Truth Be Told: Athletics Be Gone?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

With a bond that dates back to the 1870s, the marriage between athletics and academics at Swarthmore is one that many of us believe to be a legitimate and normal aspect of the educational experience. Though few would think of athletics as a priority at Swarthmore, sports undoubtedly play a substantial role here. Almost 15 percent of the freshman class is recruited, 40 percent of the student body is involved in competitive athletics, and every student has to fulfill a physical education requirement. But is this emphasis on athletics really justified? Why should Swarthmore, a highly intellectual liberal arts institution, be held responsible for maintaining a high standard of athletic excellence? Though the link between athletics and academics is often portrayed as harmonious, Swarthmore is in grave danger of devoting too much of its time and resources towards athletics.

It is important to note that this is not an article about the merits of athletics, but rather whether or not they should have an institutionalized place at Swarthmore. As an athlete myself, I’m well aware of the myriad of potential benefits that sports and physical education can bring. The lessons of integrity, teamwork, dedication, and courage that I absorbed on the soccer field and basketball court will undoubtedly be ones that I’ll retain and preserve for a long time. Indeed, I’m grateful for the athletic resources and opportunities I can take advantage of here at the College, but that doesn’t mean that I’m convinced that an education from Swarthmore requires an athletic component.

Though the rewards of athletics are numerous, sports are just one of the many ways in which these qualities can be fostered. There is nothing about athletics that makes it inherently superior to music, drama, or other fine arts in terms of cultivating and developing the student body. Why then, does Swarthmore insist on a universal P.E. requirement?

Though the requirement does attempt to accommodate non-athletes, P.E. is often viewed as more of a hurdle to jump through than anything else, especially for students who may not harbor any passion towards sports. Even for the students who see themselves as benefiting from P.E., the amount of activity mandated by the requirement is insufficient should these students truly wish to obtain the maximum benefit. For a student interested in badminton, for instance, the time spent training under the current P.E. system amounts to just two and a half hours week for two full semesters. Do we really think that this is enough practice for someone to truly develop the necessary skills the sport requires? Swarthmore should not oblige its student body to pursue an activity that they don’t care about under the premise that physical education is a universal good. If the rewards an activity brings can be achieved elsewhere (such as in art or music) then we shouldn’t make that activity a universal requirement.

The benefits of athletics, moreover, must be reconciled with their accompanying costs. Maintaining a fully functioning athletics department and top quality athletic facilities is expensive. Equipment, maintenance, travel, and a medical staff are just some of the expenditures that can accumulate over the course of a season. While it would be nice to have a state of the art field house in place of the current 80 year old model, we have to realize that supporting athletics is a costly endeavor. The economic argument that athletics provides financial relief is simply inaccurate. At Swarthmore, the total revenue generated by the athletics department was just $65,000 more than the total expenses in 2010-2011. If we were to add the cost of a full-scale renovation of our facilities to better meet the needs of our athletes, the Swarthmore Athletics Department would run at a deficit.

In addition to its substantial financial costs, all student-athletes are forced to make a substantial time commitment to their sport. Choosing to participate on a varsity team is not just an extracurricular, but a lifestyle choice that extends beyond practices and games. While the existence of an isolated athlete sub-culture is much more limited at Swarthmore than at other universities in the United States, a commitment to athletics can make Swarthmore’s high academic standard that much more difficult to maintain and limits one’s ability to take part in other extracurricular activities.

Yet what is perhaps most problematic about the intertwining of athletics and academics at Swarthmore is the differences in culture that each realm engenders. Sports are competitive. In the intensely cut-throat athletic environment, victory and success are always achieved at the expense of others. To win, you must do everything within the rules of the game to try and come out on top. There’s a reason why war imagery is so prevalent in sports writing. Contrast this black and white world with Swarthmore’s celebration of collaboration. Every freshman’s first semester is pass-fail. The recent cheating scandal at Harvard University, which implicated two pivotal members of the school’s basketball team, is one of many examples of the dangers in transferring the ‘win at all costs’ mindset to the academic environment.

When it comes to college admissions, this mindset is embodied in the emphasis Swarthmore places on recruiting athletes. Despite the lack of athletic scholarships at the College, having substantial athletic ability can be a major boost in the admissions process. Yes, these students’ talent can act as an indicator that a student possesses the characteristics necessary to achieve academic success, but with so many qualified applicants to choose from, it’s simply unfair to let athletic ability in a particular sport be the determining factor for acceptance. Why should a potential student’s talent in basketball supersede another student’s musical gifts, or another student’s journalistic writing skills? Maintaining the competitiveness of Swarthmore’s varsity teams should not be the responsibility of the Admissions Department.

Cutting down on funding and recruiting need not spell the demise of Swarthmore’s athletic teams. Twenty nine years ago, the small engineering school Cooper Union cuts its Athletics Department completely in order to focus its resources on academics. Yet despite its limited facilities and resources, Cooper Union’s maintained a stellar athletic tradition including a recent undefeated season by the men’s basketball team in 2005. They succeeded not because of funding, but because of something that I’m sure Swarthmore can appreciate, students following their passions.

Though athletics and physical education do have numerous positive attributes, it is unfortunately all too easy to let them negatively affect our educational environment. By eliminating the P.E requirement and de-emphasizing the recruitment of athletes, Swarthmore would go a long way towards maintaining an effective balance between athletics and academics. Athletics should not be a central component of a school’s educational mission. Swarthmore needs to wake up; we’re a small liberal arts college, not an athletic development school, and it’s time our policies reflect that.


  1. There are so many things wrong with this…all I can wrap my head around for now is the line this paragraph about forced time commitment and maintenance of Swarthmore’s high academic standard.

    To imply that we are forced as student athletes to make a time commitment is absurd. We choose to make the time commitment due to a love of the game, love of our teammates and love of representing Swarthmore on the athletic fields. It is a choice that we are proud of and an opportunity we are humbled by.

    And to imply that athletics, or athletes detracts from Swarthmore’s academic standard is appalling and part of “dumb jock” trope which, while certainly seen elsewhere (Ohio State’s third-string quarterback saying that it is dumb to have to go to class at all???), is just not the case here.

    Athletes are disproportionately overrepresented in honors. Disproportionately represented in engineering. Those sure aren’t shortcuts. And I would bet that almost every athlete would say that athletics helps them better manage their time and to work more efficiently. Athletes are just as qualified and deserving to be here at Swarthmore as any other student and are just as responsible for Swarthmore’s academic reputation.

  2. Oh, man. Just about every paragraph of this article is awful. I can only conclude this is some idiotic attempt to make your name known around campus.

  3. To attack an entire institution you may not agree or see merit for without anything besides an extremely biased opinion is ridiculous.

