Lack of Student-Athlete Activism at Michigan

In our last reading, “Where are the Jocks for Justice?”, Candaele and Dreier list several instances where athletes had the opportunity to stand up for a cause, but didn’t, or when athletes did stand up for a cause, but received backlash from media or fans.  I realized after reading this article how instances like this exist in our very own athletic department.

Once former athletic director Dave Brandon went under attack this fall, I was instructed by my captains to not say anything negative about the athletic department in any circumstance to avoid anything getting worse.  But even though my entire team and I were fans of Brandon, we were also warned against trying to argue with non-athletes who viewed Brandon negatively. We could not fight back against the majority of the student body who could regularly be heard bashing Brandon on our way to class, in the dining halls, and while we ate in the dorms.  We had to come to terms with the fact that although we were probably more affected by Brandon’s actions within the athletic department and had much more personal communication with him, the majority of other students disagreed with our opinions. 

And then when President Mark Schlissel pretty much bashed student-athletes academic activities, we responded in probably the most polite way humanly possible.  We probably could have fired back with a lot more ammunition, but chose to remain extremely “politically correct.”  I attended the meeting where the letter was written and was amazed by how much was held back from the letter. 

I think that although we do not have the hopes of endorsement deals to thwart activism, there are other key reasons why the Michigan athletes do not get involved in school politics.  The first reason is simply because of lack of energy or time.  A lot of students felt strongly that Brandon was an outstanding athletic director but only a couple took the time to write an article reflecting on his positive changes to the university, which were piled under the dozens of other articles outraged with him on the Michigan Daily’s website.  All student-athletes were invited to collaborate at the meeting where the response to Schlissel’s remarks about athlete academics was written, but less than 30 people attended, while only 9 stayed until the letter was finished three hours later. But right outside of the meeting room, the Academic Center was full of athletes studying.  I think that to be a successful student athlete here, you must be incredibly selfish with your time to fit in everything you want to do.  That week I had 20 hours of practice, clocked in 29 hours in the Academic Center, and only attended the meeting because I was extremely interested in the letter-writing.  But if I had a test or paper the next day,  I probably would not have attended the meeting because I have to put other priorities first to be a successful student athlete. 

Not a single open table at the Ross Academic Center!  A very busy night for studying. (Taken by me)

Not a single open table at the Ross Academic Center! A very busy night for studying. (Taken by me)

It is much easier to participate in easier events in the community like visiting the Children’s Hospital or teaching kids how to play sports.  I already sometimes feel overwhelmed by criticism from my coaches and teammates, I can not even imagine being a well-known athlete who gets criticized by media and fans for supporting something I believed in.  Another reason that I think Michigan athletes fly under the radar is that we already receive a lot of stereotyping and criticism from all parts of the university.  Many athletes do not like to wear gear to class because they feel like their classmates will find them “dumb” or “lazy.”  Other students sometimes despise us for the benefits we receive for being an athlete.  It seems like a bad idea to make it worse by disagreeing with other people’s political beliefs.

Finally, I believe that no Michigan athlete uses their influence stands up for a political belief because they believe that any wrong move they make will reflect the entire athletic department. When the response to Schlissel was to be released, a new domestic abuse scandal had just happened with a football player which almost halted the letter being sent out because athletes felt like people would respond more negatively to the letter.  Usually, whatever reactions or moves the athletes make, they make it together, never individually.  So with differing opinions of controversial subjects, there is usually no athlete response because nothing can be organized for us to all speak as one.

Student-athletes at an event where they teach kids through the YMCA their different sports and then play a group activity.

Student-athletes at an event where they teach kids through the YMCA their different sports and then play a group activity.

It is surely unfortunate the Michigan student athletes fit in with the trends that Candaele and Dreier described, but it is necessary for our success to not focus to much outside of athletics and academics, honestly.  And looking at the bright side, at least we participate in community service still!

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2 comments

  1. johnoett · December 8, 2014

    I like some of the insight you gave on the athletic department’s effort to suppress some of the opinions you and your teammates had about Dave Brandon’s firing, but I do have a question: What would happen to you if you did express yourselves? Clearly, you and other athletes you know feel strongly about the situation, and I am curious to know why your captains and superiors were so keen on making sure you did not say anything. Would it be so bad if a few athletes mentioned that the actually liked Dave Brandon? I find it somewhat concerning that they are diminishing your individualism. The funny thing is, I’m sure if you tried to criticize Brandon before he was fired you would not have been able to, and now that he is gone you are not allowed to praise him.

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  2. brendangaughan · December 9, 2014

    Haley, amongst the negativity spread across campus for the last month and a half, I have seldom heard positive and optimistic opinions by classmates, professors, or individuals passing by. While the riots and protests continued, my teammates and I were in the same position you were. Yes, we were in support of turning around the current athletic department’s slight decrease in efficiency, but not at the risk of such brutality and lack of consideration from it’s people. A few teammates of mine had dinner with Dave Brandon to discuss the current and future goals for the Michigan Men’s Lacrosse program. Throughout the dinner, I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Brandon barely touched his plate. At first I thought it might be because he wasn’t hungry, but it soon became obvious that he was truly invested in our personal opinions. He listened to every word my teammates and I said, as if he was told he would be quizzed on it the next morning. It was very reassuring to know that the Athletic Director of our university was at least making an attempt to show that he cares about us as individuals, not just as athletes. That dinner is one that I will never forget. Amongst all the negativity surrounding Mr. Brandon, I know that he is a great individual and that he cares about each and every one of us.

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