November 18, 2018

Webster chess billboard causes a stir, athletes respond

By Matt Mason

There is one organization that seems to get more recognition than any other at Webster — the chess program. Let me make a few things clear. First and foremost, the chess team is incredibly gifted and deserves all of the awards and honors it receives. Secondly, we should be proud as a student body to have some of the smartest and most gifted players in the nation, and also the world.

That being said, lets get right to the issue at hand. The newest Webster University billboard along Interstate 70 is disrespectful to student athletes and the student body as a whole. Now, the university has already supported their actions on Facebook, by saying it was supposed to be funny, and be a juxtaposition of billboards supporting University of Missouri – Columbia (Mizzou) athletics. Here’s my question: if it was supposed to be an obvious joke, why did it require an explanation?

The issue here is with the semantics of the billboard. “Our top recruits are chess players;” that is supposed to be funny? No, what’s funny is saying, “Our chess team can beat yours,” because the reality is that they can.

I have a hard time believing the average driver on I-70 sees that billboard and says to themselves “man they have a great chess team, I definitely want to go there!” I’m willing to speculate that the amount of students drawn to the school for chess pales in comparison to the many other reasons Webster is great.

The university has created a culture where their obvious favorite is the chess program. For example, a quick glance over the university’s Twitter and Facebook feed will reinforce this thought. I made note of all of the posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter about the chess team and the 14 other Webster sports teams. Since July 1, there have been 37 posts about the chess team. Collectively, there have been 16 posts about the other sports teams. This includes retweets from athletic coaches, chess coach Susan Polgar, team social media accounts and any other related social media accounts tweeting about these two subjects.

The first thing that is going to happen will be someone from the university checking my facts. For the sake of this argument, lets assume I missed 10 posts about sports and over counted chess by 11. That means that one organization on campus got the same amount of attention as 14 others. Now to be clear, this is not a cry for more social media attention to our athletics program or any program.

This isn’t merely a chess program vs. athletic teams issue. This is a student body issue. There are many campus organizations that work with very little. For example, the dance department severely lacks space. They rehearse until 10 or 11 p.m. nearly every night to accommodate all of their students because they don’t have enough space. Our nationally recognized speech and debate team is facing budget cuts.

As an athlete, I sacrificed part of my winter break and countless hours that I could have spent studying to participate in fundraisers. My sophomore year, I worked fundraisers on Dec. 22 and 26 at the Scottrade Center, instead of spending time with my family.

Each player on the baseball team has to raise $900 in addition to the cost of tuition and housing fees, to cover expenses such as field rental and travel.

There is no recognition for this though. Brag about your students’ work ethic, not just the recognition they bring to the institution. Webster, I beg you. Support and honor your chess team. But don’t alienate your fine arts, your athletics, your speech and debate, your social sciences, your business students or anyone else. We all know the slogan “Webster University, a better U!” How about a billboard saying, “Webster University, our top recruit is you!”

 

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