Letter to the Editor: The Stigma Behind Athletes In Colleges

A recent Phoenix article detailing a new series of Garnet pledge-violating parties made special mention that most of the partygoers were “affiliated with athletic teams”, to the chagrin of some athletes. Despite being a swimmer at Swat myself, I know that the Phoenix is justified in making this mention. As one of our editors wrote in a comment posted in a Facebook group, there is a history of athlete exclusivity at parties and the vast majority of party incidents past and present have involved athletes, despite them being only 20% of the student body. The truth is, athletes are mostly to blame for the negative stereotyping around them. 

This is not to say that athletics is not good for college. In fact, the opposite is true. Pride for sports is a unifying factor throughout colleges. Good sports teams bring revenue and improve the quality of applicants. The athletes themselves form life lasting bonds and learn skills like teamwork, leadership, and perseverance. When Swarthmore admissions is loaded with 10000+ incredibly qualified applicants gunning for less than 500 spots, filling out sports teams (yes, volleyball may have gotten her in, but she would have thrived at Swat even without that hook) makes their jobs easier. However, I personally still sense enough resentment of sports teams on campus that I find myself saying that I got into Swat Regular Decision, so as to convince people that swimming did not help me that much. This is due to a clear divide, almost to the point of segregation, between athletes and non-athletes.

Us athletes need to work harder to reach out to fellow non-sport playing Swatties. We should talk to that one guy sitting alone, make friends with classmates, and not give off an aura of arrogance or clique-behavior. Too often do I (as a socially awkward guy who sometimes feels that if I did not have swimming, I would have a tough time making friends) hear fellow athletes mocking academically-oriented Swatties. In the middle of the pandemic, athletes must stop partying. Once the situation clears up, parties should be more inclusive. This could be done by throwing no alcohol ones, making groups smaller so shyer people would feel more comfortable at, or engaging in speed dating/friending for introverted relationship-seekers. People look upon athletes as leaders and sometimes wish they were more like them socially. So, athletes, I ask you, to be positive and productive members of the community, not exclusive and unmindful ones.

4 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: The Stigma Behind Athletes In Colleges

  • October 3, 2020 at 2:21 pm
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    Great article! I really like the idea of bridging the social gap between athlete Swatties and non-athlete Swatties, as well as encouraging the athletic party culture to hold itself accountable for everyone’s safety. It’s especially nice to see an athlete being the one to take a stand and a leadership position on this issue. Thanks for the great read!

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  • October 3, 2020 at 10:09 pm
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    I have a couple of issues with this letter, but don’t want to take up any more space on this matter with a formalized response. Instead I want to go through some of the points you made here, and how to us Non-Athletic-Regular-People (as you all like to call us) it sounds out of touch. Before we start, I do want to first acknowledge that I understand that participating in varsity athletics is a really grueling process of juggling workouts, practices, games, and also a full-time Swat workload. I have friends who’ve done it (for one year or all four) and I have a lot of respect for their hustle. And your experience on campus and mine will be very different as a result. But don’t think that because you’ve tied yourself to sports that your experience is inherently more difficult or more rewarding. You are not better than me, and I am not better than you. I come from a place of genuinely wanting to see change in our social ecosystem, the same as you do. But I want to address these points:
    – “Pride for sports is a unifying factor throughout colleges.”: While this may be the case for larger research universities with stronger sports culture, sports are not a unifying factor at Swat. Take a look at how our campus operates: we unite over social causes, common interests, and Bocktober. Sure, some people may wander down to the field to tailgate a soccer game on Saturday, but the focus has never been on Swat’s actual sports teams. We don’t orient our lives around those games, and it’s easy to completely ignore them if you don’t care.
    – ”Good sports teams bring revenue and improve the quality of applicants.”: I agree with you on the revenue issue: college athletics bring in alumni donations and ticket revenue. But what inherent quality do athletes have that improves the quality of applicants? If, as you later write, that a hypothetical volleyball player would have “thrived at Swat even without that hook,” what about the candidate is any better than those without? That this student would better feed into the college’s revenue stream? If I assume that you don’t hold any bias towards those who don’t intend to join sports terms as being less than, it’s hard to understand what improves the quality of each incoming class.
    – “When Swarthmore admissions is loaded with 10000+ incredibly qualified applicants gunning for less than 500 spots, filling out sports teams makes their jobs easier.”: I’m curious at how you find this process “easier.” Is it “easier” because coaches get to hand pick a set number of slots? That of the 500 spots, only 400 are judged on academic rigor alone? You write later that you actively advertise your admission via regular decision. So you understand how we on campus feel that it’s unfair that athletes have a separate admissions process with different priorities. And look: if you at all indicated on your application that you were interested in swimming while at Swat (or if you ever once contacted a member of the athletics department while applying) then no, you didn’t get in the same as us. It’s a hard thing to admit, and the whole admissions scheme everywhere is rigged, but you were marked as an athlete the second you hit ‘submit’ on the common app, if not earlier.
    – “Too often do I hear fellow athletes mocking academically-oriented Swatties.”: Do you speak up? Do you talk to us? Do you care about our perspectives on anything? We don’t engage largely for the reasons you’ve highlighted: because athletic culture is inherently cliquey, and because you yourselves admit to looking down on us. This is a problem that I also want to fix. However, you then write:
    – “People look upon athletes as leaders and sometimes wish they were more like them socially.”: …and I have to laugh. We don’t. Nothing about being on a sports team makes you inherently better than the rest of us. We don’t see you taking up space and think of you as our leaders. We lead ourselves, we run grassroots movements, and we lift one another up. If you want to join us, you need to step off of that pedestal and meet us where we are. And no, we don’t wish we were more like you socially. While joining sports teams as a freshman gives you a good opportunity to interact with upperclassmen from the beginning, so does joining any number of clubs, affinity groups, or other organizations. We source our own alcohol, throw our own parties, and make our own friends. Your way isn’t the only way. If anything, we wish that you all would make space (and stop taking over our spaces) when we try to run our own events.
    – “Once the situation clears up, parties should be more inclusive. This could be done by throwing no alcohol ones, making groups smaller so shyer people would feel more comfortable at, or engaging in speed dating/friending for introverted relationship-seekers.”: I agree with you here: parties should be more inclusive. This doesn’t require cutting out the alcohol (the school does that to us plenty). People aren’t necessarily shy, also: we avoid you because you move in packs and never bother to talk to anyone outside of it. So yes, I think reaching out to individuals would help everyone’s chances at making more personal connections. But I take issue with you marking all of us as bookish, reclusive, and alcohol-averse introverts. Just the same as I’m sure you don’t like being called loud, exclusive, and self obsessed extroverts.
    – “This is due to a clear divide, almost to the point of segregation, between athletes and non-athletes.”: This is where I leave you. If you want to bridge the gap (and I do too, I promise. Even if I sound a little salty) then you need to take a step outside of the jock bubble. Understand that you are treated differently by the admissions office and by the administration. Understand that your groups have historically been closed off to the campus at large from the inside, and are often discriminatory to marginalized groups. Understand that athletes are tied to the frats (and arguably carry their legacy), title ix violations, and secret petitions asking for exceptions from campus policies. Understand that if you want to meet us in the middle, you have to accept that you are no better than anyone else just because of your participation in athletics. You alone (you or the 20% of the student body that you represent) do not define our campus. But you can work *with* us (not lead us) to make it better.

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  • October 8, 2020 at 10:09 pm
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    “People look upon athletes as leaders and sometimes wish they were more like them socially” ,, oh honey i- 🥴🥴

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