  4. Your coach should ask you to leave whatever team you are a part of…you clearly have no passion for athletics

  5. While I personally have pretty pitiful athletic skills, I think your dismissal of the PE program misses a huge reason that (I think – I don’t know for sure though) it was implemented: to promote student health and well being through exercise. While I do believe that the merits of engaging athletics as an extracurricular activity should be held equal to the merits of the music, other fine arts, activism, volunteer activities, etc (can’t list the myriad things Swatties do!), I don’t think we can fail to acknowledge that exercise plays an important role in human health. Because of the various stresses we Swatties experience and the fact that most of us are busy out of our mind, non-athlete (here I don’t just mean varsity, but also club, intramural athletes) Swatties may skimp on the exercise (actually I’m a prime example of this – not sure when the last time I exercised was). I think PE was useful in that it forced me to allot time to this valuable activity. Note that many of the PE classes offered are non-competetive/non-team sports (aerobics, fitness training). Furthermore, students can gain PE credit for pursuing the arts (swing dance, tango). The key is that you engage in an activity that constitutes physical exercise.

    While the place of highly competitive (and in some cases even “semi-professional”) sports in insitutions of higher learning is a huge debate that could be worth having, I really don’t think you can argue with the exercise thing. (It’s not a social construct! 😛 It’s biology – the physical and mental benefits of exercise have been well documented). I guess you could argue that it’s unfair that the school FORCES us to exercise in the first two years of our education…but I personally found that to be a positive program.

  6. In regards to benefiting financially from athletics, Swarthmore relies on strong ties that athletes have to the school for donations…kholberg and various other donors that fund your education. The cost of maintains athletics may be a financial shortcoming in both the short and long run but the bonds and ties it creates outweigh the costs. The best friends I have made were on my athletics teams.

    PE credits are necessary. Swarthmore attempts to make students well rounded individuals. Unfortunately for some this involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The pe classes also allow for ties to made across academic displines and class years.

  7. “They succeeded not because of funding, but because of something that I’m sure Swarthmore can appreciate, students following their passions.”

    How dare you tell me that I am not passionate about a sport I chose to sacrifice time for when I got to college. I love my sport and my team but just so you know, we didn’t come to Swat to be pro athletes. We came to Swat on our own academic merit because we wanted an intellectually stimulating environment and the ability to play sports at school only further sweetened the deal. Seeing the number of student athletes only demonstrates the diverse interests of the student body.

    This isn’t UCLA. We’re not on scholarship. We’re here because we exemplify the student part of student-athlete and we wanted to continue doing so for as long as we would.

  8. So, I’m one of the least athletic people around, but what?

    “..Swarthmore is in grave danger of devoting too much of its time and resources towards athletics.”
    Since when? How?

    “Do we really think that this is enough practice for someone to truly develop the necessary skills the sport requires?”
    I am pretty sure that isn’t the point. It’s not like the PE requirement is trying to churn out skilled athletes, it seems pretty clear that it’s about fostering physical activity, more generally.

    “Why should a potential student’s talent in basketball supersede another student’s musical gifts, or another student’s journalistic writing skills?”
    Uh, do they? Or is it about taking into account all of the various activities and skills of an applicant, and why shouldn’t sports count as a skill that contributes to a person’s well-roundedness?

  9. Sir,
    I am not an athlete at Swarthmore, nor have I ever really been much of one. I do, however, count many of them amongst my friends, brothers and classmates. The dedication, effort and capabilities of these individuals, both on and off the field of competition, is laudable. This article is an amalgamation of the worst possible arguments against athletics at Swarthmore and as a devout classical liberal, utterly sickening. I do not see the dance department, the Quiditch team or any other student activity being required to generate a profit in order to demonstrate their legitimacy. This is anathema to the values of “liberal arts” you claim to tout. You also ascribe to the Admissions staff an inability to recruit athletes that are also equally academically worthy. Swarthmore is not a walk in the park, no matter what major you decide upon. That an athlete of any stripe would willing commit to both a massive time suck such as athletics AND the rigors of Swarthmore academics, speaks volumes for their character and capacity. The P.E. requirement is perhaps your most salient issue but even here you fail in your advocacy. Yes, requirements are burdensome but Swat also compelled me to take three math/science courses and a lab. I know that being “required” to do something is generally disapproved of at Swarthmore but sometimes it really is in our best interests. In closing, sir, I condemn you not because I disagree you but because you argue your points poorly and with unnecessary disdain towards your fellow athletes and students. May Swarthmore have mercy on your social life.

  10. I think it is important to note that the author notes that he’s an athlete himself and that he doesn’t want to diminish the merit of athletics on this campus.

    That said, I still disagree with your proposal to cut athletic funding. Paul, you note that the mandatory participation in athletics may be unnecessary because it unfavorably pushes a student’s time towards something that not everyone wants to participate in. But I think you’re forgetting that everyone still MUST fulfill their distribution requirements. They’re stil getting a taste of different worlds, so to speak, potentially piquing their interest in getting involved with extracurricular activities.

    I wasn’t an athlete at Swarthmore, but I can think of a few other examples: what about acting classes? What about the ensembles (both chamber and full) and private lessons offered and/or subsidized by the music department? Or engineering societies? I think that you’ll find that Swarthmore does its part to encourage participation in ALL of these activities and that it doesn’t just favor athletics.

    I personally think that things like the mandatory fitness requirement, varsity/intramural teams, and other symbols of athletics on campus are REALLY IMPORTANT to maintaining a balanced student life. Athletics is already stereotyped in some circles at Swarthmore; I remember someone complaining my freshman year, as we walked to aerobics, that they thought “Swarthmore was supposed to be the school that WASN’T athletic.” That constructs an unfortunate binary (along with the stereotypes connoted with each side) of athletes vs. nonathletes (ie: ‘jocks’ vs ‘geeks’). In reality, that just shouldn’t be the case, and diminishing from athetics’ presence on campus just isn’t the way to go, I think. Athletes have just as much a right to feel welcome in the community as nonathletes, or sort-of-athletes, or sport-enthusiasts, or whatever you are.

    As for admissions favoring athletes – that’s something that someone more qualified in the way the admissions office works than I must answer. However, I believe that admissions is overall looking for people who – regardless of their extracurricular preferences – holistically will feel at home, feel challenged by, and will contribute to the Swarthmore community. To cut funding to a major part of student life would take away from the interdisciplinary nature of our campus.

    You want to have a talk about the stereotypes associated with athletes or nonathletes or whatever you’d like? Go ahead and do it – I think that both athletes, nonathletes, and anyone in between would do their best to show that they’re doing athletics the Swarthmore way.

  11. “40 percent of the student body is involved in competitive athletics”. You, sir, just attacked 40 percent of your school. That is unintelligent.

  12. “a commitment to athletics can make Swarthmore’s high academic standard that much more difficult to maintain and limits one’s ability to take part in other extracurricular activities.”

    You are putting words in the mouths of every student-athlete on campus. Perhaps you have an issue balancing everything, but do not speak for everyone else. I am an active member of 5 different student groups, I mantain a job on campus, I have a rigorous course load and I do all of this while being a varsity athlete. What is so special about Swarthmore athletes is our ability to be well rounded, and the ability to do all of these activities and do them well! It is simply not true to say otherwise.

