Third Day of Honors Institute Talks Sports

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Day Three of Phi Theta Kappa's 2012 Honors Institute carried a sports theme, with author Taylor Branch first discussing the treatment of players in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, followed by National Football League Hall of Famer Willie Lanier telling students to define themselves rather than letting their roles define them.

Phi Theta Kappa members, advisors and officers are at the University of Denver in Colorado this week taking a deeper look at the 2012/2013 Honors Study Topic, The Culture of Competition.

Taylor Branch

Taylor Branch meets with a seminar group.

Branch opened the third day in a lecture sponsored by Dr. John Modschiedler, advisor emeritus of the Phi Beta Chapter at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Modschiedler is an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ and has taught courses in religion and ethics.

Branch is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has spent most of his career working on a trilogy known as the "Martin Luther King books." He also told the story behind his celebrated book The Clinton Tapes, which he called "an accidental book" and is basically a memoir of his eight year-long project of meeting secretly with President Bill Clinton in The White House to record and document his terms as President.

"I've been a fan of his for years," said Patrick Holland, a member of the Alpha Delta Chapter at Hopkinsville Community College in Kentucky. "I've got all three of the 'King' books, and of course I loved The Clinton Tapes. I've read it twice. He's an excellent writer."

Branch's latest work is an e-book called The Cartel, which looks at the NCAA and its ultimate treatment of student athletes. In his research for a story on the money involved in college sports for The Atlantic, Branch found that NCAA athletes basically had no rights. The controversy surrounding the article led to the e-book, which is now available in a print-on-demand format.

Willie Lanier's lecture was sponsored by Leanne W. Jardine and Robert Jardine. Leanne Jardine is a former New York Regional Coordinator and former chapter advisor at Herkimer County Community College. She is a Phi Theta Kappa alumna and a past recipient of the Board of Directors Alumni Award. Robert Jardine is a retired teacher and an adjunct faculty member at Herkimer County Community College.

Willie Lanier

Willie Lanier speaks at the Third General Session.

Lanier recalled being a serious student at Morgan State University in Maryland. For him, football was a talent he had; his real purpose was to get his college degree.

He was drafted into the National Football League in 1967 to the Kansas City Chiefs and went on to have a successful 11-year career. But despite being named to the American Football League All-Star Team, selected to the Pro Bowl and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lanier told students he was defined not by the various awards and titles he had received over the years.

"My only title is the one my parents gave me," he said. "The rest are just roles that change over the years."

Lanier played football with eloquence and with a respect for the game and for his fellow players. He prides himself on never having had a cortisone shot or a pain pill; he never wanted to risk injuring himself or another player just to win the game. Today he is a member of the Player Safety Advisory Panel, which is tasked with trying to change the culture of football.

"All of us have to define ourselves and our own rules," he said.

Lanier went on to complete his MBA and to become an entrepreneur and philanthropist. For him, football was a way and means for him to complete his education and be able to compete in the business world.

"I found it very motivational, telling us to dig deep within yourself and worry about your own self and your education," said Julie Brooks, a member of the Alpha Epsilon Chi Chapter at SUNY Finger Lakes Community College in New York. "I thought that was very strong, coming from an athlete."

R&R Day on Thursday gives students a chance to explore the Denver area. The Honors Institute will conclude Friday with a presentation by Peggielene Bartels, the King of Otuam in Ghana, and author Eleanor Herman at the morning session and a Culture of Competition Feud game show for students in the evening.