Ray: I am an athlete, and more

“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.

Comments

  • Wandering Aengus

    One of these opinion pieces appear in the YDN every year. This one does not even come close to the wonderful rebuttal David Silberstein and David Schmalhoffer wrote on 4/16 of last year in response to Ned Fulmer's infuriating article. Ray mentions not wanting to incite further disagreement - but that is exactly what this will inspire. He should have let Silberstein and Schmalhoffer have the last word as it was much more eloquently written. As a former Yale athlete, there was no purpose to this article other than to prove what all athletes already know and scream in the deaf ears of the non-believers. A little to whiny for a varsity athlete in my opinion!

  • wandering aengus

    Societies are one of the best things about Yale. They respect the tradition of this wonderful place but also adapt to the evolving face of the University. While the tap lines have changed, the main mission of societies remain the same - to meet an entirely new group of people at a time when your social circles are stagnant and to share with them more than any group of people will ever know about you. The process teaches you a great deal about yourself, your values and goals. It is the greatest gift a Yale senior can receive.

  • Anonymous

    I think the statement:

    "I hate premeds" is far more suitable.

    After all, nobody wants to hear whining over that "A-"

  • Anonymous

    Warning:
    Strat, Tech, War is no longer a gut!

  • Anonymous

    Says you, Josh.

  • Yale Athlete

    This article has been done before.

    http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/24492

  • '09

    At #4
    -Vogelsang was in San Francisco when Bones decided to override his tap.
    -Mace & Chain apparently moved into a different house in 2006 …

  • Anon

    It's hard to convince somebody of your scholarship when you mangle your Latin so badly: "anima sana in corpore sano" thank you very much.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree with what's been said about this piece being a repeat of previous columns - it is eloquent and far more subtle than others.

    I mostly agree with you, but shouldn't we try to look at the underlying structures that seem to make athletes somewhat more likely to be disengaged with their intellectual pursuits?

  • J

    Part of the problem is the presence of recruited athletes. I think a lot of non-athletes perceive athletes as having been given something that the rest of us had to earn. I was an athlete in high school, so I know what hard work it is to bring a team to championship success and how amazing that feels, but it builds more character to be able to achieve athletic prowess AND still be diligent in your studies. I will admit that it rankles me to hear recruits brag about how low their SAT scores were, especially since my scores, though respectable, were the weak point of my application.

    The problem of recruitment aside, I think that if you would like to cultivate the image of Yale athletes as the indeed praiseworthy scholar-athlete--which fits the majority of Yale athletes whom I've encountered--it might be worthwhile to direct your criticism not at those perceiving the attitude of academic nonchalance, but at those, your teammates, who are projecting it.

  • tolerance?

    Where is the supposed "tolerance" that permeates this liberal campus?

    I thought it was fine for everybody to do whatever they want- NO JUDGING.

    But I guess that doesn't apply to athletes, we know it doesn't apply to conservatives or Christians, or pro-lifers, or i-bankers, or whites…

    No, you are only accepted on this campus if you are a Wiccan, queer, transgendered, Afro-American studies major who will be joining the Peace Corps after graduation before going to Berkeley for grad school and then joining Planned Parenthood.

  • Dear tolerance?

    I want to apologize to you on behalf of the Yale student body. It is shameful that a non-Wiccan, non-queer, non-transgendered, non-Afro-American [sic] studies major such as yourself should be forced to retreat into the protective anonymity of the internet.

    I am sorry that your minority status has made you an outcast. It must be all the worse knowing that there are no campus groups or organizations in which you can come out and feel comfrotable as a conservatibe and/or Christian and/or pro-lifer and/or i-banker and/or white person.

    I know that it must be hard to endure without anyone in the wider world to represent your interests. It's frustrating, after so many years with a white, Christian (often conservative) President, that so little progress has been made.

    Even now, as I write, I know the Leftist-Academic-Fairtradecooperative-Egalitariancommune-Genderquestioning-Grassroots-Nonprofit-complex is perpetuating an unjust system of oppression that deprives you of both dignity and agency.

    I certainly agree that no one should ever be forced into a Cold-War-generated-institution (such as the Peace Corps) without her/his consent. Maybe we should sue to prevent either them or Planned Parenthood from recruiting on campus. Hopefully, the government won't withhold federal funds.

    As a straight, white male myself I feel the same oppression you do every single day. You should really consider starting a support group.

    Until you do, though, I guess I'll go back to passing for Wiccan.

  • DoodleLover

    Why so bitter #19? "Informed conversation" and "interesting ideas" don't always involve natural science. One could also make the argument that even artificial (i.e. human) constructs are products - and therefore a part - of the natural world. Remember that societies, not unlike the university itself, produce all sorts of alumni, including those who devote their lives to scholarship. Also keep in mind that many societies regularly invite the "dusty old" professors in for conversation and that some faculty members graciously (and happily) serve as mentors. At least one club even offers graduate membership.

    In the end, it makes very little difference. At Yale, you can meet and converse with anyone you choose, with or without society affiliation. If you don't get in, it's not a reflection on your character, talent, or potential (and anyone who argues otherwise is truly a fool). There's no point in harboring a grudge.

  • Y09

    @Dear tolerance?

