Jeremy Schaap: Sport and the Duty of Conscience

By C.J. Walker and Ryan Geitner

NEWS Reporter


n Monday, December 12, the Mercersburg Academy community welcomed ESPN journalist Jeremy Schaap to deliver the Schaff Lecture on Ethics and Morals, continuing the 2016-2017 Monday Evening Lecture Series. Schaap addressed his lecture to an audience of more than 500 in the Irvine Memorial Chapel.

However, Schaap spent a majority of the lecture focusing on his career in journalism. Breaking the talk into four parts, Schaap addressed his work investigating and reporting on: the disparity in drug sentencing laws, profiling former pro baseball star Willy Maze Akins; an epidemic of “‘corrective rape” in South Africa, the host country of the 2010 World Cup; the kafala system in Qatar which ensures that laborers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup are tied to their work in relative slave conditions; and the story of high school athletes who sustain catastrophic injuries while playing for public high schools and the extreme hardship that can result—economic and physical—when those athletes are uninsured.

Most recently, Schaap worked covering the conditions of migrant workers employed in Qatar. Unknown to most of the world, the migrant laborers, who are currently employed constructing the 2022 Qatar World Cup stadiums, work and live in inhumane conditions. The school community prepared for Shaap’s visit by viewing an excerpt from his documentary on the topic. Speaking on his coverage of the issue, Schaap mentioned, “That story changed my life, and it changed the way people view sports at large.” Of course, the majority of Schaap’s work focuses on this concept: using athletics and sports as a platform, he brings attention to issues thavertical in article schappt emerge from but transcend the traditional boundaries of sports.

Jeremy Schaap openly entertained members of the community throughout his two-day stint on campus. Prior to the lecture, Schaap dined in the Jane Ford lounge with students and faculty. 14 students of the inaugural Springboard class, “Business of Sport,” were in attendance. The son of the late legendary journalist Dick Schaap, Schaap spoke freely of his ex
perience gaining traction in “the business of sport.” emphasizing in particular the distinction between being talented and being hard-working. “If someone is a ten in talent
and an eight in hard work and another person is an eight in talent and a ten in hard work, the hard-worker is going to have more opportunities.” He said that even though he was “grandfathered into” the business by way of his father, being a writer on the Cornell University daily newspaper taught him the importance and necessity of hard work.

Schaap’s work has garnered much attention from student-athletes, student-writers, aspiring journalists, sports fans, ESPN fans, human rights activists, and almost everyone in between. Sam Morgan ’19 spoke to this point, saying, “I thought it was really interesting how Schaap connected issues that I hadn’t thought related to sports and works to bring them into the spotlight.” Morgan was accompanied by many others in his sentiments, as Schaap’s follow-up seminar, held Tuesday morning in the Irvine Lecture Room, attracted students of all spheres.

Of course, many Mercersburg students read Schaap’s work over the summer—his novel Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics. The biography chronicles Owens’ trials as he approached the 1936 Berlin Games. His path to the gold was riddled with controversy, domestic and international. Schaap paid special attention to relaying the story beyond the games and the truth of discriminati
on within the United States Olympic Committee.

The main message Schaap reinforced wasn’t one about the people he’s helped or his accomplishments over the years; rather, it was one about his duty to spread awareness. Each of Schaap’s pieces of journalism, documentaries, and novels has helped reveal to an array of previously unveiled world problems to an international readership.

Especially in the bubble that is Mercersburg Academy, his is a valuable lesson and aspect of life. People fortunate enough to experience life at a school like it don’t often see people’s struggles first hand; a majority of students at Mercersburg have never interacted with a refugee or faced the struggle of finding employment in a country other than their own. But people read news stories. They listen to podcasts and spend time browsing articles online. Through these media sources, people stay informed, discovering issues that mean something to them and which eventually develop to become causes worth fighting for.

Looking out at the audience, Schaap commented, “I see 400 or so young people who can change the world.” He continued, “Whatever you choose to do with your life, there will be opportunities to make a difference.” Schaap’s goal has been connecting sports to grander issues others face. But he encouraged the audience members to find their own goals in life, to realize the issues that matters most to them, and to figure out what they can do to induce change where they want to see it.

Analyzing the impact and reach of his works, it’s understandable why Schaap is so admired by his peers, viewers, and readers, and why he was able to reach the broad audience at Mercersburg Academy.

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