The Foy Fix

Auburn folks believe in honoring the legacy of Dean of Students James Foy, if response to my blog post on the topic is any indication. Both readership and comments reflected respect and affection for the Auburn icon.

With that in mind, I wanted to do more than complain (as much as that seems to be the SOP for someone my age). So here are some ideas on how the Foy Sportsmanship Trophy ceremony–and other things on campus–can reflect the man who served for 28 years as an advocate for students on campus.

1/Put ODK, not SGA, in charge. The two schools’ SGA leadership inserted themselves into the event after it was started by Omicron Delta Kappa, the senior leadership honorary that was so important to Dean Foy during his years at Auburn.

Not surprisingly, this also coincided with the addition of president speeches and the singing of the fight song, and the degeneration of the event into a rude boo-fest.

Glenn Richey, a faculty member in the Harbert College of Business, witnessed it firsthand when he served as ODK faculty secretary at Alabama. “I remember being on the court with Dean Foy and enduring a group of fans in Coleman Coliseum booing heavily during the trophy presentation,” he told me in an email exchange.

Auburn fans responded the same way in the most recent “ceremony,” even with a Foy family member present.

Returning it to ODK leadership would be the first step in restoring the ceremony’s original focus–honoring a man who graduated at Alabama, led Auburn’s student affairs office for nearly three decades and sought to keep the rivalry from, well, what it has become.

2/A film tribute to Dean Foy. Rather than speeches and a fight song, use the time for a film tribute. As with many Auburn traditions, my guess is that the students don’t know who Dean Foy is and what he stood for, and the SGA president speeches have done little to inform them.

When Auburn honors a former athlete, they often do so with a brief film that incorporates highlights of the athlete’s career.  Certainly a similar informative film could be produced to let viewers know about what Dean Foy means to Auburn.

That would also set an appropriate tone for such an observance, compared to the current conduct at the ceremony.  “It became an big enough issue that the Alabama Athletic Department and Coach Saban became very unhappy as they considered it poor sportsmanship to put the Auburn students on the spot,” Richey said. “They even suggested the event be moved to A-Day or the team not attending the event at all.”

To avoid that happening, Richey said, the two SGAs compromised, and the “tradition” of the other SGA president leading the singing of the fight song was eliminated. So while Auburn’s SGA president handled the singing correctly, it symbolized a program that has spiraled far from its original intent.

3/Keep it simple. After the film, the ODK representatives of the school that did not win the Iron Bowl presents the Sportsmanship Trophy to the ODK chapter of the school that won, with the Foy family representative accepting it on behalf of the school. The winning school can perform its own cheer.

And we’re done.

A simple ceremony, with a touch of school spirit but centering on an individual’s legacy at rival schools.

And since we’re on the subject, let me add one final talking point:

4/Once and for all, can we name the Student Center for Dean Foy? That requires too many sub-points to explain here, but it’s always worth mentioning.

He deserves it.

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Keep the Foy Trophy, Remember the Foy Legacy

The careless debacle that was Wednesday night’s Foy-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy presentation was sad on so many levels.

What’s saddest is that the actions by the participants reinforced a lack of awareness of who Dean Jim Foy was and what he represented — a memory the trophy is supposed to preserve.

First, let’s talk about Dean Foy. He was born into an Auburn family, but graduated from Alabama. His family moved to Tuscaloosa after his father died, and he worked three jobs to finance his education there. He and Bear Bryant were Sigma Nu pledge brothers.

He became dean of men at Auburn in 1950, a title later modified to dean of students. Foy served 28 years before retiring in 1978.  I was honored to serve as Plainsman editor his last year; he allowed us to break the news of his retirement.

He was known for leading War Eagle cheers (particularly in a weekly competition on Fridays with the Student Union staff), but also helped guide Auburn through integration and the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s.

But more than that, he used his background and life as a model for toning down the Auburn-Alabama rivalry and encouraging it toward sane boundaries.

As so often happens, however, his legacy has been forgotten by succeeding generations of students.  When the new Student Center opened in 2008, many of us alumni lobbied to have it named for Dean Foy, as the Student Union had been.

The SGA Student Senate considered a resolution supporting it that year, but the resolution was voted down after the SGA president at the time spoke against it. She urged the Senate to give the University flexibility to find a naming sponsor or donor.

