May 2014
Josie Bungert

“Athlete” doesn’t equal “special student”

For four years, I was at a school that I loved and adored (which if you can’t tell that by now you clearly aren’t actually reading my stuff). However, I was also at a school where athletes were royalty, and academics took the fall.

I am going to preface this post with three statements: One, I LOVE my school’s athletics. This really has nothing to do with the athletic side of things. Two, I LOVE my school, and I don’t think that any of this is a fault of the university as a whole. Three, I don’t really think any of this is the individual athlete’s fault, either, because I think it happens with every class of athletes, year after year.

Additionally, I write this not just as a rant but to point out that this is happening, because I don’t think many professors and faculty realize it.

Athletics are very important to any school in which they generate attention and revenue. Understandable, and good for universities for enriching the athletic programs so more athletes are interested in their schools and interested in furthering their education.

What isn’t okay is how athletes are treated in the social, campus, and classroom settings at the university level.

Beginning with the social setting, I never really understood why there was a huge disparity between “regular students” (non-athletes) and athletes. Why don’t athletes hang out outside of athletic groups? I can’t help but think it is because athletics are all they have time for in college, and, if they don’t go out of their way to do so, then they are not placed in circles to make different friends. I get that. But at the same time, I can’t stand how it is a “thing” if you talked to an athlete, an athlete waved at you, or an athlete chose to sit next to you in one of your classes. They are our PEERS, after all. This isn’t how it should be, but no one is really changing it. I have actually witnessed athletes look in the other direction on campus rather than wave or smile at someone (sometimes even me). This isn’t something that is the norm at universities like ours. People smile and wave, or at the very least make eye contact. It shouldn’t be so accepted to not have an athlete LOOK at you if you aren’t one. Maybe it’s like high school, where you have the jock groups. But this isn’t high school, so why treat them like glorified gods?

Not to mention just peer to peer, but athlete to campus is another issue. There have been many times where the campus comes alive with school spirit simply because of a game or something an athlete was recognized for. As much as I would also get excited for these kinds of things, because it really is awesome for our school, I couldn’t believe how many people only really started voicing their love for our university when the school’s athletics was doing well.

Additionally, the way that authority on campus behaves towards them is unbelievable. For example, I happened to live near a room of athletes last year, and the person we go to for apartment issues refused to help us with their un-neighborly actions (i.e., blasting music 14 hours a day, every day) because they knew it was athletes in that room and they didn’t want to mess with them. Though they didn’t say this in so many words, we took the hint. AND they told us to talk to them ourselves, which, as I outline above, would basically ruin us with embarrassment since they don’t pay much mind to non-athletes on campus.

Finally, the most irritating of them all, athlete treatment in the classroom. Coming from a department on campus that houses many athletes, I was in class with many of these students over my four years. Scratch that, I was in class, I have NO idea where they were. And I’m not talking traveling or tournament season, when obviously they are not on campus. I am talking off-season, when they have little else to do besides practice and class. There would be class periods where they wouldn’t show up at all, and it wasn’t once-in-a-blue-moon. It was at least once a week, and most of the classes I took with them had an attendance policy. Would they get in much trouble? Not that my grumbling classmates and I could tell. I once had a professor wave off an athlete who came to class half an hour late and left after 20 minutes. The classes that they would come for would be the definition of “making an appearance.” This last semester, I had a class with an athlete that was an hour and 15 minutes long. He came an hour late. I only hope the professors aren’t counting those classes as attendance, because if so, everyone should have a right to do that if they so choose.

Besides me being angsty in every single athlete filled class I had, I also felt intense “athlete love” from every professor. Professors seem to LOVE the athletes, which makes little sense to me because professors have authority, and teach many students, not just athletes. I can only guess that professors are told to treat them extra special, because there doesn’t seem to be another explanation. “Oh, you played a great game last night? Of course! Don’t turn your assignment in! It was definitely way more important for you to go celebrate til 2 am rather than finish the assignment due today that you’ve had two weeks to work on” is the sentence I could see coming from every professor’s smiling face when an athlete made an excuse. And professors outside of the classroom? You bet your lucky stars that they bring them up in conversation with other students and faculty, like their knowing an athlete or two somehow impacts them as a person or changes the way a department, professor, or specific class should be treated.

These three examples don’t even include all of the other little things, like seeing an athlete in a class for my major that they clearly aren’t apart of but got let into, or hearing that an athlete got waved out of credits the rest of us had to take. Many of them are receiving their education on full or partial scholarship, so the fact that this is the way they behave and are treated is extra annoying, since they are pretty much lounging around campus for free.

Bottom line: I don’t care if an athlete did come to college just to play sports. They are still students, and should be treated as such. We ALL had challenging, over-cluttered, FULL schedules throughout college, and we didn’t receive special treatment because of our involvement in a non-academic activity. Maybe us non-athletes didn’t bring in all the money and attention, but we are the people that help universities continue to be what they are supposed to be: academic institutes where students strive to achieve their academic, social, and impossible dreams all the while honoring and living up to a set of values. Does any of that scream “only the athletes” to you? This is for the rest of us, who may not get recognized, and don’t necessarily feel the need to, until an athlete does for playing a sport.