No reflection on this Chris McCray character, who, from what I understand, is yer standard-issue sports Prima Donna, but a quick collegiate-sports related antecdote:
At my college (the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, isert cheap gag here) I had some contact witht he "sports stars" of the institution, which, the first two years I was there, were the baseball team. One of my pals (and debate team mates) had landed in the dorm where they housed, and on one of the two floors they occupied. His favorite way of describing them was "Those guys are animals." He would come back bearing tales of strange behavior, team steams in the gang showers, going into a team mate's room and throwing all his junk out the window, nothing serious or permanent, but generally weird. One night I happened to visit the dining hall shortly after hours, being let in by a line attendant who was a pal of mine (and a nice chick at that), and happened in on the team during thier designated "dining hour," after the hall was officially closed. I discovered that not only did they have their own special food prepared, they ate it. All of it. One of the guys had the charming habit of inserting a drumstick in his mouth and pulling outjust the bone. (An alarming thing the first two times I saw it, less alarming the next, what, fifteen, sixteen times?)
The more I got to know these guys, the more I understood that they were, by and large, nice, earnest guys who also had in common the attribute of being . . . not too bright. And the majority of them were going through college on the scholarship, which is to say they were all from poorer families. (Which is why they were so damned good those two years: they were hungry to keep their scholarships and get their sheepskins and go out in the real world and make some money. The next year, the winning record went to the team's collective head and they turned into Primas and they stopped winning games. Funny how that happens.)
Anyways, the more I got to know these guys, the more I got familiar with their study habits. Some leaned on tutors, others adopted "girlfriends" who would spoon-feed them study materials and write papers for them, some would cozy up to a faculty member and try and use their influence to score passing grades in other courses. (You might be suprised how often that worked, especially in the Physics and Geography departments.) And all of them made "friends," guys in their classes who they could glom on to for study aid, and the glom-ee would hear little or nothing from them after the semester was over and they had collected their C and gone back to the gym.
One of the baseballl players glomed on to my pal to get through a Political Science intro course, then stuck with him for another couple of classes, and they actually became friends. A couple of times I went to hang out in the baseball player's down romm with my pal Ken, but what they would mostly do was drink beer and quote baseball stats. It was alot like that joke about the Old Comedians Home where they're all rattling off numbers and laughing. I found other things to do with my time.
Then one semester Ken and I and another debator decided to take this course called American Military History. I forget how we got around to it, but the closer it got the stranger things I heard about it. It was a required course for the ROTC guys, which almost screamed fluff course, but the prof was a guy named Robert Reike, who had a seriously grim reputation. On the first day of class, there we were, about eight Poli Sci majors, me and Ken (Eng Lit dudes), fifteen or twenty ROTC upperclassmen-- and the baseball player.
When I saw Cal (I forget his name, so for the purpose of this story, it's Cal), I had mixed feelings. I didn't think he was up for the course, but then if it was easy enough for the ROTC pukes (patience, patience), then Cal ought to be fine, with Ken's help.
The first week was a whirlwind. I never, but never, took notes in any other course, but in Reike's class I filled legal pads like flow charts. Ken and Nate, my fellow debators, sharp cookies in their own right, were sweating right along side me. The ROTC guys, all of who seemed to think they werte gonna waltz through, put their heads down and bucked up, and for the first time I had a real appreciation for military discipline. (I got to know some of these guys, became friends with a couple, too.) Cal, though, I thought Cal was dead in the water. He took notes, but not fast. He seemed to jsut be letting the course flow over him. I couldn't tell, from observation, how much he was actually absorbing. I actually thought about buttonholing him after class and making sure he knew the drop/add process well enough.
Then, second week in, Reike made it know he was not pleased with the amount of student-teacher dialogue in the course. We had a brief decompression where we all of us, ROTC guys included, explained that we were too busy keeping up with him to do anything but. (Reike was in his 70's, looked doddering but sharp as a damned tack.) Reike embraced that, we laughed it off, and then, boom, it was off to the races again, but this time with commentary from the peanut gallery. Two, three days into this (two or three class sessions I should probably say), I looked over at Cal. I thought he had the deer-in-the-headlights look, not a good thing. And then, during the briefest of breaks in the intellectual discourse, Cal slowly, haltingly, asked a question.
And it was a good one, too.
I forget the subject, Crimean war or pre-industrial seige machines or what, but I remember the question Cal asked stopped us all in our tracks, and took the discussion in a wholly new direction. And he continued to do it, the rest of the semester. What I had mistaken for the deer-in-the-headlights look was actually the lightbulb going off, the sudden intellectual engagement that (I think) always signals the birth of an actual, boa fide scholar. The jock became an intellectual, boom, like that.
So he did great, got an A (we mostly did), and hung out with Ken and bored the hell out of the rest of us quoting baseball stats. He kept playing on the team, of course, and I kind of knew that he had come in contact with my pal Chris (Doc Nagel), but we didn't have a whole lot of direct contact for the next couple of years. FAst forward to graduation day. I was in the English pile, where there were thirty or fourty of us. Chris was in the Phil pile, all of 5. I was trying to spot a friend of mine in the History pile as they marched past our position in the Coliseum, and there he was. CAl had majored in History.
I caught him just briefly as I gladhanded my girl in History; he gave me a slanty-eyed grin and said "My Dad is pissed."
He had gone to college on the scholarship, enrolled in the business school to get his degree, and his Dad had a friend who was going to get him into real estate or insurance or something after graduation. But he had that taste of intelectual achievement, that spark, and he was hooked. A quick converstaion with Reike, who took him on as his advisor, and he was in. The thing was: he had alwasy just assumed that, being a dumb jock, that was all he'd ever be. He didn't know that he could learn. And once he found out, so it seemed, in Cal's case, the sky was the limit.
And after he met Chris, he got the bug for Philosophy, took a few courses, minored in Philosophy. A History major with a minor in Philosophy. In his father's view, utterly useless.
And then we all went off to grad school. I lost track of him after that.