Ten years later, it is still merely the Student Center, with Dean Foy’s commemoration limited to the information desk instead of the entire building. He deserves more.

Then, on Wednesday, the trophy named after Foy suffered through yet another ceremony that ignored his legacy. First, the Alabama SGA president made a speech that included a dig at Auburn, noting the six national championships that had been brought to the state since 2009. And Auburn fans, you’re not off the hook for booing her, either.

The tradition is for the Alabama SGA president to lead the singing of the Auburn fight song, to commemorate the winner of the Iron Bowl. It would have been a great opportunity for the Alabama SGA president to cite Dean Foy’s example and follow the tradition. (It would have changed the boos to cheers.)

Instead the Auburn SGA president took the mike and directed the singing to begin — one politician letting another off the hook. It is ironic that the two SGA presidents did work together, but in undermining the legacy intended by the ceremony.

It’s natural for college students to enjoy the traditions of their schools, even as they rush past the individuals who laid the foundation. I have no doubt that my generation was guilty of this as well.

We should do better, however, and honor these traditions in a way that shows our gratitude.

Many wonder if the ceremony should be dumped. That would be the ultimate dishonor to Dean Foy. Why not challenge both SGA presidents to restore the ceremony’s original intent and use it to remind the fans of both schools of Dean Foy’s legacy?

Some reflection and intent are needed. Otherwise, halftime of the Auburn-Alabama basketball game will be marked by a ceremony that is more Updyke than Foy, regardless of who wins the Iron Bowl.

John Carvalho is a professor of journalism at Auburn. He graduated from Auburn in 1978.

 

My Bias About Bias

I’m not sure I agree with Tim Layden’s remarks on the decline of objectivity yesterday. But I realize, different biases on my part play in.

I respect and appreciate Tim on a lot of levels, but I’m disagreeing with him here.

First, as I’ll confess and move on, his examples come from broadcasting, and I’ll admit that I don’t consider ESPN’s talking head folks to be journalists, regardless of their backgrounds.

In my typology, once Wilbon, Greenberg, or Stephen A cross that line, they become entertainers, co-opted by a media company in business with the sports organizations they discuss, and there to promote interest in broadcasts more than inform sports fans.

ESPN still employs plenty of journalists like Don Van Natta Jr. and Gene Wojciechowski, but they stay on the other side of that line the above three have crossed. Even Woj’s College GameDay work shares the same firm roots as his other work.

And I do not see the sports reporting profession moving in that direction. Yes, transgressions exist–and I have heard about but not personally observed partisan press boxes, particularly in CFB–but these are recognized as transgressions.

Plus, I discount the notion that sports journalists are 100% objective, uncaring whether the teams they report on win or lose.

They are not cheerleaders, but I do acknowledge that the needle moves a little toward the home team, though it remains within a healthy, “objective-enough” range.

It all relates to the concept researchers refer to as “salience,” which within agenda setting measures the perceived importance of issues or subjects.

Applying this to sports journalism (at the risk of sounding like Professor Obvious), sports journalists can still be objective while also recognizing home team salience to their audience.

Yes, audience members are happier and more positive when the home team does well, and sports journalists report with that in mind. Audience members are unhappy and want their team to be better when they lose, and sports journalists also reflect that side of salience.

It’s not 100% objective. Sports journalists aren’t shaking their heads and sanctimoniously noting that the idea of sports is that someone’s gotta lose, so deal with it.

It’s also not biased, however, because the professional sports journalists still report courageously about deficiencies, instead of ignoring them in a flash of sunshine.

So if they realize that it’s better for their audience, and the community, for the home team to succeed, that is not bias. The audience can cheer, as long as the reporters themselves do not.

It’s the same as with umpires. By nature, umpires are lifelong baseball fans and had their favorite teams and heroes growing up. And they know the fans at the game have their favorite teams, and that’s what keeps the umps working.

Media outlets could drag disinterested outsiders to cover important games to get an objective view. But audiences are also looking for a level of engagement over articles with terms like “militaristic” and “bourgeoisie.”

They can get that, and a sufficient level of objectivity, from sports journalists today–at least from those who remain on the right side of the journalism/entertainment line.