If you know me, you know that one thing keeps me laughing every day: Twitter memes. The best part about this is that practically every month or week, a new meme dominates Twitter’s social feed. This week, student athletes have been the center of laughter in a popular meme across social media platforms that mocks them for being overly enthusiastic and self-centered, making every conversation about themselves and their physical fitness. In the joke, someone says something innocuous and the student athlete replies by somehow spinning the topic to physical fitness while peppering their response with emojis.
While there may be some truth to this, I feel like the general stigma of student athletes is pretty flawed, especially here at Penn and similar institutions. Recently, a student at Yale University published an article slamming the university’s entanglement of admissions and athletics, claiming that “sports have nothing to do with the mission of college.” This week, I want to discuss why recent statements about student-athletes have underestimated and limited what Penn students are capable of by shaming and devaluing this specific group within our community.
It’s safe to say that we all came to Penn because it fosters an opportunity that no peer institution can through a community of different thoughts, talents and identities. However, it is no secret that our community often can feel fragmented due to such differences. As a student-athlete involved in groups such as Undergraduate Assembly, UMOJA and, of course, The Daily Pennsylvanian, I have found it hard to find Penn student athletes within time-demanding student groups and clubs due to the expectations of their sport. However, I do not feel that non-student athletes bear this burden, as I’ve met theater kids in Undergraduate Assembly, musicians on The Daily Pennsylvanian and even students with start-up companies in groups of the like.
Why? I can almost guarantee that virtually every athlete at Penn has been told to quit their sport by a non-athlete when they decided to invest their time in other programs and student-run clubs. Given the rigor, practice schedule and pressure student athletes experience, we often stick to our respective worlds — sports and academia — not just due to a lack of time, but also a lack of understanding by those outside of our realm.
Even beyond this, similar to the Yale situation, every now and then I hear about how athletes, “don’t deserve to be here” or how they are “not as smart as their classmates” and “took the easy route” when it came to admissions. But fortunately, student athletes, non-athletes, coaches and even faculty members alike, assert that this is simply not true.
The implication that one is less smart, qualified or does not contribute to the student body as a student athlete scares me. When I came to Penn, a university that does not grant athletic scholarships to any of its student athletes due to regulations, I never had thought this would be the case.
Student athletes across the Ivy League and at other prestigious institutions face stringent academic scrutiny within their application, and the sacrifices that craft our success at Penn and beyond is a testament not only to our perseverance and fortitude, but more so to our augmentation of intellect here at Penn. For virtually every student athlete here, it was — and is — the esteemed academic reputation of Penn that contributed to their decision in attending, and hence our contributions to the University fall both in and outside of our academic grit and qualifications, especially given that we could have received scholarship offers from less-prestigious institutions.
A college is meant to cultivate minds, and athletes do so every day whether on the court, field, track or ice rink by facing challenges in both the athletic and academic realms of Penn. While the author of the Yale column may think, “the virtues or lessons learned in sports are acquirable in intellectual activities,” student athletes contribute to the mission of our University differently than any other organization on campus. Athletics teaches lessons about sportsmanship, mental toughness, fortitude and integrity in ways that the classroom can’t.
Just 2.25 percent of high school student athletes go on to compete in Division I athletics, let alone at a university as esteemed as Penn. Similarly to any other students, athletes contribute to the mission of our University by embodying the values of leadership, responsibility and intellectualism, just in a way that not everyone can fully appreciate. As a student body, that truth should not separate us, but should unite us.
CALVARY ROGERS is a College sophomore from Rochester, N.Y., studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Cal’s Corner” usually appears every Wednesday.
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