  13. As a Swarthmore student athlete, I am deeply offended by many of the implications of this article. I, like most athletes, came to Swarthmore because I deeply valued both my education and the opportunity to further my passion for athletics. I have competed on three varsity sports teams in my time at Swarthmore (including one for which I was not recruited), and I find it very hurtful to think that because of that I am seen as less of a student or less of a person at the institution I am proud to represent. It is completely unfair to assume that athletes were accepted to Swarthmore because their athletic talents prefaced over academic standards or other extracurricular activities, and it deeply upsets me to think that people at a place as accepting as Swarthmore view some of their peers this way. We too worked hard to get here and we too continue to work hard in the classroom everyday.

    I completely agree with you that “a commitment to athletics can make Swarthmore’s high academic standard that much more difficult to maintain,” but I’d like to point out the extent to which we do maintain excellence in the classroom. Contrary to your suggestion that athletics here are “cutthroat,” I’d like to alert you to the fact that we are STUDENT-ATHLETES. Being a student comes first, and likewise, our coaches and athletic administrators stress to us year after year that our studies at the top of the hill come first. We come to practice late because of classes and labs, and our coaches respect that. In fact, many of our classmates respect that. Every semester there is a long list of athletes recognized on the Centennial Conference Academic Honor Roll, and our teams have also received NCAA Division III All Academic Team Awards multiple times. These honors are a testament to the fact that we are committed to being not only athletes, but to being students and to taking our education seriously.

    It is extremely inappropriate to assume that our academic successes are due to unfair practices, as in the Harvard scandal. Even on the field, when we try to win, we do so with a level of dignity, sportsmanship, and respect. We know that cheating does not get us anywhere in sports nor does it get us anywhere in any other aspect of life. Furthermore, it is also unfair to believe that we compete on the field only to “win at all costs.” As a team sport athlete, I know that my teammates and I compete because we love our team, we respect its members, and we know that only through cooperation can we achieve the goals we set for ourselves. We duke it out in practice to make each other better, but when it comes to tough losses or hard-fought wins, those come as a team. Just as much as we compete with each other, we pick each other up and push each other forward.

    Athletics is not a forced time commitment. It is a commitment we choose to make because we love our sport just as musicians love playing in the orchestra or actors love using their talents onstage to produce great shows. Our passion may be different, but it is not worth less. And it is not to say that we don’t pursue other passions as well. As one of the leaders of a student group on campus, I participate in multiple other extracurricular activities and therefore do not want to be a part of the so-called divided subculture at Swarthmore. My non-athlete friends respect me for what I do just as I respect them for their talents. All I am asking in this response, is that you respect the athletes too. We are just as much a part of what makes this community special as anyone else is. We wear Swarthmore across our chests on the field because we take pride in the campus community EVERYBODY helps to make. All that we ask is that you do the same.

  14. In part in response to all the deprecating comments above:

    I find the most convincing piece of this argument the point about Cooper Union. Athletes may certainly take this position to be an attack on the game they love – and that’s certainly a valid concern – but the example of an institution that had a thriving athletic department without funding points out that deemphasizing athletics does not spell an end to it.

    Thank you, also, for the statistics on the profits of the athletics department. I had been under the impression that it was a source of revenue, but your figure soundly disproves that misconception.

    In all, this is a well-argued position. I would rather see the comments disprove specific points than to merely deride the author for writing the article. Like it or not, this is a position I hear time and time again – so if you don’t agree with it, prove to me, prove to those of us who hold it, that it’s not valid.

    • If the author had actually provided points to disprove, then we as commenters could rebut them. However, he rather offers an ad hominem attack on student-athletes with no evidence to support his claim. There is nothing to do but deride his misguided claims.

    • On the profits of the athletics department? $65,000 in profit is a HUGE accomplishment. Most athletic departments LOSE money. Especially, especially, especially at the Division III level, they don’t exist to generate profit. And on the Division I level, only 12% of athletic departments of FBS (football bowl subdivision, primarily the largest D1 school) schools made money!

      And sorry…we aren’t Cooper Union. That’s Cooper Union, size 40% smaller than Swat, a highly focused arts and engineering school that is also tuition free. The model doesn’t exactly apply so well…

    • You clearly didn’t read the comments above you because many of them did disprove certain points — especially the one that mentions that MANY of the largest donors to the college were athletes and they would most certainly stop donating if the athletics department was given even less consideration than it is given now.
      The Cooper Union example is just ridiculous. They are not even close to a comparable school to Swat (as the comment below me mentions) and their athletics are nowhere near the same level, they are not “thriving,” they just didn’t get rid of them.

      …and just in case you forgot, athletic success is heavily considered when college rankings are made; that is why Williams and Amherst continually beat us out as the top liberal arts institutions. Imagine what would happen if we cut athletics funding.
      Obviously, this idea will never even be considered, because the administration is informed and not bitter, unlike this author.

  15. Yo Bryce what’s good?!!! Good luck on your NLDS Game 5 tonight! So glad a big time celebrity like yourself still takes the time out to comment on these important issues! Awesome!

    • Yeah no problem man. I really wanted to come to Swarthmore but the head baseball coach said I wasn’t smart enough. 🙁

  16. After reading the various comments made on this article, I would like to clarify my arguments and offer a sincere apology towards any student-athlete who might have been offended by what I wrote.

    Firstly, I would like to reiterate that I am not trying to insult the 40% of the student body (of which I’m a part of) that are involved in competitive athletics. The passion the Swarthmore student-athletes puts towards their sports and the success they’ve achieved is something that I have the utmost respect for. I am not trying to admonish them for their efforts, nor trying to make them feel unwelcome in our community. As one commentator said, student-athletes are no less of a person or a student than anyone else and I am truly sorry if my article gives off that impression.

    However, the argument that I am trying to make is that it seems to me that there is an undue emphasis on athletics and physical education at Swarthmore. In order to maintain a competitive athletics program, Swarthmore uses the athletic recruiting process which specifically identifies who students who have the ability to improve Swarthmore’s various athletic teams. Yes, student-athletes have to meet a high academic standard to then be accepted into Swarthmore. And yes, these student-athletes do contribute to Swarthmore’s high academic standard and diversity. However, there are surely other students who have put a great deal of effort in another extracurricular activity such as music. Students with musical gifts, however, are not recruited. Yet Swarthmore’s music department still maintains a high standard. The argument that says that we should remove athletic recruiting from the admissions equation simply asks that extremely talented musicians and athletes be looked at in the same way.

    My argument against mandatory physical education was mostly centered on the fact that this is the only activity outside the academic program that is universally required. As a Swarthmore student, we are not required to participate in the music, drama, art, or the literary magazine programs here on campus. Yet while being involved in any one of these activities can help a student maintain a balanced life or find a refuge from stress, only physical education is universally required. Perhaps this view is incorrect, but I don’t think that mandatory physical activity is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle or that it is the best interests for every single student.

    Again, I apologize to anyone who might have been offended by my article or its implications and I hope that I have made my arguments slightly clearer (as misguided as they might be) with this response.

