getting them college scholarships instead of investing in our children’s educations.

Then the college empires that enrich nothing but the football empire and return very little back to the school. Similar to what George pointed out with his last statement, the fact is there are less than 40 athletic departments in the country that turn a net profit and actually contribute money BACK to the college. What a waste.

This woman gets crucified for pointing out we’re exploiting many of these poor students as part of the football empires.

The same thing happens in high schools in Georgia too.

Gotta go now. Need to work to pay some taxes so Arthur Blank can get his new stadium. Bye!

Tom

January 10th, 2014
12:38 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/education/12kemp.html

O. Hale Almand Jr., a lawyer for the defense, offered a justification for the favorable treatment accorded the athletes, citing a hypothetical player. “We may not make a university student out of him,” he told the jury, “but if we can teach him to read and write, maybe he can work at the post office rather than as a garbageman when he gets through with his athletic career.”

who knew

January 10th, 2014
12:39 pm

Okay let’s push the big elephant out of the room. What some of you are saying is, stop accepting the 5-star black athletes that can’t read on a third grade level. First of all, this will NEVER, NEVER be done because the objective is to make the maximum amount of money with the least amount of expense.
Secondly, who will fill the seats at these mega, mega stadiums…..ie Michigan, Tenn, Ohio St and your beloved Sanford stadium?
Thirdly, these 5 star athletes have been cuddled, passed on, whatever it takes since they were about 12 years old, and now you expect them to be a refined student when they enter college?

I love black people

January 10th, 2014
12:45 pm

Yes @mas30 and Cat70 I’m not surprised although I agree with the pay them. What I can’t believe is all the money the UNC makes off of football and that’s all they can account for – $200K. Yes, they need an accountant. Did all this hoopla start as a result of the comment made on twitter by the Alabama quarterback’s mom when Jamais Winston spoke about their win? This has been talked about before and there is still nothing being done about it. No child left behind only made it worse.

bev

January 10th, 2014
12:52 pm

Looking bad for those in charge of this situation at UNC!! How dare them pay this woman who was only doing her job and then deny her!! Smart gal to keep those emails!!

Road Scholar

January 10th, 2014
1:01 pm

If there was a common lower standard, then the underachievers would not play for any college . Have you noticed that during player intros at a pro game on tv the number who state their school of record was a high school? So some of the athletes have a future, even w/o college.

And how long was Stephon Marbury at Tech.

Would like to see the comparison of SAT/ACT score averages for all schools and compare them to GT, or UGA or UCF. Let’s publish it so when they use Tech’s admission standard against them, they can compare the other schools. Since many don’t make it to the pros, ad in the starting salaries minus pro players. That would be interesting!

My wife is a college teacher and her experience is that this is not just limited to athletes! One student said she had never ever had to write a paper….and she was in her college senior class curriculum. Others could not take and pass any test, unless it was open book! Problem solving…you have to be crazy!

At Tech, the students are amazing! But not everyone can attend let alone make it there.

Casual Observer....

January 10th, 2014
1:06 pm

I am willing to bet that the same people that are crying and complaining about this are the same ones that have closet full of Roll Tide sweatshirts and Tees…..And yes it is a sad thing that any child can get to college age and not be able to read, but who is more at fault, that one that can’t read, or those that are so enamored with what he can do ( run, jump throw) that they are will to kiss his azz for the chance to be close to him while he is doing it…..

Casual Observer....

January 10th, 2014
1:09 pm

Herschel Walker is about as sharp as a bowling ball, but all of these holier than thou UGA fans would cut off their left hand for a chance to sit and listen to ole’ 34 tell stories about the glory days…..