My Learned Colleague, I Beg to Differ But There Is No Need to Redefine the Term “Student-Athlete”

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through The Maize Essaize when I found an article by one of my peers titled “Why It’s Time to Redefine the Term ‘Student-Athlete’”. As a current Business Major and a player on the Varsity Tennis Team at the University of Michigan, I disagreed with most of the arguments in the blog post. I personally believe the author had a narrow perspective on the subject, so I thought of making a new blog entrance explaining my counterarguments while analyzing the matter from a student-athlete’s perspective.

Picture taken by: Brad Muckenthaler

I would like to start by mentioning some of the most obvious invalid points the author makes in the blog from my point of view. I believe the author falls into one of the most common logical fallacies called hasty generalization. He draws conclusions about the whole population of student athletes in Division 1 universities based on studies from a small group of football and basketball players on a couple of colleges. Whether it might be true that some athletes struggle with schoolwork and are way below the average student academic level, it doesn’t make any sense to generalize and say all student-athletes have these issues. From my perspective the author is making broad assumptions that aren’t always true, in order to prove a point. For example, he says “the entire team focused on going to class and doing work not to learn (…) but to maintain a 2.0 grade point average and stay eligible to play on Saturdays. (…) A college would be much happier with an athlete that has a C average, but makes big plays on gameday, than a player with an A average that loses the team a game.” Speaking from my personal experience, at least at the University of Michigan, student-athletes are encouraged to succeed academically just as any other regular student. We are not mediocre neither on the field or in the classroom. The athletic department realizes most of us are probably not going to end up playing our sport on a professional level, so they provide us with career fairs, networking events, tutoring hours and all sorts of activities related to academics in order to improve our experience from an educational standpoint. The fact that some student-athletes do not care about academics is not good enough evidence to support the author’s claim that all student-athletes in all Division 1 universities focus mainly on their sport and fail to keep up with other students in the classroom.

My biggest criticism to this blog post is that I perceived the author thinks student-athletes can’t be successful on and off the field. And there are many examples that prove this is certainly not true. Take President Gerald Ford for instance. He played football for the University of Michigan and then had a successful political career. Or Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who played water polo while earning a history degree at St. Andrews.

Gerald Ford playing football for The University of Michigan. Photo Courtesy: Gerald R. Ford Library Public Domain (No usage fees, no permission required).

I also believe the author should have done more research and get some facts clarified before jumping to conclusions. He states coaches “encouraged their athletes to take what became known as “paper classes,” or scam classes in which students did not have to show up to class and only had to write one paper for the entire semester and then received an extremely high grade from an academic advisor”. My first reaction when reading this sentence was surprise, because academic advisors don’t grade any of our papers, quizzes or exams. Their role is to help us schedule classes, get tutoring, and make sure we are meeting all requirements prior to graduation. Also, it is important to note there is not a single class in any university that is restricted to student-athletes. I certainly agree with the author that this types of classes don’t enhance learning or improve academic skills, but other regular students take this types of classes too. The problem here is the existence of the class, not the fact that some student-athletes enroll in them.

As Madelaine Jerousek-Smith states in her article, student-athletes can be remarkable students and remarkable athletes at the same time.We learn about discipline, teamwork, commitment and stress management; all skills that are very useful in the classroom or at the workplace. I encourage people to read Julia Forster’s Honors College Thesis which studies student-athlete’s academic success and does research on specific areas such as graduation rates, after college success, in season vs out of season GPA, and male vs female student-athlete GPA. She concludes that whether it is true that some athletes (of high revenue generating sports like football or basketball mainly) struggle with college academics, other athletes have the same chances at being academically successful as any other regular student. She even finds “student-athletes graduate at a slightly higher rate than the general student body”.

That being said my dear college, I do not think that the “NCAA is the feeder program (…) for illiteracy and future poverty” like you do. I think some student-athletes do struggle with the academic aspect of college, but I also believe many others have proven to be successful in the field, in the classroom and in life.

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2 comments

  1. abklee · October 26, 2014

    Your post brings up issues that are commonly debated in today’s world. I can see the logic between both your post and the one to which you are responding. I admire you standing up for yourself and your fellow student-athletes because being looked down upon by other students is a feeling that probably gets very old very fast. The stereotype is unfair because there are many student-athletes that are very intelligent and prosper at the University of Michigan and at colleges across the country. Just from talking to student-athletes I here, I am astounded that you are able to balance the intense time commitment with the workload here, and I admire you for it.

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  2. dverdere · October 30, 2014

    The quotes that you brought up from my blog post were direct quotes from an athlete at University of Maryland who is now the president of the NFLPA. This is not just an original theory that I have, but something that a player lived through. I am not saying that all sports follow this mentality or that all schools have this mentality, but when it happens this frequently throughout the country there is a problem. I also wanted it to be clear that the term needs to be redefined because I believe the universities in general care much more about the kids as athletes than as students. Everyone that has commented on my post says something like, “Well at Michigan they care about the student athletes and put a strong focus on academics.” My rebuttal to that would be is University of North Carolina said the same thing for years and ran this paper classes scheme to inflate grades for athletes. Also, the part where you mentioned getting grades from academic advisors was just a poorly worded sentence. I meant to say the academic advisers were telling athletes to take these paper classes. This is not something that could not be argued because in the documentary I mentioned, there was both a player and a teacher that attested to this. Then, to talk about your idea that athletes have a higher graduation rate, I would say that is because the students are offered more opportunities for tutoring that other students do not have. This only enhances my point that the school just cares about getting the grades and getting these students graduated, but many of these athletes are graduating and are not prepared for life once sports are over. The perfect example of this is Morris Claiborne. The NFL delivers a test called the Wonderlic Test to all prospective draft prospects, which is a 12 minute 50 question test that tests problem solving ability and intelligence. Morris Claiborne received a score of 4/50, which is at the point of borderline illiteracy and he has a severe learning disability. It would be no big deal if he was the only one, but Vince Young and Frank Gore both received a 6 on this test as well. How are these players that can barely read and write graduating from college?

    http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/04/03/claiborne-gives-birth-to-a-four-on-the-wonderlic/

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