Why you should give student athletes their due

    Correction appended

    Last fall, Northwestern’s football team played in the Alamo Bowl and the men’s soccer team was in the NCAA quarterfinals.

    Last winter, the Wildcat men’s basketball team was two wins away from March Madness and the women’s fencing team placed seventh in the NCAA. Additionally, Jake Herbert of the wrestling team holds two NCAA titles.

    This Spring Quarter, the women’s lacrosse team will probably win a fifth straight national title, and the women’s tennis team, which has already won 11 straight Big Ten titles, may pick up their first NCAA championship as well.

    But nobody cares.

    Nobody in a loose sense. There are like seven people in Alpha Epsilon Pi who show up at an ungodly early hour for football games, but the typical Northwestern student is too smart for school spirit. If you’re not too arrogant to think school spirit is a mob mentality best left at state schools, you can stop reading now and I’ll give you a high-five later. If not, hear me out.

    Some think that school spirit is mindless. If people can have it at state schools, it obviously doesn’t require deep intellectual thought.

    Some think that school spirit is a waste of time. These people don’t have time to go to the lacrosse game because they have papers due later in the week.

    Some think that school spirit is pointless. Cheering for Mike Kafka isn’t going to stop him from throwing an interception.

    And those are ways to justify an anti-school spirit ideology if you already have it, but having school spirit actually makes more sense than abstaining from it.

    Everyone here chose to go to Northwestern. Not everyone got into every school he or she applied to, but nonetheless, everyone chose Northwestern for some reason. If you wanted to go to Princeton, you should have gone to the lacrosse game on Saturday. Screaming at the top of your lungs while the Wildcat lacrosse team sent the Tigers a 16-9 rejection letter would have  been therapeutic.

    It’s also a common courtesy. It’s like supporting an a capella singer, a dancer or a theater performer.

    The difference is that often, athletes at Northwestern work harder than average students. They attend the same university, take the same classes and do the same work as you. On top of all that, they’re also subject to the rigors of Big Ten athletics.

    A Northwestern athlete has to perform at the same level in the classroom as the National Merit Scholar in her chemistry class and at the same level on the playing field as that guy from Penn State who doesn’t know who the Speaker of the House is. They don’t necessarily take easier classes than the average student. I’m an average student. I don’t have a list of easy classes to take from the athletic department, I have CTECs and distribution requirements for my major. The same is true for athletes, and there is at least one athlete in every single one of my classes.

    Malcolm Arrington, a senior football player, speaks up in my Social Meaning of Race class and I don’t.

    Lizzie Abramson, a freshman lacrosse player, can make me feel stupid in Spanish class because she can use the idiomatic phrase “dar a luz” properly and I can’t.

    Patrick Houlihan, a senior basketball player, has a higher grade than me in Statistical Methods of Psychology.

    Vince Browne, a sophomore football player, contributes more to my Intro to Moral Philosophy discussion than I do.

    And I’m not subject to a Big Ten practice schedule. These athletes are better than me at school, sports and life.

    Making their lives more difficult is the fact that they are under constant scrutiny because they represent this university publicly. Absolutely everything is harder for them. They can’t drop classes without suspicion of not belonging at the university. They can’t do well in classes without suspicion of academic fraud.

    As junior basketball player Kevin Coble pointed out, athletes also can’t complain about class work because they’re all “dumb jocks” who can’t complain about their practice schedule because it might get the coach in trouble.

    “You’re sitting in class and you hear kids talking about how busy they are and their classes and they don’t know how they’re going to get their work done,” Coble said. “And in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘Well, okay, we’re up at six in the morning, we have workouts from seven to nine and then we’re in class all day and then we have pick-up in the afternoon. We’re done at 6:30 and we’re going to do the same thing the next morning too.”

    Coble is a political science major, and he’s part of a team that also includes political science, sociology, and learning and organizational change majors. This university doesn’t let  basketball players major in basket-weaving, and that makes what our athletes accomplish really special.

    The least you could do is watch them when they’re in the public eye. See the final result of the hard work you’re thankful you don’t have to put in.

    Updated 5/19, 10:29 a.m.: The original version of this article included a misspelling of Kevin Coble’s last name. Thanks to commenter Joseph for pointing it out. North by Northwestern regrets the error.


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