    • So, you’re saying your first point was that you don’t like athletes receiving beneficial admissions consideration, your second was that you don’t like the PE requirement, and you concluded that the solution was defunding athletics?

    • You have been here for 6 weeks and you’ve just insulted at least 40% of the student body. Don’t know how smart of a move that is.

      Good luck with the rest of your Swarthmore career.

    • PE is required because it is another facet of a well rounded and health individual, just like being well read of knowledgeable about the arts and sciences. There are plenty of PE options that are a bit less strenuous on the unathletically inclined. Lit magazine or something like that are not required because they can be similarly fulfilled in a classroom setting.

      I’m still not following on the recruitment argument. Being a good athlete is woefully insufficient for gaining admittance to the school. We all know that there are thousands of fantastic applicants that are rejected purely for space considerations. Recruitment is only another means of parsing through an enormous pool of candidates.

      And your update fails to respond to some of the other points in the article, such as the athletic surplus being framed as a negative quality and failing to recognize that athletes have made a large non-athletic addition to the school, in the forms of for example donations and increased participation in the Honors program.

    • Uh bud…have you heard of art or music supplements? Or creative writing supplements? You know, those things that get submitted to the different departments for evaluation and that can act as plus factors for admissions???

      And as for athletic recruitment, recruiting here almost always begins with a student athlete contacting the coach first! The student-athletes find Swarthmore! That’s how most of D3 works…

  17. Dear Mr. Vernon,

    Seeing as your editor has intervened to redirect the animosity, I’ll try not to take offense at your piece. For clarity, I’ll paraphrase your questions. Let’s go by paragraph, shall we?

    1. Why require PE? Because we are a liberal arts institution that seeks diversity in experience for students. Students can major in art, drama, music, and are required to take a course in their academic larger grouping (humanities). You can’t major in PE, so it falls outside of “traditional” academic work. It is required to graduate–so it’s part of your education, whether or not you find it strenuous.

    2. Why take PE if it doesn’t work? We require languages, despite the fact that it usually takes more than 1.5 credits to learn a language. Similarly, taking astronomy doesn’t make me an astronomer but it fulfills my natural science requirements. Perhaps you should contact the Provost to address these issues.

    3. Doesn’t athletics cost too much for what it’s worth? Doesn’t music? The Lang Concert Hall is used by a small minority of students compared to Kohlberg. Should music majors have so much real estate dedicated to a small group of people? Again, something to discussion with Prof. Marissen.

    4. Don’t athletics take away too much time from studying or other activities? Don’t run for President–conservatives would have a field day. Isn’t this the same paternalistic attitude that banned Pub Night? No one would stop you from writing in the Gazette for fear of harming your academics (other reasons notwithstanding).

    5. Aren’t athletics too cutthroat and win/lose? Good luck in the real world, and don’t even think about investment banking. Every field has the concept of win/lose, whether it’s a business contract or getting your research paper published in a journal. Athletics reflect that reality. Furthermore, isn’t the inverse true–that athletics would provide valuable skills of teamwork for an increasingly individual world? To win, you have to work with a team.

    6. Won’t we let in athletes who are substandard academically? I think your next article should be on affirmative action–slightly less controversial. Diversity comes in all types–racial, socioeconomic, academic and yes, extracurricular. You also make significant assumptions about a process into which you have little insight or visibility.

    7. What about Cooper Union? This is a strawman argument comparing apples and oranges. Cooper Union plays in a smaller, less competitive athletic conference with fewer sports. They also have the advantage of being located in a major city with easier access to outside resources (gyms, facilities). This also ignores the tremendous effort put it in by Cooper Union students to run these teams. Ask any member or Swarthmore Squash what it takes to run a team. Finally, this would essentially transform athletics into a pursuit for those who could afford the high costs that would be passed onto the players. You would turn college athletics into an extracurricular for the privileged–you are more conservative than I thought.

    In conclusion, I do appreciate what you’re trying to do by stimulating dialogue and forcing people to reconsider their positions. You are far braver and more confident in your ability to weather the social storm than I was 8 weeks into freshman year. Best of luck to you, but remember that saying controversial things is no substitute for true analysis.

  18. Hi Paul,

    I am a recently graduated Swarthmore alum, and while I strongly disagree with your conclusions in this piece I want to say that, despite the negative comments above, the crux of this article is a very important issue which deserves debate. In fact, as a four-year student athlete at Swat, it’s an issue I wrestled with throughout my time at the school.

    The issue is this: why does Swarthmore grant institutional privileges to the athletic department while other worthy extracurricular activities–journalism, for instance–do not receive the same degree of institutional support? The Daily Gazette and Phoenix would love to have their own building (maybe two separate buildings…), salaried instructors, administrators and press specialists, team uniforms (god knows what those would look like), school-provided transportation to bi-weekly events, and the like. They would love it if the admissions committee took the quality of their publications into account when making admissions decisions (man, we’re graduating a big class of Gazetters this year, let’s comb through the applications for some journalists). They would ESPECIALLY love it if this new “Journalism Department” could mandate that EVERY student at the college, even those who didn’t want anything to do with journalism, had to take a journalism course (Paul, I actually agree with you that I think the athletic requirement is unjustifiable; the Gazette published an opinion piece about this a few years ago which is worth reading). There are certainly fewer journalists than athletes on campus, but why doesn’t the school provide them with equal funding, and equal privileges, on a student-by-student basis?

    Few would ever argue (and I don’t think you really do, despite the accusations) that athletics are negatively transforming the culture at Swarthmore. Most would agree, in fact, that athletics possess some intrinsic value that supplements a liberal arts education. But doesn’t journalism also do that?

    Yes, you could make the societal argument: as a society, Americans place a huge emphasis on collegiate athletics, for good or for bad. But Swarthmore shouldn’t blindly adhere to societal norms, and throughout its history it hasn’t.

    You could also make a funding argument, which, Paul, I actually think you have backwards. Looking at the big picture, athletics are a BIG moneymaker for the college (I don’t have statistics to back this up but I think I’m on solid footing here). Kohlberg hall exists because the administration told Kohlberg that he needed to match his athletic donation (the Mullan center) with an academic one. This may be apocryphal, but it encapsulates a larger truth: MANY of the large donors to the school, past and present, have been athletes, and athletics are a big way they have kept close ties with the school. The college lost some of its largest donors after cutting the football team (including a former commissioner of the NFL), which has surely contributed to President Chopp’s spirited promotion of Swarthmore’s athletic programs (we now have a “Homecoming” weekend again) and outreach to alumni groups (hey, I’m not Al Bloom, I wasn’t the one who cut the football team).

    But again this is irrelevant. If we think it morally unfair, or anathema to liberal arts principles, to privilege certain kinds of extracurricular involvement over others, an instrumental argument doesn’t justify keeping the athletic department (Swarthmore would make more money if it only admitted wealthy students able to pay full tuition, but that’s not what Swarthmore is about).

