Student-Athletes or Athlete-Students?

Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier write about the role of athletes in political activism in their article “Where are the Jocks for Justice?” Even though there have been numerous athletes who have spoken out on key issues in the last 50 years, Candaele and Dreier emphasize that “contemporary activism hasn’t infiltrated the locker rooms as it did in the past…” Reasons for this include better economic situations for athletes, higher stakes for endorsement potential, and possibilities of facing derision from fans and other athletes.

Candaele and Dreier illustrate how former NBA basketball player Adonal Foyle is unique for his role in political activism (PHOTO via Wikimedia Commons (Author: Keith Allison)).

I believe that another prominent reason for athletes’ lack of political presence is because of the increase in the level of competitiveness found within the sports community. On a yearly basis, new champions are born, records are broken, and older athletes are ousted by younger athletes. As a result, athletes are pushed by trainers to spend more time practicing on the court, weight room, track, etc. Therefore, thinking about politics may not be a priority for young, aspiring athletes.

As we are all college students, I shall talk about this issue from the perspective of college athletes. Jackson Van Arsdale, a soccer player at the University of Kentucky, illustrates his lifestyle as a student athlete. NCAA rules limit official coached practice sessions to 20 hours per week. However, there’s more than just practicing, as the 20-hour rule does not include time spent with trainers, team meetings, travel time, etc. After taking part in all these extra tasks, Van Arsdale spends approximately 40-50 hours a week on soccer related activities.

Even though the NCAA places a 20-hour per week limit on coached practice sessions, college athletes may end up devoting 40-50 total hours a week towards athletics in general (PHOTO via Wikimedia Commons ((Author: user “King of Hearts”).

After a long day of training and attending classes, athletes may not feel energized to attend evening meetings for student organizations that promote social action. Also, they need this time to catch up on missed lectures, labs, discussions, etc. More importantly, college athletes must sleep for an adequate amount, so their muscles can recover and grow. As the level of competition continues to increase within and outside of their teams, college athletes must formulate their daily schedules around their sports commitments. Because they are so driven to excel athletically, the dedication to other extracurricular activities that advocate a cause may decrease and eventually become nonexistent.

The increase in competitiveness and time commitment towards sports has also led many college athletes to decrease their devotion towards academics. Amy Julia Harris and Ryan Mac, who have written for The Stanford Daily, explain how Stanford athletes used to be given a quarterly list of “courses of interest” by the Athletic Academic Resource Center from 2001 to 2011. Stanford officials say that the list was designed to accommodate athletes’ busy schedules. Nevertheless, students admit that these classes were popular, simply because they were “always chock-full of athletes and very easy As,” as described by Kira Maker, a women’s soccer player. Courses like “Beginning Improvising,” “Social Dances,” and “Public Speaking” have been popular amongst athletes who have looked to boost their GPAs with minimal effort.

In order to balance school and sports, college athletes may be encouraged to take easier classes that boost their GPAs (PHOTO via Flickr (Author: Timothy Valentine)).

In some cases though, the athletes are not at fault. Mark Dent, Michael Sanserino, and Sam Werner, who are writers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, describe how athletes are being forced into certain majors by athletic departments, because of time restrictions due to their sports. For instance, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter wanted to choose a major that would prepare him for medical school. However, his advisor told him not to take a chemistry class needed for pre-med majors, due to conflicts with football. Similar accounts have occurred for students wanting to major in other demanding fields. Because of conflicts with sports, some college athletes have no option but to major in subjects that do not match their interests or desired level of rigor.

Connecting this back to Candaele’s and Dreir’s article, we should not be surprise that athletes are not speaking out on major issues that are present in today’s society. As competitiveness levels have risen in sports during the last 50 years, athletes have sacrificed so much to keep up with the competition. More specifically, college athletes have sacrificed time spent educating themselves about political issues. Not only are many of them foregoing the opportunity to take meaningful, challenging, and thought-provoking courses, student athletes are also being forced to exclude themselves from the rest of the study body, many of whom are involved in clubs and organizations that raise awareness on social issues. Thus, how can we expect an athlete to “speak out on big issues like war, sweatshop labor, environmental concerns, or the increasing gap between rich and poor” when they are not properly exposed to these issues? We simply cannot.

In order for athletes to convey interest in these issues, they must be better educated during their college careers. As Mark Dent, Michael Sanserino, and Sam Werner illustrate, the NCAA can do more to ensure that college athletes are getting the most out of their scholarships. For instance, they could be given six years to finish their degrees while still maintaining four years of athletic eligibility. With more time to get a diploma, advisers might not feel pressured to encourage the easiest possible route to graduation. Student athletes could study whatever they’re passionate about, no matter how rigorous the field may be. Such reform would be a step in the right direction. Better education would lead to a higher level of exposure on economical, political, social, and environmental issues, inside and outside of the classroom. At the end of the day, this exposure could provide athletes with a better foundation for speaking out on crucial matters that our society faces today.


2 thoughts on “Student-Athletes or Athlete-Students?

  1. This post is very intriguing because it addresses the question as to why athletes are not more involved in social issues. This post not only discusses professional athletes but collegiate and how time consuming a sport can be in one’s life. Because of all the training and recovery and need for sleep, what would you pose as a suggestion to get athletes more educated on social causes? Do you think players and teams should take stands on things while they are in college or should they just be informed for a possible professional career?


  2. I find this post to be very interesting and I think it raises a lot of interesting points. I certainly agree that athletes are very consumed by practices and making up work leaving little time to join organizations that raise awareness for social and political issues. However, I do not think this is an excuse or a reason for not speaking out against social and political issues. The awareness can still be there. As a college student as well, I can say that most of my awareness and that of many others on both social and political issues does not result from involvement in organizations. In fact, we hear about such issues in discussion with peers, discussion in class, social media such as twitter and Facebook, T.V., protests on campus, and so on and so forth. Most individuals do not gain their awareness of such issues from involvement in activist organizations. I think that we can agree that all individuals including athletes are exposed to the issues as well. They are not the only ones with excessively busy schedules that are very regimented and I believe that they merely as individuals are exposed to issues enough so that they could make a statement about them. For example, it is hard to miss the constant protest and speech against sexual assault on campus. I think athletes would be aware of these protests and be able to make a statement. They may not have extensive knowledge on the topic but I would argue that the other non-athletes who make statements often don’t as well. Furthermore, professional athletes have their lives consumed by their sport even more so than college athletes as it is their profession and they often have to worry about extensively more and longer practices, games, and often times raising a family. Athletes such as the St. Louis Rams football players find an easy and quick way to make a statement on issues that are going on in society. They simply put their hands up in support of Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Missouri shooting victim, in protest of the police officer who fatally shot up when his hands were up in defense. They didn’t verbally say anything or do anything extensive but rather made a simple gesture. This something that can easily be done by college athletes as well. I understand your points that college athletes lack the time to do much else, but, I do think they have the sufficient knowledge and resources to know about issues in society and they certainly have the forum to comment on them as well.


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