Mills ’15: In defense of athletics — and athletes

Guest Columnist
Monday, February 4, 2013

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

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  1. Daniel Moraff says:

    -Athletes are great! Love ’em. More power to them. They should get pretty much the same treatment as anyone else doing a great thing on this campus (activism, Taekwondo, a capella renditions of popular eighties hits), all of which (just like athletics!) make this a better place to be.

    -True fact that athletes bring in $1.8 million last year in revenue and $3.3 million in alumni donations. They also receive $14 million in funding, not counting facilities. Probably an oversight not including that, considering that’s the problematic part.

    • Grace High says:

      Just a quick point. I completely agree with you that non-athletes do wonderful things on campus, at times in a way that may be qualitatively more important to Brown or the Providence communities than athletes. However, there’s a big problem with saying that being an athlete deserves the same merit as being in, say Tae Kwon Do. The hours spent simply don’t match up. I’m not an athlete, but I am very good friends with some athletes (about four of whom have 4.0s) and live in a suite with one student who participates in the most prominent a cappella (spell it right next time!) group on camps and another who is into theater. The problem with allotting each of these activities the same qualitative and quantitative (hours spent, success) merit is simply the HOURS SPENT. Athletes, particularly endurance athletes spend about THREE HOURS A DAY longer on their activity than anyone else does on their activity. If a cappella practice is three hours a night (maybe averaging four-five counting performance) and crew is a four at the least and six at the most hour a day commitment, I’m going to credit the athlete’s activity more than the other. Just like any other student, many of them are trying to maintain high GPAs in concentrations like econ (NOT BOE), history, pre-med…on top of giving two hours PER DAY of their time to their chosen extracurricular. I respect that. Excuse me if I offend the academically pretentious, but if I were hiring I would value a five hour a day commitment over a three hour one. A lot of them get five hours of sleep, wake up for a morning workout, go to class like everyone else, and then do a pm workout before they can start their work. Which gives little time for sleep.

      I’m not saying there aren’t some teams or some individual athletes who are totally academically subpar. But there are plenty whose GPAs are just as high in mine or yours, in academic fields that are just as prestigious. So get to know some (academically achieving) athletes, appreciate the time they spend and how much more exhausted they are than your average tired college student before you say that Varsity ____ is just as prestigious as any other extracurricular. Because I know people who do all sorts of things (and I don’t feel like a lot of people know student-athletes in the capacity that I do), and those athletes don’t deserve most of the incorrect analyses offered in your article.

  2. Just one question. Is NCAA the same as Phi Beta Kappa? Exactly.

  3. In regards to the last paragraph, athletes should say thanks to non-athlete students for making their Brown degrees worth something

    • student-athlete says:

      participating in athletics does not make me lesser (or necessarily more) of a student. i also make my degree worth something, thanks.

    • Right. When I seek a job, the value of my degree will clearly be predicated upon the successes and failures of the athletic teams of my University, not the reputation of the University for both quality instruction and the development of critical thought.

      • Student-athlete says:

        I agree, but being an athlete does not mean I do not contribute to the critical thought (or reputation) any less than nonathletes.

    • Concerned Football Player says:

      Athletes will also thank you for providing almost no competition for the lovely women on this campus.

    • Can I live?

    • Non-Athletes can thank athletes for going to an Ivy League institution. The Ivy League is a sports league.

  4. That’s kind of heavy-handed to assume that because some athletes are good students and some spend their time doing community service that the archetypal image of an “athlete” should be amended to extrapolate the sentiment across the entire athletic community.

  5. xX24/7CODPLAYER1337Xx says:

    This article totally ignores all the things non-athletes do to support the school. Just last year my intramural Quidditch team came 5th at regionals! On top of this, I do totally appreciate the need for top notch athletic facilities. For me, going to the Nelly and reading magazines on the elliptical machine is an incredibly vital part of my day. Without this, my daily walk between the CIT and my dorm room would be my only source of exercise, and sunlight.

  6. Stereotype…or statistic.

  7. Non-Athletes can thank athletes for being in the Ivy League. It’s a sports league.

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