    All of this is to say that this is a thorny question, certainly a valid one to probe in an opinion piece, and not deserving of much of the negative criticism you have received.

    So why do I disagree with you? Unfortunately I think what it comes down to is this:

    “There is nothing about athletics that makes it inherently superior to music, drama, or other fine arts in terms of cultivating and developing the student body.”

    WITHIN the context of Swarthmore, where values like intelligence, erudition, technical proficiency and creativity are valued, but where organizational leadership, social intelligence and a competitive mindset are sometimes lacking, I’m not sure that’s true.

  19. The beautiful thing about the Swarthmore athletics department is that your coach won’t cut you for participating in something pertaining to your academic interests even though you are suggesting the end of their livelihood….

  20. Several earlier comments already outline (quite eloquently) many of my main issues with this article, so I won’t go into detail on those except to say that I think the way you’ve described the emphasis on athletics at Swarthmore comes across as ill-informed. If you’re going to make comparisons across schools, you could look at any number of equally academically sound schools (Williams, Amherst, NESCAC), and see that all of them emphasize recruiting and athletics WAY more than Swat does. I don’t see where this panic and “grave danger” language comes from.

    But beyond that, the P.E. requirement and varsity athletics at Swat are completely separate questions. I think the argument that we should have a parallel art/music requirement if we have a P.E. one is valid. But that has nothing to do with student-athletes, who don’t get any privileges over other students. People come to Swat because they like to excel, and one part of developing excellent sports teams is recruiting. People are also recruited for other reasons, like academics or geographic diversity. Athletic recruiting is just one more way of ensuring that Swarthmore draws the strongest and most well-rounded applicants for each incoming class.

  21. While I’m ambivalent about the article–and about the question of athletics (broadly defined) at Swarthmore more generally–the response to it’s been scarily harsh. There are discussions around athletics that need to be had, and it unfortunately appears that the space for that is somewhat limited.

    There’s been a lot of administrative focus, especially recently, towards athletics. Parents Weekend, for instance, is now athletics as opposed to arts-based. Rebecca Chopp held an event last year (and probably more since) targeting football alums for donations, not to mention the proposed $4 million “Wellness Center.” There is a trend, and it has a lot to do with money. Admissions can remain need blind in recruiting athletes, and does in part because many are more likely to be able to pay full tuition–the same reason why many become good donors post-graduation. This isn’t to suggest that all or even the majority of athletes come from more economically privileged backgrounds, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is to suggest that being able to afford costly athletic equipment, travelling team fees, memberships to swim clubs and country clubs and lessons can put someone in a slightly better position to be recruited as a varsity athlete to an academically elite D3 school than someone who doesn’t have access to those things. Being able to afford these things also might mean someone could afford to go to a more academically competitive private school, or live in an area with a higher tax base and a correspondingly more well-funded public school district with a more well-funded, and maybe more successful, athletics department.

    All I’m saying is that Swarthmore isn’t catering towards athletics because it loves sports or has some invested moral interest in their edifying powers. Athletes DO give huge amounts of money to the school, but this isn’t necessarily a great argument for the continuation or expansion of athletics. I have a now-wealthy football alum uncle who refused to give to the school under Al Bloom after he discontinued the football team. Now he is. This isn’t to demonize varsity athletes, or to paint giving money to the school as somehow inherently evil, BUT an administrative-level focus on athletics could stand to change the culture of Swarthmore quite a bit over the next few years, depending on what sorts of campus development projects are tied to donations and how intensely Swarthmore recruits athletes. We shouldn’t pretend that athletes are exactly the same on all levels as the majority of the student body, just like we shouldn’t pretend that any semi-cohesive social unit is exactly the same as the majority of the student body. DU and Phi Psi are well-known to have memberships based heavily in baseball and lacrosse, respectively. Right now, the frats represent a relatively small segment of the student body. If we get more baseball or lacrosse players, or a campus culture with a higher density of athletes who go out, that’s one thing that could change. Again, I don’t hate athletes and I don’t hate athletics. I just think they deserve to be talked about every once in a while.

    • Thank you for outlining the larger issue at hand. I think it’s important to remember that all of these thing are part of larger campus dynamics that should be considered carefully and critically before coming to any snap conclusion.

    • “There are discussions around athletics that need to be had, and it unfortunately appears that the space for that is somewhat limited.”

    • What about Arts Weekend? That is devoted entirely to the arts and not athletics, and began the same year that the fall semester Parent’s Weekend became focused on athletics.

  22. I think it would be very problematic for athletes here to gain a cult like following like at some of the larger schools and to enjoy a social standing that would allow them to act with impunity, but I think we are far from that.

    As a senior, I have been to just a handful of sporting events at Swarthmore at the invitation of friends in freshman and sophomore year. On some of these rare occasions I have seen more visiting team supporters cheering their team than Swatties cheering Swarthmore athletes on their home turf. Maybe these are very isolated events, but even as someone who has never been an athlete and never truly cared for any sporting events except for national team cheering during Olympics for non-sport related reasons, I found this lack of school spirit/loyalty I observed quite disheartening.

    I value Swarthmore’s liberal and quirky/individualistic culture and often find it quite unburdening socially. However, I do wonder, at a time when both the school administration and the student body are looking for ways to strengthen community building, perhaps it would be wiser to promote support for an important segment of the campus community rather than trying to argue for sidelining it.

  23. Your opinion is controversial because your argument is based on false assumptions and stereotypes, not that it disagrees with the status quo.

    To argue that athletes are cut-throat and competitive in all aspects of one’s life is quite absurd. Mr. Athletic Non-Athlete, let’s reflect on your admission to Swarthmore – didn’t it necessitate a certain level of motivation and competitiveness to get here? Doesn’t your spot take up someone else’s, thus your gain is at the expense of others?

    You noted that Swarthmore tries to foster a collaborative environment, but you fail to mention that athletics center around cooperation and teamwork. If you can make the assumption that every characteristic of an athlete is completely indicative of a personality than you have to acknowledge the positive ones also such as discipline, motivation, and fairness.

  24. As with my own views on the PE requirement, I will not comment on whether it’s significant to the average Swattie’s education. Everyone can think for themselves on such a matter. I am not an athlete, but I work out regularly and use Fitness Training as a way to accumulate PE credits while making sure I get in my exercise into my suffocating schedule. So I find it of great use; I don’t know about anyone else, though.

    So I will not make the effort to disagree with the content of your argument. What I will point out, however, is that this is admittedly some very poor journalism, and your exceptionally vacuous delivery of your points is what has turned what seems like the entire college against you.

    Your black-and-white qualifications of athletics in general – cut-throat, needlessly competitive, dangerous to a collaborative spirit – is insulting precisely because such a view fails to empathize with just about every athlete out there. Many of the above comments note that athletics emphasize teamwork and collaboration, which is very true. But you also fail to realize that athletes learn (and inevitably struggle along the way) to balance two seemingly contradictory instincts – the instinct to collaborate and the instinct to compete – while they play and improve their game. Have you never thought, in the process of writing this article, to slip into an athlete’s skin and walk around in it before formulating your thoughts? Such forgetfulness is the primary failure of this article, bar none. I’m surprised that the Gazette approved the printing of this article to begin with.

