Student-athlete reacts to Op-Ed on athletics and academics

If Ms. Grace Kirkpatrick is a NARP, then I must define myself as a non–NARP. But, honestly, I’d rather define myself as a student–athlete of Wheaton. This is a response to her op–ed, “Examining coexistence of sports and academics.” In this op-ed, Kirkpatrick generalized athletics as a whole, failing to see this “dilemma” from both perspectives. I intend to address this generalization and highlight the article’s flaws.

First and foremost, Wheaton is neither “plagued by the supremacy of athletics in relation to the academic sphere,” nor does the Wheaton community “dangerously teeter on the boundary between supporting student-athletes and athlete-students.” There is no plague, and there is no dilemma. Wheaton athletes are student-athletes. Eighty-eight student-athletes made the Fall 2013 Dean’s list, all of which have a 3.5 or higher grade point average.

Ms. Kirkpatrick cites the Wheaton College “About Wheaton” link on the website with the following: “Wheaton’s reputation is directly connected to our pioneering history and dedicated leadership. The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) ranks Wheaton’s athletic program among the top 20 percent in the country.” Ms. Kirkpatrick continues to say that those who promote Wheaton believe that the name is directly tied to the success of the athletic program. This is one aspect (but not the only) that makes Wheaton great. For instance, take into consideration the recent news that a Wheaton professor, Geoffrey Collins, helped map out Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons. Or, the success of Tints, a business which profits in making sunglasses, started in the basement of the Madeline Clark Wallace library. In addition to athletics, perhaps that is why Wheaton is so pioneering.

Wheaton, as claimed, is known for dedicated leadership, which is true. 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Chad Yowell was surely dedicated to leadership. Under his leadership, Wheaton was victorious in eight NCAA Championships, withholding 13 ECAC titles, and 358 student athletes were bestowed with the All American honor, along with many other accolades. I think why Wheaton decided to include athletics in its statement is because “Yowell also turned an eight-sport women’s athletics program into a 21-sport co-educational program that garnered national attention.” But there still lies the question of how student-athletes themselves are developers and leaders, and still are. Read up on Amber James ’04 and defending National Champion Ashante Little ’14. If you want to know how Wheaton athletes are pioneering, ask the baseball team, having won 11 of the 13 NEWMAC championships in conference history.

Ms. Kirkpatrick questions when it became acceptable and “appropriate to say, ‘I’m going to such and such college to play ___’ as opposed to ‘I’m going to study ___.’” Yes, education is important, but athletics shouldn’t be portrayed as unimportant, to say what is already obvious. Yet, are there not any people out there who are successful without a college diploma? It is an empirical statement to say that athletics will not guarantee students a “favorable personal repute and overall success” over their peers, because neither can an academic certificate, or two, or three. Nothing really ensures success. Bill Gates is extremely successful, as are Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and David Karp (think Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and Tumblr). What do they all have in common other than the fact that they are famous? They never graduated college (Karp didn’t even received a high school diploma). They have no degree of study, yet are still seen as successful and professional. A diploma doesn’t ensure employment, wealth, or success.

Ms. Kirkpatrick further argues that society praises and idolizes sports too much, that newspapers dedicate an entire section to sports on the professional, collegiate, and high school level, and that scholars and their academic accomplishments aren’t recognized. It’s true; academic successes aren’t acknowledged as much as they should be, but the blame is not on sports or athletics. Sports are a form of entertainment, which appeals to the public, more so than academic journals do. Academic journals are written for academic purposes, requiring a degree of skill that not everyone possesses. They are not understood by all. The failure to understand scholastic achievements is the result of a lack of education, which is not solely because of athletics. Financing an education is difficult; every student can tell you this. Finding the time to attend school is difficult, as adults have many responsibilities.

Globally, our 15-year-olds are not ranked in the top 20 in mathematics, sciences or reading. Again, this is not because of athletics, but other various factors, like available resources or basic high school curriculum. To be ranked in the top 20 globally is an accomplishment the U.S. Department of Education needs to deal with.

Finally, I conclude this piece with a criticism on Kirkpatrick’s conclusion, as she urges: “This proliferating attention on athletics needs to be contained before it completely contaminates the academic source for all students
on campus. We need to ensure that amazing athletes are not passed on from grade to grade and enter,
as was seen at UNC at Chapel Hill, with merely elementary levels of knowledge. College
administrations should require that coaches have their practice and game schedules approved by them – as a way to establish classwork and homework as priorities.”

You cannot contain
this: “proliferating attention.” This is not a dictatorship. Athletics is not a plague, and it is not contaminating academic sources. If academic resources are being under-utilized, that’s the student-athlete’s fault. College administrations have enough on their hands  they don’t need to approve practices and schedules. College is seen as a place to mature and learn, not only in the classroom, but outside of it. College is where many individuals learn independence. College administrations cannot baby students, sheltering them from practical life lessons. All collegiate athletes are adults, and all adults are responsible for themselves, which requires them to hone time management skills and learn to prioritize tasks. Kirkpatrick says that “students should not jeopardize their future careers due to the pressures of also being athletes,” but fails to realize that athletics, in itself, is a career. If a student-athlete fails to obtain a degree, that’s the student–athletes fault, and no one else’s.