    Right, because having a shitty, white, Conservative, Christian president (or many, for that matter), makes it okay for normally tolerant people to be intolerant of those groups. There are reasons to disagree with "tolerance?" but "because GwB sucked and Christians hate gays" only adds to his argument that there's reverse stereotyping here.

  • Anonymous

    Recruited athletes wouldn’t face so much resentment at Yale if the admissions office required them to meet the same academic standards as non-athletes. Frankly, recruited athletes that don’t have the same academic abilities as their non-athlete peers have no place at a school that does not award athletic scholarships. They would have a better experience at Stanford or Duke.

  • *sigh*

    "I thought it was fine for everybody to do whatever they want- NO JUDGING"

    Comments like this sometimes make me want to give up altogether.

    Yes, right, let's not judge anyone for DOING whatever they want- doing being black, doing being gay, doing being disabled. While we're at it, though, we should make sure we don't judge people for BEING things they have no control over--being slackers, being proud of academic apathy, being obnoxious. Blaming someone for that would be especially unfair; it would be hypocritical to be intolerant of such people.

    Oh, wait, I think I got something backwards…

  • @*sigh*

    I'll stop pointing out hypocrisy when the hypocrites on campus stop their double standards.

    Open your eyes- the "tolerance" police on campus are willing to accept any number of chosen behaviors and lifestyles, except when students/faculty choose the opposite of their leftist fantasies.

  • FCCG

    To # 8 and 12,
    Recruited athletes often lower test scores because they didn't have time in high school to prep for the SATs like most other Yalies did. In my time at Yale, I came across several people who had retained perfect SAT scores. All of those individuals had been taking practice tests since early high school (in some cases middle school), some had private SAT tutors, some took expensive test prep classes. I, a recruited athlete, on the other hand took the SAT sight unseen (unless you count my high school's PSAT). My score wasn't horrible, or even average, it was just below the Yale average. So next time you want to criticize someone for "bragging" about his low score, remember how many times you have dropped your score in polite conversation.

    Also, there is a misconception about how easy it is for recruits. I can say as someone who helped with recruiting while an upperclassman, that scores still have to meet a standard. Admissions will not allow even junior world champions in, if the scores drop below a certain point.

  • #8

    I just want to clarify that I wasn't necessarily arguing for the end of recruitment. It doesn't really affect me either way, and I would only argue for its end if it were shown that the recruits were truly suffering at Yale, or that Yale were truly suffering because of recruits, neither of which, I think, is the case. In my comment, I was simply presenting one of the more complicated reasons (aside from the stereotypes which say that athletes only take gut courses and never do their own work) why many people at Yale feel negatively toward athletes. That doesn't by any means mean that those feelings are justified--athletes aren't the only ones who had better things to do than worry about standardized test scores. It's just the way it is.

    The very facts you present to disparage those who you seem to think look down on recruits for having low SAT scores are actually at the heart of the problem. The reason so many Yalies took SAT prep courses and studied extensively for them is because they were made to believe that not having perfect scores would severely lessen their chances of getting into Yale. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that those people, who put in so much time and worried so much about whether or not a 1400 is good enough, might feel frustrated that for recruits, the admissions office is happy with a 1200.

    It DOES seem unreasonable to me that you would assume that anyone who WASN'T a recruited athlete had perfect SAT scores, and drops that into conversation whenever its convenient. Such impressions are about as accurate as the statement "Athletes are stupid." It's a tad hypocritical for you, who are asking not to be judged based on your status as someone who didn't have the pressure to study for the SAT, to judge so nonchalantly those who did. More importantly, such negative reactions and judgments coming from athletes only serve to cement more firmly the negative feelings of non-athletes.

  • FCCG (#15)

    Dear #8(16),
    While I applaud the sentiments of the first paragraph of your last post, you later completely misrepresented my comments. Read my comments carefully. To correct, I never stated that (nor do I assume) that all non-recruited Yalies have perfect scores. I only met a few. Four was the exact number in my circle of friends who scored 1600. Also, if you and I went to the same school, I have a hard time believing that you haven't heard people brag about high scores at least more often than "low" scores.

    And now to respond to what I see as your central point: "It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that those people, who put in so much time and worried so much about whether or not a 1400 is good enough, might feel frustrated that for recruits, the admissions office is happy with a 1200." At Yale students generally fall into two categories. 1. The high-schooler who was brilliant, did nothing but APs and received every academic award available, or 2. The merely quite good student who brings something else to the table. It seems to me that everyone agrees that the category 1 students are always accepted as "legitimate Yaleies". However, athletes and to a lesser extent legacies are often singled out as unworthy of those students who are category 2.

    All category 2 students (the vast majority of all students it seems) are very smart but add something else to Yale. Some add racial diversity, some add regional diversity, some add international flavor, some add a better YSO show come Halloween, some add continuity with the past through their parents, and among still others some add to success on the field. Of all of these group only athletes are consistently identified as unworthy. It seems every year the YDN publishes an editorial to that effect. More often that sentiment is overheard in Commons frequently on any given night. But has anyone suggested that Yale stop trying to add diversity by not admitting some minority students who may have scored less than 1400? I shudder to think of the outrage such a thought would incur. So no, I am not a hypocrite, and no, I am not dismissing anyone, I am simply asking for same treatment that all other category 2 members seem to enjoy. When first I came to Yale, I was a little frightened that a jock like me might not be the brightest crayon in the box. Maybe not the brightest, but certainly not the dullest.