Defining the Student Athlete

For every Morris Claiborne…

12 April 2012

Have you ever felt like the athletes at your school have it easier than you? That they don’t work as hard or don’t deserve to have the same opportunities as you, someone who worked hard to get good grades in order to go to college?

A story that has been in the news this week is Morris Claiborne and his score on the Wonderlic test in preparation for the NFL Draft. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Morris Claiborne is a star cornerback for the LSU Tigers that is projected to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The Wonderlic Test is given to each prospect before the draft to get a basic measure of their intelligence. The test consists of 50 multiple choice questions that must be answered in 12 minutes. The average score for football players is around 20, and a score of 10 suggests that a person is literate.

Morris Claiborne scored a 4. While it has been argued whether his score should have been released to the public or not, and it is well-documented that Claiborne has a learning disability, there’s no doubt that this news has brought Claiborne’s intelligence into question.

While in my mind the real debate should be whether anyone, athlete or not, who scores a 4 on this type of test should be in college at all (though in Claiborne’s defense college football is the only gateway to the NFL), this story has mainly reignited criticism about NCAA student-athletes in general.

While it is true that many talented athletes go to college primarily to play sports, a large majority of these student-athletes are using their talents as a means to an education, and they shouldn’t be faulted for doing so. For every Austin Rivers that leaves for the NBA after one year, there is a CJ McCollum from Lehigh who chooses to return for his senior year of college despite being a potential first-round draft pick. There are thousands of athletes working hard for four years to earn their degrees while maintaining a brutal practice schedule.

Despite all this, it’s hard for many student-athletes to escape the “dumb jock” stereotypes. Even at Princeton, it isn’t uncommon for the non-athletes to look down on the athletes and consider them to be dumber than the average student.

Just a couple of weeks ago I heard one girl say to a friend, “There’s only one athlete in my class and he’s the smartest one!” in a tone that suggested that this should be a huge surprise. Even I have heard someone say to me and a couple of my teammates, “I actually had to care about my SATs unlike you guys.”

While these views certainly don’t represent everyone at my school, it is clear that athletes don’t receive universal respect across the campus.

…There is a CJ McCollum

It is true that the academic standards required for admission to Princeton are slightly lower for athletes, but being able to dunk a basketball or throw a touchdown pass doesn’t equal a free ticket into the school, and special accommodations in terms of classes aren’t made for athletes. Athletes offer a unique and different dimension to the school. If a person should be rewarded for musical or entrepreneurial talent by an admissions officer, why shouldn’t athletic talent be any different?

I think that the “dumb jock” stereotype is obsolete, as are any of the other stereotypes that exist for college students. The people around you were admitted to your school for a variety of reasons, and to declare that athletic accomplishments are any less notable than accomplishments in other fields is unfair.

I’m a member of the varsity track team at Princeton, but I’m a walk-on. I was not admitted for my speed on the track but rather my academic and extracurricular accomplishments in high school. I can appreciate both sides of the argument in that I represent both sides. As someone who was rejected by various schools, I can see the point of view of the non-athletes who feel that the athletes are occupying spots that more academically gifted students missed out on.

But as an athlete, I find the negative attitudes towards athletes to be unfair. If you were a talented athlete and wanted to go to your dream school, would you use your talents to your advantage? If your answer isn’t yes, you’re lying to yourself. And there’s nothing wrong with that. People get to college in a variety of ways, but at the end of the day, everyone arrives at school with the same goal: to enjoy their four years and earn their degree. What you did in high school to get to college doesn’t matter at this point.

While debates like these will continue, it is clear that one thing must stop. Negative stereotypes of athletes are not always true. And for every student-athlete like me, it’s extra motivation as we put in those hours in both the weight room and the library.

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