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.
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.
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 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.