Kicking Aside the Label
By David Seawright
Monday, August 24, 2009
When I walk into a room, you know what I am.
It’s not that you know me-you probably don’t-or even that you’ve heard of me, because you probably haven’t.
Before I can even sit down in a lecture hall, however, whether you acknowledge it or not, an opinion of me has likely already been formed.
If the 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame doesn’t do me in, the sweatpants, Nikes, and scooter I drive certainly will.
Athletes at Cal face it daily-for good or bad-both around campus and in class. The uneasiness of peers when assigned to work in groups. The surprised look from classmates and GSI’s alike when we show up to section, followed by mouths held agape when we intelligently contribute to discussion. The envious glare as we hop onto our scooters to head up to Memorial Stadium.
Living in the dorms makes it even worse: the conversations beginning with, “Wait, you’re studying tonight? Don’t you play football?” followed by empty stares are nightly occurrences.
Although the athlete stereotype goes largely unacknowledged, it certainly pervades the Cal student body. Athletes find themselves in a unique position: having to perform constantly at the world-class standard of Cal athletics while simultaneously pursuing a world-class degree.
Yet, fellow students tend to act spitefully toward athletes rather than acknowledging the amount of time, energy and commitment required of them to compete and succeed.
The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of athletes chose Cal for the simple reason that they fail to match the mold of a typical athlete. Rather than being lured away to other programs that offered an easier academic path, each Cal athlete made a conscious decision to take academic and athletic challenges alike head on.
Being a Pac-10 athlete presents its fair share of challenges. So next time you crave the Nike gear, or worse, not-so-discreetly avoid working with an athlete in class, stop to consider the daily struggle we face: delicately balancing a full-time course load with a sport that requires the time equivalent to a full-time job.
The general student body, however, is not solely to blame for subscribing to the stereotype of athletes. Unfortunately, at least some Bears decide to adhere to the stereotype rather than diligently disproving it.
While most athletes devote themselves to achieving a high academic standing, certainly there are some (as with non-athletes as well) who complacently accept what is expected of them: a subpar performance in the classroom matched by a lackadaisical attitude toward school work itself. While these students fail to capitalize on the Berkeley education that they have been offered, the pervading athlete stereotype provides a readily available cop-out.
If peers don’t expect an athlete to contribute to class, why should she? If a professor or GSI expects inferior work, why aim to produce a superior paper? If we are expected to sit silently in the back, complete with sweatpants and hoody, why sit up front, boldly ask questions and provide input during discussions?
The reality is this: both athletes and non-athletes alike are guilty of subscribing to this stereotype, and in doing so seem to be neglecting the very nature of Berkeley itself.
I, like so many others, chose Cal because it houses a student body that is both diverse and open minded. Every student at Cal has worked hard to call Berkeley home. Whether or not the work occurred inside the classroom or out, it still was required of each and every one of us.
Students negatively stereotyping athletes falls short of what I expected when committing to Cal. Rather than accepting the value of a diverse student body, these labels alienate a group altogether.
Similarly, athletes who segregate themselves and subscribe to the stereotype fail to reach the standard of meticulously destroying complacency that Berkeley seems to stand for.
Consider this my emergence as a student athlete at UC Berkeley. I am a football player at Cal. My application for admission was tagged by the athletic department. I wear Nikes and Cal issued gear to campus almost every day.
I also go to class, stay up all night working on papers in the library and am actively preparing for life beyond football.
And just so we’re clear: the athletic department does not provide our scooters.
Tags: OFF THE BEAT