Op-eds, Opinions

McCaleb ’20, Steeves ’19: Athletes contribute more than their win-loss records

By and
Op-Ed Contributors
Sunday, November 4, 2018

We first want to commend Glenn ’14, Meyers ’16, Johnston ’17 and Matsumoto ’16 for their Herald op-ed “Cutting Brown athletics isn’t a joke.” As former Brown student-athletes, they highlight the intricacies of the recurring debate on whether or not Brown athletics add value to the community. As current student-athletes, we fully support the article and want to build on it from our own perspectives.

While we play for our love of our sport, we also play for our love of the school and the pride we get from representing Brown. We play for the practices and the games during which we sport the word “Brown” on our chests, and for the hours between those workouts when we proudly represent our school and our sport in classes and in the community. It is therefore disappointing to hear of our classmates’ opinion that completely disregards the value that 36 teams bring to campus. We came to this school knowing we wouldn’t play in front of enormous crowds; some teams even compete without an audience. Yet these same teams are active participants in our community, through classroom discussions, extra-curricular activities and campus engagement. Student-athletes make a positive contribution to Brown in various ways, whether as members of the Brown Band, participants in campus research initiatives or leaders on the Undergraduate Council of Students.

So let’s build on that idea of our Brown community.

While some claim that “wins bring little, if any, value to the broader Brown community,” we beg to differ. All athletic teams bring value to our school not only through their wins or titles, but mainly through their actions and their symbolic value as rallying points for the Brown community. To us, Brown pride is evidenced in the 11,000 plus fans, including numerous students, who made their way back to campus in May 2016 ­— once summer break was already in full swing — to assemble at Brown Stadium and cheer on our men’s lacrosse team in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Our school had twice as many fans in attendance that day as the other quarterfinal site.

Furthermore, student-athletes add value to Brown and Providence through the community engagement that they undertake. For instance, the men’s and women’s hockey teams have helped to clean up the Rhode Island beaches. Every Brown team was in attendance at the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School Kickoff Event just this past week, highlighting the decades-long relationship between our student-athletes and a local Providence school. We contribute to our school and the greater Brown community through events such as the weekly gathering of student-athletes on the top floor of the Sciences Library, who say goodnight to the kids at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital by pointing and flickering flashlights toward their windows. A strong community, which includes the broader Providence community, is not built on one or two superstar teams. It is instead built through repeated actions, big and small, that better the broader Brown and Providence community. Wins may play a part in this, as do the academic achievements of our fellow student-athletes and the community engagement of teams.

Some may argue that the school budget and specifically the allotted $17.7 million the University puts into Brown sports is excessive. This money does not just go into varsity athletics, but also into the Nelson Fitness Center, as well as club and intramural sports. Additionally, as Glenn ’14, Meyers ’16, Johnston ’17 and Matsumoto ’16 aptly point out, the returns on this investment are tangible, as evidenced in student-athlete alumni donations. It is in fact important to note that 52 percent of the 2016-17 athletics budget was made up of philanthropy, which included 6,123 donors. The athletics pull, which again encompasses all Brown athletics from intramural to varsity sports, is undeniable when faced with these numbers. Considering that a large chunk of the athletics budget only exists because of philanthropists who are donating specifically to Brown athletics, the suggestion that the University simply reallocate the athletics budget toward its annual “Payment In Lieu of Taxes to the City of Providence” is unreasonable. Doing so would, by eliminating the 6,123 donors, actually halve the annual budget. We do recognize that the August ’19, Kent-Daggett ’19 and Taswell ’19 argument that millions be poured into the men’s and women’s basketball teams is hard to dispute, as the sport would likely see an improvement in its win-loss record. Yet the idea that this improvement would better the Brown community is less convincing.

All Brown student-athletes will tell you that playing in front of a sell-out crowd is an incomparable experience. But — as Glenn ’14, Meyers ’16, Johnston ’17 and Matsumoto ’16 argue — these same student-athletes will also tell you that they would refuse to cut all sports but their own, even if it would benefit their team. We would not be willing to take on the superstar status that comes with a sell-out crowd if it means cutting the eight children that have been added to various Brown rosters through Team Impact, an organization that connects children facing serious and chronic illnesses with college athletic teams. And why would we agree to reducing our student-athlete numbers, thereby hurting our peers and our friends? We would be agreeing to seeing not only our athletic community suffer, but also our broader Brown community and our city of Providence.

If you are looking for Brown pride, make sure to be in the stands next time a soccer player drills an overtime goal against cross-town rival Providence College, or when several student-athletes are honored for academic achievements at halftime of a game. While you’re in the stands, think of the broader impact that a single player, not to mention team, has on Brown and its neighboring community. Think about the child likely sitting a few seats away from you, who goes home after these games not only motivated to play sports, but also inspired to succeed academically. We’re assuming that while you sit in those stands, the thought of cutting 36 teams and telling the hundreds of student-athletes to find another passion would not even cross your mind.

Go Bears.

Luke McCaleb ’20 and Erika Steeves ’19 are 2018-19 Presidents of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, as well as captains of men’s lacrosse and women’s basketball, respectively, and can be reached at luke_mccaleb@brown.edu and erika_steeves@brown.edu.