    But I hope writing this article, even with all this vitriol, has been a learning experience for you. You should not fear writing what you believe, no matter how disagreeable your beliefs may be; but vacuous writing is an intolerable sin, and in the sea of intellectuals that is Swarthmore, the critics will just keep pounding at your doorstep.

  25. I came to Swarthmore because on my recruiting visit I got taken to all the best strip clubs in the ville… The coach said he’d give my mom $20,000 in cash… Also, coach got it hooked up so I only have to go to class 3-4 times a semester… Plus, I’ve made over $1,000 selling signed memorabilia to the fans… I’m an athlete-student. Athlete comes first.

  26. Whoa. So I read down the thread, the comments become more civil, but even so, ladies and gentlemen can you PLEASE pay attention to the background of the person writing the article? Let’s not be snotty/rude/righteous towards freshmen opinion writers who haven’t yet experienced how wonderfully scathing the Gazette comment boards can be.

    Also, as a question, Gazette Editors, why was this published? Did anyone warn the author that this kind of backlash would be expected? There was this same (well, actually, much worse) kind of reaction two years ago to another freshman who came to Swarthmore bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to singlehandedly make a difference. Instead, they were lambasted and mocked. Swarthmore is such a small school that a mistake made freshman year can sentence one to infamy – if not all four years, at least long enough to make one miserable. I’m hoping this poor author got a warning at least about that possibility…

    Final thoughts: Hey Paul, I really like your writing style. It’s eloquent, strong, and enjoyable to read. But Swarthmore is a vicious place, so before you publish your op-eds, I might have a friend or two read them and just make sure they say what you want to say. This article was offensive to Swarthmore student-athletes, especially because if you had been around last year, you would have known that a lot of them felt attacked during the sorority debate on the comment threads last year. If you have an upperclassmen on your hall who’d be willing to give you advice, that would be even more useful, because you’d be able to catch on to these particular campus nuances. Don’t stop writing, just try to be a little more careful in the future!;)

    Oh! And one last thing! Don’t get rid of the P.E. credit!! That’s the only thing keeping our rugby teams alive!! 🙂

    • Hey guys,

      Opinions editor here. I published this article. And if you are wondering why, read through this thread! There have now been several strong arguments (casting those aside which personally attack the writer) in support of athletics on campus. Yes, of course this is a controversial article. You think a writer or editor would miss that?! But it started an important discussion. An easier way to write or publish this article would have been to merely pose a series of questions, asking Swatties how they felt about this issue. But that wouldn’t have attracted nearly as much attention to the issue; the cause for student athletics (or potentially the near-silent minority) would not have garnered nearly as much support.

      What’s more, as any good Swattie knows, though it may be scary, in a piece of writing a thesis or claim is needed. No, that does not mean this article is a form of trolling, but yes, it means it was intended to be provocative and start discussion. The Gazette does not shy away from articles that will incite passionate discussion; it welcomes and encourages them.

      Though many of you may have felt offended by this article, I encourage you to, once you have had time to clear the red from your eyes, read it again. This article casts no aspersions on student athletes. It does not say they were let in merely based on their athletic prowess. It does not say athletes at our school are cut-throat, or that they are so vastly different from the rest of the student population. It does say that athletics might bring with it certain qualities, a certain culture, or encourage certain values as it has been evidenced to do in other places. The writer points out what a few of these might be. This is nothing other than a claim that the activities people do might affect them as people, rather than people remaining some kind of atomic, eternal, essential “them” which they were born and which will never be changed by the content or activities of their lives.

      You may hold a different opinion than the writer. That is ok. Swarthmore is a place where, wonderfully, we can hold many different opinions, and quite passionately at that, and yet still engage in a civil discussion about the issues. Discourse on issues like this, which are obviously important to so many people on campus, is key and it doesn’t get started without somebody taking the first step. I believe it takes courage as well as foresight, and a willingness to put yourself in the line of fire, in order to write an article like this.

      It is an opinions piece. And it has evoked a number of opinions pieces from each of you.

      I’d also like to take the time to point out the scare tactics that a lot of you are using in your arguments that are not constructive to discussion and weaken your points as well as lower any reader’s opinion of you. To try to intimidate the author by telling them they have ruined their swarthmore career, that people will never forgive something of this nature, that they have estranged and insulted a huge percentage of campus that will never talk to them again is as misleading as it is hurtful. I understand having a visceral reaction to an opinion which differs from your own on an issue about which you care or find intrinsic to your existence at Swarthmore. I do, however, expect Swatties to consider their writing both in what it says, the points it is putting forward, as well as how it will be perceived, how it will affect those who read it. There is no positivity, earnestness, validity, honor, wisdom, or point in trying to convince a young student that one of their actions may have irreparably harmed their chance to have an amazing Swarthmore experience. Seriously, please consider what you write here. Even though it seems to be a comments section where you can flippantly send any fleeting impression into cyberspace, words have power.

      I look forward to seeing more opinions shared in these comments and potentially more constructive criticism for the author’s argument. The author has not written off student athletes or even athletics at Swarthmore. I will remind you of one of the words of one of my favorite writers, Vladimir Nabokov: Rereader. “A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader.” The writer of this article believes, “By eliminating the P.E requirement and de-emphasizing the recruitment of athletes, Swarthmore would go a long way towards maintaining an effective balance between athletics and academics.” Though it makes it easier to criticize an argument and a writer by caricaturing their point or their perspective, I encourage you all to actively engage with the actuality of this piece and the ideas it vocalizes about imagined potential institutional change.

      • Hey Aaron,

        Thank you, this was a lovely response. I still have a couple of issues, though, which I guess are more for you than for Paul.

        First of all, though I realize my comments regarding infamy could sound threatening, they weren’t meant to be. They were meant to be honest. This is a possible outcome at a school as small as Swarthmore, and while it may not be reflective of the open environment we’d like to have (or pretend we do have?) here, I think you only have to look at many of the snotty comments above (Dave, I’m calling you out here) to see my point.

        In this case, when you’re going to write/publish a controversial article, it definitely deserves a lot of thought. That the author had to write a response meant that either not enough thought was given to the content or the phrasing the first time around. As the senior editor, I think that’s on you. I don’t think Paul knew to expect this kind of vitriol – at least not in the way that I would or that another upperclassmen would. He deserved be forewarned, thereby given either a chance to himself reread/rewrite (“there is no good writing; only good rewriting”) or at least time to mentally prepare for the incoming punches. Because you’re right, words do hurt. A lot.

        Obviously, this dicussion did spark a lot of pushback. There’s nothing wrong with that. In my opinion though, as an editor you have a responsibility to look out for your writers. Especially freshmen writers (though those of you who know me have seen my more paternalistic side – I’m down for disagreement with that). I think the discussion could have been more positive, and therefore more valuable to the entire campus community, if perhaps there had been more thought given before publishing.

