Sports

Athletes struggle against ‘dumb jock’ stereotype

By and
Sports Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, varsity athletes often sit apart from others.

 From a Verney-Woolley Dining Hall segregated between athletes and non-athletes to rumors of athletes gaining a leg up over their non-athlete peers in admissions – certain attitudes and stereotypes persist surrounding student-athletes on campus. Some athletes report that these claims have elements of truth, while others maintain that they are unfounded. While individual varsity athletes have different college experiences, all athletes face unique challenges that help define their time at Brown.

Debunking stereotypes

There are certain stereotypes surrounding athletic culture that many smaller student groups do not have to endure. Brown has 37 varsity teams supporting over 900 athletes.

The most common misconception is that athletes “get easy breaks” in the admissions process for selective schools like Brown, said Leslie Springmeyer ’12, tri-captain of the field hockey team last season. But she said these accusations are unfounded. “There should be more respect for us – we’re doing all the academic work on top of an extra commitment.”

The “dumb jock is totally a stereotype,” said Allyson Schumacher ’12, member of the swimming and diving team.

Robert Kenneally ’90, associate athletic director for student services and the liaison between the athletics department and the admissions office, said the athletes are just as academically successful as the rest of their peers.

“Our athletes are valedictorians and have high test scores and are very comparable to the rest of the student body,” he said.

The University will increase the minimum Academic Index ­- a measurement based on grade point average and standardized test scores – for admitted athletes for the fall of 2012, according to President Ruth Simmons’ response to the Report of the Athletics Committee last fall. Seven varsity teams have averaged AIs of less than 200 in the past four years, according to Simmons’ response.

“No groups should be stigmatized by their overrepresentation  in the bottom range of the AIs of a matriculating class,” Simmons wrote.

A March 1 Herald article  reported that the average AI was 217, but recruited athletes from the class of 2015 had an average ten points lower.

Another stereotype is that athletes take the same classes and concentrations because they can help each other get through them, which Ryan McDuff ’13, co-captain of the men’s soccer team and co-president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said is not true. Older teammates pass along advice to rookies to try to help them during their transition from high school to college, not to help each other cheat, he said.

To combat athletes taking the same classes, Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger initiated a program entitled “One For Me,” currently in its second year, that encourages first-year athletes to broaden their course load by taking classes that none of their teammates have taken. Currently, four teams participate in the program – men’s lacrosse, women’s soccer and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving squads.

Many athletes do cluster in the same concentration ­- particularly Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations, McDuff said. But he said this is not necessarily due to their teammates’ influence. “I also think it’s because athletes are very competitive and can express that in business,” he said, adding that he has four teammates who are biology concentrators and one who is concentrating in engineering.

A tenuous balance

As a swimmer, there is a smaller window of time to do schoolwork, Schumacher said, adding that she has balanced athletics with academics throughout her life.

Schumacher chose to concentrate in psychology and said her athletic commitment did not affect her course selection. Still, swimming takes a lot of time, and it can be difficult for athletes to handle a more demanding concentration, she said.

“I find (balancing athletics and academics) easier than most people would,” said Dan Lowry ’12, a member of the cross country team. Running “is a release from the stress of school,” and he said he is always motivated to go to practice and to train.

Despite his continued enthusiasm for running, Lowry said he discovered that “the training was a lot tougher” at Brown than in high school. Most athletes are top dogs at their sport in high school, and once they come to Brown, they start at the bottom of the totem pole, he said.

For skier Kia Mosenthal ’12, there is always a toss up between sleep and work, she said. “Something’s always got to give,” and athletes have to learn to get things done as soon as possible, she said.

The women’s ski team skips a week of school each year for a big winter meet, and Mosenthal said most skiers talk to professors at the start of the semester to warn them about this commitment. For the most part, professors have been very supportive, she said, adding that as long as she shows motivation, professors are receptive to her athletic commitments.

“We have some really smart people” on our team, Mosenthal said. The AI for the women’s ski team is very high, she said, adding that this high standard turns away skiing recruits who might be less academically motivated.

Since the beginning of his first-year orientation, Brad Thompson ’12 said he has had to make choices between playing squash and academics. “You make trade-offs” between grades and the team, and sometimes “you don’t really have a choice” between the two, he said.

Thompson found his new teammates to be an important resource in finding his academic niche. An English and applied mathematics-economics double concentrator, Thompson discovered his love for math from players on the team, he said. That exposure helped him be the best he could academically, he said.

For recruited athletes, the transition to academic life at Brown can be difficult, Thompson said, adding that “generally they are not as good at school” as non-athletes. With the added stress of navigating a new social scene, some athletes are also torn between academics and social pursuits.

