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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The student-athlete schism in the age of COVID-19

As I was applying to Carleton my senior year of high school, I knew two people already here. Let’s call them Chris and Martin. Chris, Martin and I went to high school together and worked at the same summer camp. They were good friends. During the application process, I pestered them all about Carleton: dining hall food, classes, parties etc. But the one major decision that loomed over me was whether I wanted to be a student-athlete here or just a student. Luckily for me Martin was a student-athlete and Chris wasn’t. I asked them about what Carleton was like, trying to compare and contrast their experiences. I got to asking Chris how often he and Martin saw each other—they lived in neighboring townhouses. Chris told me this: “We’re neighbors, but it’s like we’re in different worlds. I never see him.” 

There exists a schism between those of us who strive for NCAA DIII glory and those who don’t. When you’re walking around campus (or if you can harken back to when the dining halls were full), it’s incredibly obvious who’s a student-athlete and who’s not. For one, we student-athletes like to travel in packs. We also have a tendency to wear clothing denoting which group we belong to: the Carleton football sweatshirts, Carleton golf polos, tennis hats, swimming backpacks and basketball sweatpants. Of course it’s not a bad thing that student-athletes closely associate with their teammates and are proud of their team—but on a small campus, it gets very cliquey, very fast. We stick to our own team, form stereotypes, and generally close our minds to each other based on which type of ball we play with or whether we play with one at all. I remember a text Chris sent me about 4th week freshmen fall: “You have any friends off the team yet?” 

Carleton doesn’t have frats. I think many of us (except perhaps the founder of the small—but feisty—Carleton Barstool Instagram page) are proud of that. But here at Carleton our sports teams are our gateway into that frat world of petty squabbles and dick-measuring contests. Each team has its own stereotypes and a general campus consensus of what their team is all about. Each team has their well known figures, their ideas of brother and sisterhood, their stories, their customs and a laundry list of what they think of the other teams. All that’s missing are the kitschy Greek letters and the polos.

This persistent, solvable problem is right here in front of us. It doesn’t require us to have hard conversations or donate or take to the streets. We simply have to take each other for who we are as individuals—not which team we’re on. And as easy as this sounds, it requires a little bit of extra thoughtfulness that we as a campus have refused to show.

And so the schism between students and student athletes remains wide. COVID has thrown fuel on this fire. Word travels fast on campus, and rumors, founded or not, fly around about who’s gathering and how large and who’s wearing masks and who’s not. Resentment builds as we paint every individual who wears that particular team sweatshirt with the broadest of brushes—until each student-athlete is reduced to their team’s worst purported actions.

Yet we student-athletes have an undeniable responsibility to the school, and a responsibility to ourselves, not to fuel these rumors.  The school and many alumni have decided that we student athletes, blissfully playing our D3 sports in an often mediocre fashion, deserve to be supported. We owe a debt of heightened responsibility to the school which has allowed us to play out our childhood games into our 20s, and fostered some of our best memories and closest friendships. If you do party, as a team or with another team or just with a few more people from your team than the statistical mean would predict, something will come around. We saw it with the president this week. You can be an idiot, and things might work out for a while, but eventually Murphy’s law will come into play. Your team will land itself in the subject line of a Dean Livingston email paired with the words “suspended” and “legendary banger”.

One of my favorite quotes of all time, a true testament to the American ethos was given by then Ohio State backup quarterback Cardale Jones in the form of a frustrated 8 am tweet: “we ain’t come here to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” While many of us may sometimes sympathize with Mr. Jones’s sentiment, Carleton is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Carleton is a place, a community where we believe in the value of education above all else. Students, but student-athletes especially, are responsible to support and foster that community during these times. We need to be thoughtful and keep an open mind to each other in these times. Be responsible to each other. Be subject to each other. Because the truth is, we certainly did come here to play school. 

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