        And one more time – hey senior commenters, I know who (most of) you are. Read yr darn taglines. There was absolutely no reason for you to be so cruel to a freshman op-ed writer.

        • LOL. Tx dude.

          pa·ter·nal   [puh-tur-nl]
          1. relating to or characteristic of a father, esp in showing affection, encouragement, etc; fatherly

          pa·tri·ar·chal  [pey-tree-ahr-kuhl]

          of or pertaining to a patriarch, the male head of a family, tribe, community, church, order, etc.: my father’s conservative, patriarchal ways.
          characteristic of an entity, family, church, etc., controlled by men: the highly patriarchal Mormon church.


          Though I am a girl, so maybe I should’ve said maternal?

  27. This essay, which isn’t very popular, mixes together two largely separate factors: the P.E. requirement and competitive athletics.
    I think the P.E. requirement stands on its merits if it is well implemented. People need lifelong exercise habits, and a well implemented P.E. program can make that happen. (A long discussion defining “well implemented” will wait for another day.) Since this is central to health and well being, I don’t think the author’s comparison with art or music is a strong argument.
    What I liked about Swarthmore athletics way back during Nixon’s first term was that it was grown up (not like high school) without all that big university nonsense. We had walk-on athletes who wanted to try stuff out, and some of them succeeded. It also reached more of the student body: 49 percent of the women and 55 percent of the men. We had fun and made friends, in ways others have explained at length.
    I have been told that the landscape has changed for competitive athletics in the decades since I graduated; that students are more specialized in their extracurriculars; and that this specialization complicates the admissions office’s job.
    My friends among the alumni keep telling me reasons why the field house is inadequate, but I’m unconvinced. Sure, you can’t have a championship meet on that track, but for daily training, it’s better than a flat track.

  28. You pretty much missed the point, for reasons which are laid out in all the other comments. But I do think there are things worth talking about and discussing about athletics at Swarthmore, and you hint at it right here: “While the existence of an isolated athlete sub-culture is much more limited at Swarthmore than at other universities in the United States…”. That sub-culture appears to exist on some level, as you say, despite the fact that it doesn’t necessarily translate to academics or residence halls or other aspects of student life. I’ve worked for the athletic department as a campus job for the past two semesters, and most of the games I’ve worked have been pretty sparsely attended by students. Most of the students in attendance have been other varsity athletes. As a lot of people have said, this isn’t Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Texas, or any of those schools. This isn’t a pro team like the St. Louis Cardinals, whose fans, my fellow St. Louisans, consistently consume my Facebook feed in October. Swarthmore athletes don’t play for fans, or for recognition, or for any kind of special status with the school. They play for themselves and for their teammates. I don’t know that for sure, because I’ve never been a varsity athlete at Swarthmore (though I have been a club athlete), but if it is true, then that might just be the best thing about the Swarthmore athletic program. Athletes playing for love of team, striving for excellence physically as well as intellectually (as many people have said), may be the most honest we ever see sports. That’s how we need to look at it, I think (though I don’t know–I’d be interested in the view of someone with a better perspective). And when you look at it that way, how is that any less valid than anything else that happens at this school? How are you about to say, take that out of the institution?

  29. Whether or not I agree with this premise (which I don’t), I think it is important to think about long-run consequences. One comment already focused on donations from former athletes which I think is important (although not the key point). I would also think about student body composition – the diversity that some comments allude to. Obviously, given that 40% participate in athletics (and I do think it’s important to distinguish between varsity vs. club/intramural here), it is important to a lot of students. Part of the claim here is that athletes are somehow “different”. A good number (including myself) of these athletes would not have attended Swarthmore if they could not have played a varsity sport. Thinking about the consequences for the diversity and make-up of the student body is essential. If you think varsity athletes are only “different” in a bad way, well then that’s a whole different discussion. I love Swat but good luck getting me, a 3rd generation Swarthmore alum, to ever donate again if you take away varsity athletics…

  30. As a former student-athlete, this article is so disappointing. In particular, it is insulting to think that fellow Swatties would think that athletes are admitted because of their athletic abilities. The admissions office does not admit students that they don’t think can succeed at Swarthmore. If anything, this means that they seek out extremely qualified student-athletes because as you’ve mentioned, athletics are a big time commitment.

    Also, many student-athletes are involved in other campus activities, so I don’t feel that they only bring athletic contributions to the Swarthmore community. I remember a Saturday night soccer game where a player had to leave early to go to his R&M show. I also remember our first pep-rally in 2010 where we invited several campus groups to perform and several of the performers were also student-athletes.

    I’d also like to echo sentiments that the so-called student athlete subculture does not exist because athletes wish to remain exclusive, rather it evolves out of shared experience. Yes, it’s difficult to balance academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities at Swarthmore and no one understands that better than fellow teammates and athletes. The athletic department becomes a family within the larger Swarthmore family. They push you to succeed in the classroom and on the field and they are there rooting you on through each success and failure. Unfortunately, I think this “subculture” may seem further alienated from the greater Swarthmore community due to the general lack of support by fellow Swatties. The softball team’s fan base is usually 95% parents, 5% students. By my senior year, we couldn’t even turn out good numbers for basketball games v. Haverford. Fortunately for me I had support from the Chemistry department (side note: I majored in Chem and double minored in Math and Education while becoming a 4 time 1st team all-conference athlete…clearly neither my academics or athletics were “endangered”).

    Finally, D3 athletic programs are not out to make large profits. If that were the intention then you would have to pay admission for regular season games. Many of our programs rely on donations from alums to defray costs that the athletes would otherwise assume (i.e. equipment, spring training trips, etc.)

    In closing, I hope that you take the next four years at Swarthmore to open your mind to all that each person you meet has to offer. Don’t choose to only look at what’s on the surface. If you do, then you will have done yourself a great injustice. Swarthmore was one of the toughest, but most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s a special place because everyone brings different talents, knowledge and perspectives to the table. It’s likely that you will never again be surrounded by so many talented, unique and motivated individuals; embrace it.

  31. I took Aaron’s invitation to re-read this article after my personal remark towards Paul and would like another go at a response.

    It seems like the next step in this inquiry is to ask admissions how much of an influence a student’s athletic potential holds in their decision making process. Imagine if students who pledge to play an instrument in our wind ensemble or contribute to War News Radio were equally prized. It’s not an impossible idea for me to accept and seems to be the implicit assumption on which your argument is based.

    Lastly Paul, I admire your initiative. Despite my snarky remark I’d like you to know that I’m not offended. I too have contributed to Swarthmore publications with articles all along the spectrum of intelligence.