Going dry

The squash team has “a culture of going out and drinking, which is tough in the beginning” coming in as a first-year, Thompson said. Some join fraternities like Sigma Chi and Delta Phi and take easier classes because most of their time goes into training and participating in fraternity activities, he said. Others, like Thompson, focus on athletics and the demands of schoolwork, he said, adding that he does not drink to “the same degree as other guys.”

Like other teams, the squash team has a 48-hour rule, which requires that players stay sober for the two days leading up to any competitive play. Yet drinking is “a big part of the athletic culture,” he said.

Thompson said he would prefer if athletics moved away from this heavy drinking culture. The “number of times some guys spend drinking during the week is not good for the athletic experience,” he said.

The women’s ski team stays dry for the entire competitive period of the season, from early January t
o late March, Mosenthal said.

Though ski team members are required to stay dry for the most competitive period of their season, cross country runners do not have the same requirement. Lowry said members of the cross country team know what they need to do to stay in the best physical shape.

“We are not the type of team to tell people what they can and can’t do,” he said.

The swim team goes dry for a month before their conference meet, and there “is definitely not any kind of peer pressure” during the off-season, Schumacher said.

“We go out together,” said soccer player Kirsten Belinsky ’15. It is an important aspect of teammates getting to know each other outside of practice, which helps them to work better together on the field, she said.

The best part of playing on a varsity team is “the sense of community you get,” she said. Because the soccer team begins practice before the fall semester starts, first-year players start the school year with a group of friends and a sense of belonging to the school, she said.

Living separately

Varsity athletes are separated from their peers by more than just physical demands. Because athletes are constantly moving between practices and workouts, many choose to live on the north end of campus. Though closer to the athletic facilities, this may geographically isolate athletes from students who live on other parts of campus.

This separation partly results from the tight-knit community athletes form with their teammates. Upperclassmen on the cross country team live together, Lowry said. With the lifestyle that comes from playing a year-round sport, living with students that do not understand those pressures would be difficult, he said.

Almost all of Schumacher’s roommates are on the swim team, she said.

Though the women’s ski team needs to be able to relate to each other, particularly with the small size of their team at around eight members, it is better for teammates to live separate from one another, Mosenthal said. “We all need to take some time off” from each other, she said, adding that bonding between female skiers comes from the time they spend at a training camp over break each winter.

“My friends respect what I do,” Mosenthal said, adding that it is always a challenge to maintain friendships with people outside of skiing. “It is really easy to get lost in your sport,” she said.

Though he understands that teammates living together brings them closer, Lars Tiffany ’90, head coach of men’s lacrosse, said he does not fully support athletes isolating themselves from the rest of the student body more than necessary.

“Every year, the second semester freshmen come and talk to me about housing for the coming year. And I’m constantly pushing them to live in a situation that’s similar to their freshman year,” he said. “I try to tell them they segregated themselves once by being part of the men’s lacrosse program – now you’re going to separate yourself again by living with just lacrosse players in a fraternity?”

McDuff said athletes don’t necessarily isolate themselves – sometimes it is just a habit. Because only one section of the V-Dub  is open during fall preseason, athletes end up eating there throughout the year, McDuff said, adding that he was completely unaware of this divide his first year.

But only teams that compete in the fall come to campus early, which may lead to increased isolation for those squads, said Cory Abbe ’13, tri-captain of the fencing team. Since fencing is a spring sport, Abbe said she arrived on campus at the same time as the rest of the class of 2013, which let her make “a lot of close friends with lots of people in my hall.” Most of her friends are not athletes, she said.

McDuff also said many of his friends are not athletes, because he participates in many clubs and organizations, and he said he thinks “student-athletes are starting to make more of an effort to diversify their friend groups.”

 

  • Dori Rahbar '14

    Firstly, some perspective is needed. Saying that the average Academic Index is 217 fails to give any perspective on what the scale of the Ivy League’s Academic Index actually is if you have no idea how low or high the other Ivy League schools place their AIs.

    It is worthwhile to note that Brown’s Academic Index is the highest of all Ivy League schools, and we still compete with the rest of the Ivy League and the rest of the country, despite this great restriction on recruiting. And yet the A.I. continues to rise for Brown.

    So when you make a point to say that recruited athletes of the Class of 2015 had an average 10 points lower than 217, it’s a good idea to say that there are teams – teams chock full of recruited athletes – whose A.I. is well above 217, too. Give credit where credit is due. Failing to give credit to teams who maintain the highest A.I. in the Ivy League gives the false impression that Brown’s athletic teams are falling under the standard of admissions set by the University. They are not.

    Secondly, I take great issue with the biased representation of Brown’s squash team. For full disclosure, I am a member of the Women’s team, but I believe some semblance of balance is needed in the discussion.

