Every week there are numerous columns and articles critiquing and discussing the latest performance of our university’s athletes. It’s a national pastime — the following of college athletics. It has also become a national pastime to then turn to the media for a discussion of everything they did wrong.
This isn’t just a criticism of athletic performance, but also of academic performance. How many of you have made the assumption the athletes in your class are unintelligent? How many have commented negatively on the academic performance of an athlete?
It is easy to claim college athletes are “public figures” and therefore worthy of public criticism. It is easy to claim that because they receive scholarship money, athletes should be subject to public discussion. These claims, however, do not justify the public evisceration of your fellow college students.
College athletes are not professional athletes and should not be treated as such. They aren’t getting paid to play and they aren’t making public endorsements. They are, by definition, amateurs, and while they may be a higher level amateur than you or I, that does not make them subject to public criticism. College is about learning, and for athletes that includes learning how to perform in their sport at a higher-level. A learning curve is to be expected and with that learning curve comes mistakes.
There is not an athlete at the Division 1 level anywhere in the country who does not do everything they can to bring home the win for their fellow students, just as there is not a coach at the Division 1 level anywhere in the country who does not try to do their absolute best for both their athletes and their university. Just because sometimes these efforts fall short is not a reason for the viciousness displayed weekly in the Fourum and elsewhere.
If you think you would be better at kicking field goals in a packed stadium and under the pressure of performing in front of thousands than Josh Cherry, then please, try out for the team. If not, I humbly suggest you stop calling the Fourum and focus on more important things.
College athletes become so for many reasons, but the biggest is often financial. Many athletes simply would not be able to afford a decent college education without an athletic scholarship. This does not make them professionals and certainly should not make them subject to your criticism. The athletically gifted are just as entitled to an education as the academically gifted.
Despite what many might believe, being athletically gifted and academically gifted are not mutually exclusive. In order to even get into a Division 1 program, athletes must pass through the NCAA Clearinghouse which sets standards for high school academic performance. Assuming they meet these standards, they must then meet the same academic standards for admission to the university of their choice as every other student. The special treatment in admissions claimed in popular myth simply does not exist.
College athletes are college students like you and me. They are not professionals, they are not public figures and they are not idiots. It is extremely unfair of the media and their fellow college students to treat them this way. So next time you consider speaking negatively about an athlete, think about these things and keep your mouth shut.
Nobody wants to be treated badly by the public, and college athletes shouldn’t have to be.
– Jessica Hensley is a senior in political science. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.