The Alternative Universe of Athletes

In just the past few months, numerous world-renowned athletes and (former) role models were revealed to have acted in ways that would be considered disgusting by our society’s standards. Many of these individuals are professional football players, the most famous of which are Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, two elite NFL running backs, both accused of domestic violence crimes.

ray riceAccording to, there have been over 80 domestic violence arrests of NFL players since 2000 (of the 713 NFL arrests since the the turn of the century). This behavior is frightening considering the part that professional athletes traditionally play in American culture: role model. Is this an appropriate standard to hold for these athletes? Should many of these individuals be the people whom our society’s children aspire to be like? Regardless of your answer to these questions, it is unlikely that our young people will suddenly stop looking up to professional athletes, though some may be great role models, like the recently-retired Yankees’ legend Derek Jeter.

Perhaps it is not reasonable for us to hold ourfamous and celebrated athletes to the highest standard. One argument against the idea of “athletes as role models” may be implicit in Louis Menand’s three theories about college education expressed in his article “Live and Learn.” The first of these three theories states that college is essentially a sorting process. That the excellent (and therefore more admirable) individuals will be sorted from the weaker, less excellent individuals. Not to say that I agree completely with this view of a college education, but if this is at all the case, do professional athletes even apply to this theory?

Almost all NFL players at some point attended a college or university. However, unlike the rest of society, the reason for their attendance is not always to obtain a quality education that will assist them both in their career and in their life in general. The NFL requires that players be at least 21 years of age or that players complete three years of college. Therefore, any player who wants a chance to play in the NFL will seek admission into a college (if the colleges haven’t already sought them first). Frequently, these athletes are admitted to schools that they would otherwise have little chance to attend, simply because they are excellent football players. Not to say that these admissions should never happen, but due to this system, college football players often live in what can be seen as an alternative universe beginning from the moment their talent is identified as sufficient to play at the highest level. As a result, the college sorting process that exists according to Menand’s theory does not apply to these athletes. Living in this alternative universe may frequently play a role in shaping future NFL stars’ personalities and behavior. Due to the fact that their college experience (a period of time crucial in shaping the minds of young people) is often so different from the rest of society’s, many of these NFL players emerge with a view of the world that differs from the one the majority of the population forms in their college years.

Whether or not this system is flawed, it is reasonable to consider that the very different “growing up” experience many football stars have could be associated with their behavior down the road, and even, in rare cases, their violent actions.

3 thoughts on “The Alternative Universe of Athletes

  1. While I agree that these collegiate athletes do not go through the same sorting process that students go through, they still go through a sorting process nonetheless. Instead of separating them by intellectual smarts they are being separated by their athletic skill. Maybe even more so the athletes are being weeded out. Just as Menand’s theory one states, the “excellent” athletes are being praised and moved onto the next level, and the “lesser” athletes are not praised and most likely will not have a career at the next level. So while it is far to say they do not go through an academic sorting they clearly are still sorted out just not in the same way as regular students.


  2. Although you make some solid points, there are some things I disagree with. When these athletes are acting up, I do not believe it is due to their “college experience”. I say this because I am an athlete myself. Mostly every team here at Michigan is required mandatory study hours. Even after long hours of practice, you are required to go and study. I believe this makes an athlete regimented and disciplined, which in turn gives them a solid work ethic and makes them a better person in the long run. I do not speak for every school when I say this because who knows what goes on in those SEC schools but I do have friends that are athletes all over the country and they all have these mandatory hours. I think these incidents with players occur because of where they come from. Ray Rice, for example, grew up in a pretty bad part of New York and his home life was not the greatest. This is not an excuse for these people but it could have something to do with it.


  3. Your post is very interesting, although I must disagree with its overall idea. As a whole, the post is very generalized and somewhat stereotypical. While some college athletes are ultimately looking to go pro and do not really care about their education or the true “college experience,” the overwhelming majority of college athletes have no intention of playing their sport at the next level. While, I do agree that college football players do not have the same experiences as a normal student, I don’t believe this has anything to do with their behavior when they get to the NFL. In my mind, most of this behavior has to do with their experiences long before they ever dreamed of playing college football. Many NFL players grew up in broken homes and did not receive the proper care to become mature and responsible citizens. Unfortunately, by the time they get to college it may be too late to get on the right track. With that being said, it is unfair to put college athletes into this category because most of them are looking to have careers in something other than sports and want a traditional college experience just as much as we do, but happen to be exceptionally gifted in a sport as well. Furthermore, we cannot forget about the professional athletes who are great role models in society because these people are often overshadowed by the negatives.


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