Posts about college athletics appear separately on this site in the Ongoing Debate section under NCAA Sports.

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The Shame of College SportsFrank Deford released an article this morning called, The NCAA and The So-Called ‘Student-Athlete’. Additionally, a 3-minute piece on NPR by Mr. Deford is available below. Click the play button below to begin listening.

The NCAA and The So-Called Student-Athlete

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Dear friends and readers:

I have written for The Atlantic magazine a short history of college sports in the United States. It will be released on the web next Tuesday, September 13. For more, see below.

Meanwhile, please excuse my low profile over the past year. I have been burrowed away on several new initiatives. For the long term, I have been researching two projected books based in the Constitutional era of U.S. history, which is a significant and enthralling jump back in time for me.

I have also joined novel experiments to reform the teaching of American history in our schools.  Improvement is sorely needed.  Students score abysmally low on history and basic civics, in part because schools have been evaluated on test scores limited to math and reading.  With textbooks dying out, and inadequate, our goal is to provide teachers with story-based resource material in engaging, digestible units at low cost, or for free.  My part so far has been to extract from my civil rights trilogy the most essential narrative lessons for both printed edition and access via the internet.  I began the process a reluctant, old-fashioned author but have become an eager convert.  The upcoming efforts will be announced in the next few months and launched next year.

The Atlantic assignment took me, a casual sports fan, into unfamiliar worlds of colliding passion. Many people think big-money sports have corrupted higher education, while others think greedy athletes have corrupted college sports. Instead, I found thoughtless exploitation beneath the NCAA’s Oz-like amateur ideal. It made me an abolitionist, and I hope at least to broaden the scope of debate. I welcome your reaction. Advance tidbits of my argument will be posted daily until Tuesday.

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On May 4, 2010, news broke that Oprah Winfrey’s company is producing for HBO a 7-hour dramatic miniseries about the civil rights era based on my trilogy.  The stories announced that HBO recently brought prize-winning screenwriter Robert Schenkkan onto the project. I am very relieved that news of this miniseries is now public, even though I can’t say much about it.

Under HBO executive Kary Antholis, we have been developing outlines and script drafts for several years since my first meeting with HBO President Richard Plepler in 2006.  Our model is the 2008 miniseries on John and Abigail Adams, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.  Read full announcement >

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On September 28, the American Constitution Society in Washington presented a dialogue about voting rights between me and my old hometown friend, Rep. John Lewis (D. Ga.).  We reminisced about private moments from his famous march across Selma’s Pettus Bridge and its historic consequences in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Lawyers from the audience asked sharp questions about present-day threats to overturn sections of that landmark law.

The second half of our program took a surprising turn.  John Lewis and I discussed whether modern celebrants of the Voting Rights Act have become too defensive.   Are we focused dangerously on the past, without a forward vision?  Ten years after a Constitutional crisis in the election of 2000, we still have a hodge-podge system of paper ballots, registration barriers, and partisan election-day officials.  Also, we still have an outdated Electoral College, incumbent-driven scrimmages for re-apportionment in most states, and a national capital without voting representation in Congress.

Should we be looking ahead toward a refined election process that counts every vote fairly and equally?

If so, John and I agreed that the problems are very complex.  Ideal solutions are by no means obvious.  Election reform, like all significant changes, faces a variety of political and Constitutional hurdles.   It might take years just to design the best approach to each of the problems.  To start somewhere, we toyed with the idea of a “We the People” task force to work on the many components of an omnibus reform package.

Some specialists among the ACS lawyers responded positively, but no organization has stepped forward as a catalyst.  What do you think?  Is this a worthy task?  Who should lead?  Would it unwisely divert effort from defending the VRA of 1965?

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SNCC Conference – Patrick Jones

On April 15-18, I spent four glorious days at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. There were nonstop songs, memories, speeches, workshops, arguments, and panel discussions amid copious hugs and laughter. More than a thousand grizzled veterans of the civil rights movement attended. Many introduced their children and grandchildren. The conference received a good bit of news coverage but deserved far more. In their youth, SNCC workers spearheaded lasting historical change from the sit-ins and Freedom Rides through the black power movement.

Here are some links, beginning with lush photographs by Patrick Jones:

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TV and Radio host Tavis Smiley interviewed me among many friends and colleagues for this broadcast.  The program was first presented on March 30, 2010.

View video >

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The Clinton Tapes in Paris

Published on 10 September 2010 by in General, The Clinton Tapes

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Late in March, my wife Christy and I went to Paris for a week to promote foreign language editions of The Clinton Tapes being published in several European countries. Spanish, Danish, and Dutch journalists asked questions along with French outlets ranging from the high-toned Le Figaro to a comedy show on national radio. Here is one of the tv interviews, with a French host who speaks accented English far better than my non-existent French.

For those who read Spanish, here is a print interview for the Spanish-language edition of the book, called “Las Grabaciones De Bill Clinton.” The story refers to me as Clinton’s “confessor,” or “confidante.”

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Jim Peppler, photographer for The Southern Courier, in the yard of the Bracy family in Elmore County, Alabama.

Jim Peppler, photographer for The Southern Courier, in the yard of the Bracy family in Elmore County, Alabama.

The cover photograph for At Canaan’s Edge was taken in 1968 by Jim Peppler, who was then a young photographer for a pioneering, student-led newspaper about the civil rights movement called the Southern Courier. In 2004, I found Peppler in New York and seached with him through many old prints stored in his house. Several of them appear in the book. He said he had always wanted to make sure his pictures were preserved somehow, and perhaps exhibited, which I thought was a terrific idea. On February 9 of this year, Jim sent happy notice that his entire catalogue has been archived by the Alabama Department of History. You can browse this wonderful collection at http://216.226.178.196/cdm4/peppler.php

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During my February 23 visit to Chapel Hill, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp invited me on his campus television show to talk about the Clinton book. The Chancellor has wide-ranging interests, including Beatles music.

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On MLK Day, January 18, President Obama and his wife Michelle invited me to join them in the Roosevelt Room for a small group discussion of the 1963 March on Washington. Most of the dozen other people there were elderly veterans of that event, including one couple who were both over 100 years old. Dorothy Height, who has since died to widespread notice for her long career in civil rights, was the only public figure among my fellow guests. Most of them told stories about the March and how it has affected their lives since. Both Obamas asked many questions, saying they wanted to hear stories inasmuch as they had been far too young to experience the March themselves.

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I will respect their request for privacy about the discussions, but following are some links to news stories with general comments. Below are President Obama’s remarks:

Obama on Martin Luther King Day, 2008 photo gallery of his visit to King Atlanta church, gravesite (SunTimes Media)

Marking King Day, From Oval Office to Soup Kitchen (New York Times)

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