In my time at Brown, I have sometimes noticed a culture in which athletes are perceived in an unflattering light. In The Herald I’ve read stories about “the jock stereotype” (“Athletes struggle against ‘dumb jock’ stereotype,” April 24, 2012) and claims that athletics are overfunded or somehow spoiled by the University (“Moraff ’14: Hiking tuition and blowing money on sparkly things,” Sept. 27, 2012). I have overheard students saying jocks don’t deserve to be here. I want to rebut these perceptions and ask a fundamental question: When did athletics cease to be perceived as a service to the University?
Intercollegiate athletics support the University and the community in many ways. The Student-Athlete Advisory Council oversees the numerous community service projects run by our sports teams. Most teams volunteer weekly at Fox Point Elementary School and are assigned a class to work with throughout the year, often providing one-on-one learning opportunities for struggling children. The rowing team started the Pull for a Cure fundraiser, which raised over $50,000 this year for breast cancer research and has expanded to dozens of other rowing teams on the East Coast. The football team runs an annual Bench Press for Cancer. The hockey team helped support a child battling cancer last year. There is also Providence Plays — an annual event that serves to educate local elementary and middle school children about athletics, fitness and healthy lifestyles. Our 37 varsity sports teams contribute enormously to our community.
There seems to be a prevalence of the “dumb jock” stereotype at the University, but Brown is home to some of the smartest athletes in the country. Last year, Brown had three academic All-Americans. According to the NCAA, Brown has the second highest Academic Progress Rate of all 335 Division I schools in the country for the second year in a row, as well as numerous other honors for academic excellence. Brown has had hundreds of Academic All-Ivy athletes and dozens more Academic All-American athletes.
Many students I have encountered are under the impression that athletes at Brown receive preferential treatment. We do not have preferential housing, scheduling, meal plans, athletic scholarships or anything else. We also do our own laundry. In that regard, we are very different from many of our fellow athletes at other universities. In fact, the athletics department brought in over $1.8 million last year in revenue for the University from ticket sales, sponsorships and the NCAA, as well as over $3.3 million in alumni donations to the Sports Foundation.
The sports teams at Brown are extremely successful. Brown teams have won national championships in baseball, men’s and women’s rowing, skiing and tennis — 16 national championships in all. Individuals competing for Brown have won an additional 10 national championships in skiing, men’s and women’s swimming and men’s track. Almost 60 Olympic athletes have come from Brown and won 25 medals, eight of them gold. Few universities can boast of so much athletic success.
Our athletics bring members of the University together and help forge a sense of school spirit. Sporting events are a forum for students, faculty and even members of the surrounding community to come together and celebrate Brown. The camaraderie that comes from rooting for your team with your peers goes a long way toward building friendships and a sense of belonging in a way academics alone cannot.
Athletics are also a key part of how the University portrays itself and reaches out to both alums and prospective students. Athletics are a tool the University uses for admissions, student affairs, fundraising and development. Our teams compete across the country and internationally and sports events are one of the key ways people can engage with Brown without coming to campus. Competitions increase our visibility at all levels, putting Brown on display outside Providence. How many schools have you heard of first through their sports teams? The Ivy League itself is an athletic association. Our athletes and teams are a public face for the University.
So I want to leave you with this — the next time you encounter an athlete on campus, take a second and recognize what they do for the University and through it, what they do for you. He or she is a public face for your school, probably one of success, and maybe a top-notch student as well, helping to bring in money for the University and likely devoting time to community service projects. You don’t have to say anything, because that athlete competes and wins out of love for Brown and his or her sport and is recognized for that. But it would be appreciated.
Walker Mills ’15 is a rower and history concentrator from Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org