SOBOTKA: Equal athletic appreciation

A student wakes up in the morning, tired. He was up late last night finishing up his work and had to wake up early this morning. He forces himself out of bed. This morning, he might have practice. His class schedule that day takes him from Science Hill, to WLH, and back to SSS 114. And then back to practice. When that’s over, he’s back to the homework after grabbing a quick dinner. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Who is this person? A dancer? A student-athlete? An actor? A debater? A violinist?

Who knows. And it doesn’t really matter. Yet, more and more, student-athletes are being told that they are inferior to their fellow extracurricular specialists. It has been reaffirmed and recycled too often by campus news sources, the administration and naïve dining hall conversations. They’ve been called “opportunity costs” and heard that they’re taking the spots of “STEM majors and underrepresented minorities.” They’ve read that “one talented musician or writer adds more value to the lives of many Yalies” than they do, as was written in a recent News’ View (“A Stadium Divided,” March 4).

First of all, many recruited student-athletes happen to live double lives as talented writers, actors, musicians, singers and scientists — the same talents we are supposedly giving up in recruiting slots. Many are underrepresented minorities. Assigning any Yale student a one-dimensional label underestimates the breadth of talents and interests on this campus. I am lucky enough to live with a recruited athlete who spent his freshman year getting to know Science Hill as well as, if not better than, the walk from Old Campus to Payne Whitney. He’s going to be able to brag to his children about arriving at Yale as a recruited athlete and leaving a scientist, as well as having the opportunity to be both at the same time. Calling him just one or the other would not do him justice.

And his story is not even remotely unique. The most incredible thing about many of our student-athletes is not that they are able to balance practice, games, social lives, community service and academics in schedules that are, to say the least, packed. It’s that they’re able to do it seamlessly, achieving the same or even greater things that their non-sport-playing peers do.

Let me be clear — I do not want to elevate student-athletes to godlike status as happens at other universities in this country. I simply propose that this campus allow athletes to sit at the same table as the other extracurricular standouts — singers, actors, writers, musicians — that we seem to have arbitrarily reserved our institutional praise for.

By our unfair generalizations about who brings Yale students more value, we insult one of the things that makes Yale so attractive to thousands of prospective students and beloved by its students and alumni: We have an incredible array of students with different interests. I will probably never see the Yale Symphony Orchestra besides at the Halloween Show where, I unashamedly admit, the music is not my prime concern. And that’s OK. Maybe one of my peers will never go to a hockey game. And that’s OK. We’re probably both missing out on watching elite performances. The concert is just as valuable to my peer as the hockey game is to me. But having both means that at Yale, he or she can learn what a top-notch penalty kill looks like, and I can learn to recognize a beautiful movement in Mozart’s 5th. There’s no reason this University should settle for anything less than exceptional in any venue — whether it be in the classroom, on a field, or on stage. Everybody’s values and interests are different. That’s something we should encourage and provide for, not attempt to conform and constrain.

One of my best friends, a student-athlete, walked into my room at 10:30 p.m., tired from the practice she just got back from, and began preparing for a couple hours of work. Another one of my best friends, an active member of the Dramat board, will challenge me to a quick FIFA game in about an hour before he heads off to a midnight meeting. Those of us are who are friends with both of them appreciate equally the hard work, dedication and talent they bring to their respective activities. It’s time the Yale community does the same.

Andrew Sobotka is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at andrew.sobotka@yale.edu .

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