While some seem to believe that nothing athletes have to say is worthy of their time, we want to discuss why recent statements about student-athletes have underestimated just about every Yale student, in addition to shaming and devaluing a specific group within this community.
The central message of these negative stereotypes is that student-athletes do not deserve to be here, because they lack the intellect of other Yalies. Athletes don’t need to be smart, right? Perhaps that’s technically true, but one does not have to be smart to be a great violinist, a great actor or a professional columnist. None of these are “intellectual activities,” but they reflect the diverse talents and interests of the Yale community.
There are reasons why students with perfect SAT scores are sometimes denied admission from Yale and other prestigious universities. Not only are test scores more reflective of family income than actual IQ, they don’t define a person. Yalies become Yalies because they are more than their GPA; they are chemists, mathematicians and poets in addition to being comedians, debaters and athletes. As former Yale student Andrew Sobotka ’15 wrote in his article (“Equal Athletic Appreciation,” March 6, 2013), “Assigning any Yale student a one-dimensional label underestimates the breadth of talents and interests on this campus.” Yale students are exceptional, be in the pool, symphony, lab or all three at once. A need to rank the value and impressiveness of various accomplishments is both ignorant and constraining.
And while the sentiment “You don’t have to be smart to play most sports” does hold some truth, sports that require interacting with teammates (all of them) and forming cohesive relationships with others (all of them) undoubtedly require and develop a different type of intelligence. Emotional intelligence — an attribute that more employers are starting to value — is a necessary quality that all athletes develop. While we in no way doubt that our esteemed peers will be highly sought after job candidates in the near future, some may lack this ability to empathize and consider the emotional reactions of others. We argue that true emotional intelligence is something one cannot necessarily learn in the classroom but that we athletes are certainly are able to learn on the field, on the court or in the pool.
Another claim that has been made is that sports are irrelevant to carrying out the mission of this University. While Yale (in addition to just about every other university) aims to educate, it also seeks to foster leadership qualities in all of its students — a task catalyzed within the arena of athletics. And while playing sports is by no means the only vehicle for developing these skills, it has proven again and again to be an extremely successful one.
Previously, some have questioned the abilities of our student-athletes, claiming they are “mediocre” at best. Clearly these critics did not do their research. To be a Division I athlete, which all Yale athletes are, one needs to be, on average, among the top 5 percent of high school athletes for their respective sport. Much like those of us who are here and engage in theater, debate, student government, music, the arts or any other intensive extracurricular activity, Yale athletes are among the best in the country at what they do. This is Yale. Nobody here is “mediocre.”
Above all else, Yale is a place where all students should feel welcomed. No group of students should have to deal with a stigma that makes them feel as if they don’t belong. Yale is a place where we preach tolerance and acceptance every day. Yet there are still some among us who feel the need to fuel dissension within our student body. We are one community, with each individual contributing his or her own unique talents for the success of the whole. We are a community in which we need the collective efforts of all involved, whether that of a squash player, football player, artist, playwright, musician or a News columnist in order to succeed. Learning to work as one is an invaluable life skill that should be learned by all, and guess what? You can’t learn that in linear algebra.
Paige Vermeer is a sophomore in Morse College and a member of the varsity women’s basketball team. Stephen Barmore is a junior in Berkeley College and a member of the varsity football team. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .