Meet IMG Academy, “a private, for-profit sports boarding school” that has recruited the best high school football talent from around the country and assimilated them into a beautifully branded behemoth. From an uninformed skeptic’s perspective, players enrolling in this unapologetically Darwinist manufacturing plant can count on being a cog in the Transformers-like machine of a football team that IMG gleefully cranks out. It’s an experiment with prep football that sounds about as ethical as Logan enduring the Weapon X project to come out the other side as adamantium-laced Wolverine. (Hopefully the origin stories, in cinematic form, of IMG’s student-athletes will be handled better.)
When I read the article, I was surprised that I was surprised. Why incredulity to this? After I suspended my disbelief, I quickly began to wonder: how is this not the norm given current American sports culture and the way its craziness has trickled down so heavily that recruiting is now beginning in the womb, aided by advanced genetic testing? I’m joking/guessing with the genetic bit. I’m sure we’re not far off. Gattaca has to be right around the corner. Would parents sell the rights to their children to corporations? Is there a “right” price? Surely a dystopian universe is in this speculation somewhere, if it hasn’t already been created and I’m just ignorant to it. (You’re welcome to any opportunistic writer reading this.)
The school used to function as a tennis academy, which made me think of David Foster Wallace and his formative semi-professional tennis career. Fuller and I are closing in (very slowly) on a re-read of Infinite Jest, which heavily features the destructive psychological effects of such obsessive training/manufacturing, running in parallel to the physical destruction of other addictions. The labyrinthine egocentricity that grows within any individual enduring such a trial is bound to be profoundly alienating, especially when that identity is no longer viable. If you’re indoctrinated into the belief and practice that you’re defined by X (in IMG’s case, football player), and then X gets taken away from you, what next? I’m not completely suggesting that IMG is treating its players as means to its own profitable ends, but why else would a for-profit school exist? Are they really interested in cultivating critically conscious, compassionate human beings, which every society seems to always desperately need more of, or branded, obedient laborers? Past the point of their service to IMG’s image, why would IMG care? As long as the money is there, case closed.
Everyone participating in this niche system, which is really a pretty unsettling microcosm of American industry/culture, is too busy swimming in its waters to question their source of life. They are DFW’s young fish, but where is their old wise fish that will inspire them to wonder, “what the hell is water?”