    The article read: “The squash team has a ‘culture of going out and drinking, which is tough in the beginning’…Some join fraternities like Sigma Chi and Delta Phi and take easier classes because most of their time goes into training and participating in fraternity activities, he said. Others…focus on athletics and the demands of schoolwork, he said, adding that he does not drink to ‘the same degree as the other guys’…The ‘number of times some guys spend drinking during the week is not good for the athletic experience,’ he said.”

    I am absolutely appalled that the Herald would find this appropriate to quote without a contrasting voice from another member of either the Men’s or Women’s squash team. This is such a heavy and incorrect quote that the fact that it fails to be paired with at least some sort of balance is beyond my understanding. What this quote essentially says is that the squash team drinks all day and does not pay attention to school. That because some of the men join Sigma or DPhi that they automatically don’t do work. You simply cannot print a quote like this without including some balance. The Men’s team are hard workers, on and off court, in the classroom, and in other areas of Brown, too.

    Firstly, the squash team does go out, the same amount that the other 36 teams that Brown has go out, the same amount that people involved in Brown’s theater scene, art scene, music scene, sororities, and other fraternities outside Sigma and DPhi go out.

    Secondly, the Women’s team is 9th in the nation and the Men are 16th. There are CS majors, Human Biology, IR, Comparative Literature, History, Economics, Community Health, Political Science, and Engineering majors, more than four or five with two majors, and last year there was a Men’s player with three majors. There are also pre-med students. Additionally, the Women’s team has one of the top 3 highest A.I.’s of the entire athletic department, an A.I. above the average of the University.

    It might have been important to print these facts along side a description that wrongly paints the Men’s team in such a light (and the women, too, because no distinction was really made as to which team was being described).

    I understand this article was about athletics in general and not specifically the squash team, but it is important to fill a void of balance when necessary to make sure the discussion is fair and that the article accurately represents the members of the community about whom it is written.

  • Anonymous

    throw a burning sofa out the window and piss on it, not dumb

  • Anonymous

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    • ?

      no.

  • Anonymous

    “There should be more respect for us – we’re doing all the academic work on top of an extra commitment.”

    This is precisely why no one cares about the plight of the maligned jock. Its not really about whether athletes get it easier. Or that they may or may not be dumb. There’s plenty of those types of accusations flung at other groups. The difference between them and targeted jocks (typically males of contact sports) is the resounding sense of entitlement that comes with all the years of mommy and daddy toting after you while your peers through highschool both feared and admired you.

    People respond poorly when you complain (read brag) about how busy you are because we’re all over-committed to our extra-curriculars. Then to say how due to athletic commitments you deserve above everyone else special treatment is nothing short of spectacularly obnoxious. We know what the specially assigned tutors and TAs do for you-we watched as you hand in the homeworks they’ve done (and we can only imagine how they prep you for exams). You want to lessen the gulf between athletes and the rest of the student body? Live like the rest of the student body.

  • reality check

    in real life you can’t major in sports and academic studies at the same time.
    unfortunately….
    our modern society is run by individual professionalism

    just like we don’t have a doctor who is also a pro engineer or a fashion designer whos also a wrestling champion we simply don’t have enough time or resources to do so in one life time.

    you can’t expect to become 100% pro athlete as adult; if you put 50% effort in sports + 50% in studies.
    of course 50-50 might be a good option if you don’t want to falter into “dumb jock” category
    but reality is people who spend more time doing specific training usually gets the better position in that specific field.

  • Be a little realistic?

    Our A.I. is not the highest – actually it’s the lowest (with the exception that I don’t know if Cornell’s is higher or lower). And truth is, for athletes admissions is like “we want you – can you just get a good enough number”, and that’s nothing for the rest of the students here. Getting a 2100 on the SAT is the very least thing you have to do to get in here, except for all the athletes from my high school, at least, who would either squeeze out that ACT 28 or just would have to get recruited by another school who was willing to take that score.

    Please, the acceptance rate for people with 800 SAT Math scores, as of a couple years ago, was like 20%. If you’re a desirable athlete, that goes to 100%.

  • Funny how the article fails to mention those students whose extra commitment is actually having jobs, something none of these smaller, non-revenue sports (golf, ski, lacrosse, rugby, etc) have to deal with.

  • also

    The coddled elite among the Brown student body — and faculty — love to dump on achievement. That’s why Brown will never be Stanford, which is the same size but boasts tons of top athletes who are also bringing *up* academic averages, as are all the fraternities. At Brown, meanwhile, there’s just too much a budding critical mass of liberal socialists. If athletes aren’t seen as a bunch of “dumb jocks” who fuel the fictitious “rape culture”, then the liberal students, faculty and administration at Brown lose a big part of their narrative.