An article in this morning’s Chronicle of Higher Education, “Job Prospects in College Athletics Drop for Female and Minority Applicants, Report Says,” begins as follows:
Women and members of minority groups continue to have few job opportunities in college sports, even fewer in 2004 than in the previous year in many areas of college athletics, according to a report released here on Tuesday at a gathering of top college and professional athletics officials.
The report, published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, found that only about 6 percent of athletics directors and about 10 percent of college coaches in all sports are members of minority groups.
And a few paragraphs later:
“If you believe in equal job opportunities in sports, then last year was one of the worst in the 16-year history of our publication,” said Richard E. Lapchick, author of the report…. “College sport has a long way to go to make it more conducive for women and people of color to find job opportunities.”
It is not necessary to be a George Orwell to cringe at passages such as those quoted above, but a few of his observations from “Politics and the English Language” (1946) will indicate far better than I can at least part of what makes them objectionable:
• As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
• In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
• The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
The cuttlefish ink of either purposeful or, in some sense worse, unthinking obfuscation clouds far too many calls for “diversity,” or, as here, lamentations over its absence.
Start with the headline: does the text of the article, or even the underlying report, really say anything at all about job prospects?
Moving on, it’s perfectly clear that what the report decries is not at all the lack of “job opportunities” for women and minorities, as stated and apparently repeated, but rather what the report writer and most of its readers no doubt regard as a “disparity,” an “underrepresentation,” of women and minorities. The number of jobs that they should have, of course, is never spelled out, but we can be sure that, at the very least, the number is [more than at present] and probably something approximating proportional representation.
If women and minorities are “underrepresented” in sports jobs because of discrimination, the law is being broken and something should be done about it. If not, then the ink in all these reports, including the inevitably accompanying cuttlefish ink, should be saved.