“I hate athletes.”
You’ve no doubt heard the sentiment before. Maybe it is one you hold yourself. Even good friends of mine will sometimes confide in me their prejudice against athletes, knowing full well, of course, that as a member of the track team I am the object of their criticism. And no matter how they restate their remarks — by excepting the author or claiming to hate, “just the really dumb ones” — such comments always unnerve me.
I had one friend the other day say she didn’t think of me as an athlete, as if to reassure me. I wasn’t, though. I’m not ashamed to be an athlete, or looking to hide the fact that I’m on a varsity team. I’m proud to run for Yale; I’m proud to be an athlete.
“Athlete” has become almost a pejorative term on this campus, implying stupidity, truancy and contemptibility. Now, you might disapprove of an athlete for various reasons: because he skips all the lectures and comes late to section to hand in an assignment completed for him by somebody else, for example. But don’t disapprove of him just because he’s an athlete. Instead, disapprove of him because he doesn’t go to class, because his schedule is comprised entirely of guts, because the passion he has in the sports arena does not manifest itself in the classroom.
If anything, his being an athlete should mitigate — though maybe not entirely erase — your hatred of him. Even if he sleeps through each morning meeting of Biology of Gender and Sexuality, he works himself to death every afternoon in practice.
For some, this may be no consolation at all. Passion in a particular sport does not make up for a student’s inadequate scholarship. You might even think that sports should have no place at a university like Yale, which is, after all, an institution of higher learning.
But whether you like it or not, Yale is where intercollegiate athletic competition got its start. The ideal of the student-athlete, one who excels as both scholar and sportsman, was born here and it has and will continue to be embodied by Yale’s student-athletes. And the ideal is a worthy one. Competing for a varsity team provides an extracurricular experience unlike almost any other on campus: So much emphasis is put on cultivating the mind that sports have become one of the only outlets for students to develop and express their physical talents.
At the varsity level in the most competitive division in the NCAA, Yale’s athletes prepare and test themselves the way cellists or dancers work to improve their arts. Sports improve one’s concentration and work ethic; they, like many professional fields, put value on short-term loss or sacrifice in order to achieve long-term success. And what better way is there to learn the necessity of teamwork and the importance of self-sacrifice, to know the thrill and supreme joy of victory with the anguish of defeat, all of which contribute to improving character, but on the field, or court, or oval of athletic contest.
In fact, in no other setting, perhaps at no other institution, can the idea behind the ASICS acronym of the Latin phrase “Anima sanna in copore sano” — a sound mind in a sound body — be better exemplified than at Yale by her varsity athletes.
We as a university appeal to higher ideals, even if our students don’t always attain those lofty standards, or even aim for them. We are supposed to be a liberal arts college, but not all of us will actually pursue a curriculum of “breadth and depth” and explore interests outside the ones with which we came to Yale. Similarly, the ideal of the student-athlete should still be an aspect of Yale’s mission, even if athletes sometimes fail to live up to that ideal.
And some athletes will invariably fail to meet those standards, not necessarily because they lack intellect, or even lack intellectual curiosity, but simply because they don’t care. This is not an apology for those who would forsake academics in order to pursue, no matter how passionately or successfully, some other extra-curricular interest. As the News reported earlier this fall in the article “Measuring Yale’s value in clubs and classes” (Oct. 15), the goal of Yale College is to “stretch the mind” and “sharpen the intellect.” Our first priority as students, and a passion which we all must share, is the desire to learn, to challenge our beliefs and broaden our understanding of the world.
But in condemning those who would sacrifice academics for athletics, we should be careful not to criticize them simply for being athletes. After all, the slacker, the stoner and the frat boy, the spoiled legacy and the over-committed a cappella singer, the frontman of a band, the editor or the entrepreneur who is too focused on his budding business to be bothered with school, are all just as likely to take classes that aren’t challenging and to do the least amount of work possible.
So go ahead, think of me as an athlete. I wear my Yale track and field backpack, with my running spikes hanging out of the side pockets and a tome of Romantic Poetry inside. It symbolizes two of my passions — running and literature — and demonstrates my dedication to both my athletic and academic careers. I don’t aim to end the feud between jocks and normies with a single opinion article (nor do I want to incite further disagreement).
I believe that those who forsake intellectual pursuits deserve criticism. But let us not be condemned for the very thing that should earn us praise.
Remi Ray is a junior in Morse College.