Moving Past the Athlete Label

Last semester TSL published an Opinions article titled “Love the Individuals, Not the Group.” The author criticized people for expressing fondness for the queer community in general, rather than judging people as individuals. She wrote, “…by blindly ‘loving’ a particular group, the speaker reduces the members of that group to a particular stereotype.”

Last week, this same author wrote a piece called “Athletes Should Reconsider Entitled Dialogue” in response to two articles: one discussing the lack of funds allocated to Pomona-Pitzer athletics, and another that called for a greater acknowledgement of student athletes on campus. While she unfairly interprets Miller Time’s request for athletic budgetary reform as a veiled call for greater athlete entitlement, this article will focus on a general misrepresentation of the athletic community and our own experience as student athletes. 

Ironically, in “Athletes Should Reconsider Entitled Dialogue,” the author does exactly what she critiques in her earlier article “Love the Individuals, Not the Group;” she lumps athletes together and assumes that many of them share uniform opinions and traits. Whether or not you are discussing a marginalized identity, it is unfair to make broad generalizations about a diverse group of people. It is hypocritical to warn against thinking that gay people are “funny or smart or good at shopping for nice clothing,” and then make the claim that “many of our athletes grew up in a culture that valued their achievements to a precariously high degree, and that they expected this hero-worship to follow them when they came to play at the 5Cs.” While the qualification “many of our athletes” makes it clear that the author is not referring to every one of the hundreds of athletes who play sports for P-P, when you follow your argument with “believe it or not—I don’t hate athletes,” you are probably stereotyping. 

Maybe the author was referring to specific individuals, but after talking to a number of people who read this article, it became clear that some seemed easily inclined to make general statements about athletes as a group. Would we accept an article called “Musicians Should Reconsider Entitled Dialogue” in response to the words of one or two individual musicians? If that makes you think twice, and the original article didn’t, then think about why that is true. We are not claiming that athletes are an overtly oppressed group, but they are stereotyped. 

One of the most offensive associations in “Athletes Should Reconsider Entitled Dialogue” was the vague and unexplained reference to Dave Zirin’s article “The Verdict: Steubenville Shows the Bond Between Jock Culture and Rape Culture” as part of a response to a comment about the character-building potential of sports. Athletics are not the only means through which to build character, but they are certainly one way. Implicitly suggesting that athletics on Pomona College’s campus contribute to rape culture reflects a misunderstanding of our athletes that draws on popular cultural stereotypes. 

Playing a college sport is a privilege. Personally, we are not offended by the small student sections, modest budgets, or any lack of recognition for athletes. We play our sport because it’s what we love to do. We don’t want you to worship us for athletic ability or eradicate our school’s quirky atmosphere in favor of “bro culture.”

As student-athletes we were drawn to Pomona for many of the same reasons as the rest of the student body—the challenging academics, small school environment, diverse student body, etc. We chose to play sports at a Division III program because we were searching for a college experience that put academics before athletics. As much as we love our sports, we value education and intellectual pursuits more. When people speak of athletes as a homogeneous group, hungry for admiration and distinction, they lose sight of what athletics really mean to student-athletes. 

By listening to a few voices and adding to them your own preconceived notions to decide what an athlete at Pomona looks like, you will likely inaccurately portray a large percentage of the student body. While we appreciate that the author “doesn’t hate athletes,” the reality is that no one really hates athletes, because every athlete is a unique individual who also happens to play sports. Participation in athletics is one part of an identity, and far from the most important one. 

So, we would go even further than saying love or hate the individuals, not the group. Instead, judge the individual’s actions, not the person. Remember that our beliefs are a reflection of our experiences, and we come here with vastly different ones. How many people do we know well enough to honestly say that we love or hate them? If we want to work toward meaningful diversity and tolerance—values we so often preach at Pomona—then our attitudes should reflect a commitment to truth and progress, rather than condemnation and divisiveness. 

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