The term “hostess” means different things to different people. It could be someone who seats people at a restaurant, or someone who arranges a party at her house, or it’s a brand of cupcake, or a scantily clad university undergrad sent on a recruiting trip by the athletic department to entice high school football players to come to her university, or…
No joke. News involving that definition of “hostess” has pierced the surface at the University of Tennessee concerning the football program’s recruiting practices, as reported here by the New York Times.
You see, when blue chip players at football-mill high schools around the country are being evaluated by colleges, the competition for their consideration is fierce. A single top QB recruit, for example, could have a dozen major programs vying for his attention. Marketing 101 dictates that success in a competitive marketplace requires differentiation from one’s competitors. The University of Tennessee interprets that to mean: send nubile female undergrads as sex bait to help make the football recruits’ decisions easier.
This practice is not without its defenders. They claim that “all the big football programs do this,” so why is it a big deal? While it remains to be seen exactly how many programs send “hostesses” on recruiting trips (and I am willing to bet Tennessee isn’t the only one), I think the “why is it a big deal” question hardly deserves an answer. But how about this: it’s a big deal because universities shouldn’t double as brothels. Athletic directors shouldn’t moonlight as pimps. And female undergrads shouldn’t be fronted as prostitutes. Clear?
Now, let’s spin this news with the Tiger Woods story for a moment and do a little critical evaluation. What do we know about Tiger? He was a golf prodigy very nearly from birth (on the Merv Griffin show demonstrating his amazing talents at age 2). He was raised to win, and those who would benefit from him winning made sure that he received every accommodation such that nothing would handicap the prodigy from realizing his full potential and all the glory thereunto appertaining. And boy did he deliver. How many hundreds of millions of dollars have been generated by Tiger’s uncanny ability to win? How many people have reaped obscene fortunes from their prized stallion’s performance?
And now we all stand with mouths agape that the golden boy of golf was sexing his way across the country. This is shocking? Quoting from one of his alleged mistresses, “What Tiger wants, Tiger gets.” Indeed. And that’s a lesson I’m sure he learned long before his sexual appetites developed. It’s a lesson countless sports stars are taught from day one. “Do what you’re supposed to do—win—and you’ll get exactly what you want.”
Isn’t that the same lesson the University of Tennessee, and every university with “hostesses” are communicating to would-be recruits? By dangling sex in their faces, aren’t they telling them, “Come to our school and win and you’ll get exactly what you want”?
It’s no mystery that sex is an enticement for young men. It’s also true that universities cannot pay athletes (even though the universities make more than the GDP of several countries on the backs of their athletes). But what they can do is bait the athletes with images of excess—keep them addicted to the spoils of winning—and make sure they know that sex is in the air on campus.
There’s a sense in which the Tiger story is entirely predictable. Behavior is fostered through reinforcement. If you are raised to think you should always get exactly what you want, and that thinking is reinforced by powerful external forces banking on your performance, then your behavior will evidence your belief. Why wouldn’t it? And as long as you’re getting what you want, there’s nothing stopping the behavior from continuing.
Beyond the degradation of its female undergrads, the University of Tennessee is guilty of morally distorted behavioral reinforcement. Later, when some of the college football players there go on to the NFL, and one story after another comes out about illegitimate children and paternity suits and broken families—some of the blame should be thrown back at the university for helping to create insatiable gratification gluttons for whom boundaries mean nothing.