  32. Truth Be Told: Athletics Be Gone?

    I thought it might be useful to offer a few facts to the mix of responses to this piece on athletics at Swarthmore.
    Twenty percent of students participate in varsity athletics but that percentage rises to forty when you include club and intramural sports. Club sports are supported by student fees, not from the athletics budget.
    Among those who play varsity sports are both recruited athletes and walk-ons. It should be noted that the College recruits Quakers and engineers too among the many variations on a theme of diversity and inclusion that characterize our goals in creating a class.
    I am struck by the fact that Garnet Weekend (Homecoming/Parents Weekend)schedule is characteristic of the Swarthmore menu of great variety in the options offered for social, cultural, intellectual and, yes, athletic, participation, engagement and enjoyment. Take a look at the schedule for the weekend and note that it is not dominated by athletics: http://www.swarthmore.edu/garnet-weekend-2012/schedule-of-events.xml
    Happily, in the spring semester we also offer Arts Weekend, a fitting time to do so as it gives the artists and performers a year to prepare their best work for presentation.
    I am also struck by the College’s statement of its objective and purposes, found in the opening section of the College Bulletin: “Swarthmore students are expected to prepare themselves for full, balanced lives as individuals and as responsible citizens through exacting intellectual study supplemented by a varied program of sports and other extracurricular activities. The purpose of Swarthmore College is to make its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society.”
    As a former athlete I’d say my participation in track is a part of who I am, just not all and I am sure that is the same for all of us, whether athletics is included or not…at our best we are greater than the sum of our parts and the College has done well over the decades in fostering our development.
    One final point, the philanthropy that sustains the College comes from across the spectrum of our alums, athletes and non-athletes alike.
    Maurice, Class of 1961
    VP for College and Community Relations

  33. Chill out, people! You may not agree with the opinions presented in this article, but this article is not an attack on athletes. As Paul says, he is an athlete himself. This article critiques the way the school’s athletics program is run, but it makes no disparaging statements about athletes.

    The statement about athletes struggling to maintain high grades was not an attack on athletes’ intelligence. It was simply pointing out that it’s more difficult to find time to do school work when you have devote a large portion of your time to a sport (or to anything, for that matter), and that athletes have to deal with this challenge.

    The statement about the school recruiting athletes was not suggesting that athlete applicants are chosen over other applicants. It was simply suggesting that the school tries harder to recruit athletes than it does to recruit students with other interests, for example the arts. It was not suggesting that athletes did not deserve to be admitted.

    • I understand that this is not an attack on athletes, but I think any athlete will attest to the fact that our school is in no way near becoming in “grave danger” of dedicating too many resources to athletics. At first I thought this article just had to be a troll because if you have ever played a varsity sport here you realize the frustration of how little funding you get, etc. Maybe that’s different for, say, men’s soccer. I am not a men’s soccer player so I don’t know. What I do know, and know for a fact, is that we are all SO PUMPED to finally have hot water in our showers this year.
      Yes. Until this year, the athletics department would partially shut down the water heater to the field house to save money. Swarthmore dedicates so many resources to athletics that until this year our primary shower source was a cold shower. In the WINTER.
      Now let’s look to the other elite liberal arts colleges that have been consistently beating us in those college polls (yeah they’re sort of bs, but whatever). Williams/Amherst. Would kick our ass in almost any sport. Many of our sports teams are an embarrassment to be a part of because we are SO BAD because the administration does NOT help athletes as much as other students. I don’t even want to talk about how many qualified recruits my team has lost to Ivies/Williams because our school did not let them in. If you think Swarthmore recruits athletes harder than, say, rubiks cubes champions, Think Again.
      What is it that swarthmore brags about every year at RTT? Do you ever hear them bragging about varsity athletes? No! they let in every other funny little thing so that they can mention it in cute speeches. Not that I have a problem with that. I’m cool with being quirky. Slash having a rubik’s cube champion peer.

      Also I don’t know that Paul can call himself part of that 40% if he does not play a varsity sport. The funding/treatment by administration is very different once you leave the NCAA realm. Just sayin.

  34. So it looks as if I’m super-late to this thread–meaning I must be less of a DG comments nut than I was freshman year. Paul, I disagree with your points about athletics, but I appreciate your willingness to pen an article and share an opinion. I completely second Joan that it’s a good idea to chat with the editors or upperclassmen about how your writing will be received, since Swarthmore- speak is a language all its own.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this comment thread, I understand–since I arrived on campus 2 years ago thinking I was Margaret Thatcher and quickly had the DG commenters put me in my place. Internet persecution can be rough, but Swatties are actually much nicer people than their Internet alter-egos make them out to be! In fact, my own foray into controversy was probably one of the most productive experiences of my life. It taught me to articulate my ideas clearly, think about how different people might react to my words, and, importantly, stand-up for what I believe.

    Lastly, try to stay bemused. It’s how I’ve learned to take Swarthmore in stride and love this crazy place.

  35. After reading the Phoenix article, a question occurred to me.

    Why not stop recruiting, while still maintaining facilities and funding all the teams that people wanted to be a part of? Do we have an obligation to perpetuate existing organizations, or should we cater to the interests of new students?

    Also, how do we make money off of this department without selling tickets?

    • You need to understand that the extent of recruiting at swat is giving the kid a cot and a couple meal tickets, and telling admissions their names. Not very expensive.

      Believe me, if anyone does a sport here, its because they want to be doing it and would be upset if their team was cut. No one here is under athletic scholarship obligations or just playing because they have too much free time.

      I do not know how we make money, though.

  36. To be frank, athletics here are underfunded relative to comparable institutions (Cooper Union? Really?). Ray doesn’t even have enough towels for the swim team.

    The recruitment process is unfair? What do you want coaches to do when a spec emails them? Not respond? Maybe the real problem is the other departments aren’t in touch with admissions enough about specific prospective students in their fields.

    The PE requirement isn’t shoving athletics down the throats of non-athletes, its emphasizing the importance of bodily health – which is in the context of life more important than music/art/literary magazines.

  37. So when, we’re thinking about the place of athletics at Swarthmore I think we do have to acknowledge that the presence of sports, as with any activity, will detract from academics. I know that a lot of the activism I do really puts a strain on my academics, and so I end up skipping some readings that I otherwise would’ve been able to do. Therefore, I think that this is a debate worth having. This article isn’t about attacking athletes, but thinking about what sort of balance we want to have at Swarthmore. Every athlete admitted means that the student body on the whole has less time to devote to other extracurriculars, just as every actor/actress admitted means the same thing for the combination of sports and academics. This article is just one perspective on what kind of school Swarthmore should be, and even if you don’t agree with the argument, at least accept the premise.

    Also, some of the comments were unbelievably nasty. Yes, this was a contentious article, but let’s discuss the matter at hand rather than attacking the author. If we present ourselves as an welcoming, inclusive community, let’s continue to be so.

  38. I’m not even going to begin to get into all of the points in this article, but I do want to say that Danny Hirschel-Burns’s idea that “the presence of sports, as with any activity, will detract from academics” is not really true. What is unique to me about athletics especially is that they constitute time spent keeping one’s body healthy. For me, at least (and I can’t speak for all athletes), being committed to a sport that keeps me happy and healthy has probably done more for my academic achievement than the extra free time could have.
    Being a well-rounded person does not necessarily make one a poorer student.

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