In October, the Record ran an article about the College and NESCAC reexamining the role athletics take in the conference’s institutions. The debate is still raging, with a special committee set up by the College to look at this campus. Students are being interviewed; their opinions are being recorded. I now toss my hat into the ring because I am a sports fanatic, a fan of every sport and Williams provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy sports.
Why does Williams excel at athletics? I say it is because the College is able to attract smart, athletic kids with a history of excellence.
These are not dumb jocks. The athletes who arrive on campus come because their brains are sharp enough to handle the academic rigor of Williams. I am amazed with athletes in my classes who practice from 3 to 6 five days a week, not to mention games that take up their whole days twice a week. These athletes are constantly working hard, managing their time well, and excelling in the classroom. These “jocks” are often the best students because they have to be.
And these students come to Williams, as do artists, musicians, dancers, scientists, history buffs, and every other kind of interest you can imagine. Williams has oboe, accurately depicting a model in freehand sketches, throwing a football 45 yards downfield, kicking a soccer ball 70 yards or controlling a field hockey ball. All are talents, and all equally amaze me.
We should not make special exemptions for athletes. But where is the special exemption? We allow artists to showcase their talents to faculty members as part of the admissions process on campus. We allow musicians to audition before the music department to help their application. We allow other people to use their bodies and talents and physical capabilities to increase their admissions chances. I love the diversity and the talents of the fine arts performers on campus, and I believe they offer something necessary to a college experience. So why is it any different with athletics?
The British education system believes that education must involve both the mind and the body. As such, the epitome of a student is the amateur athlete.
Williams drives that point home. There are very few athletes here who will play professionally. But the musicians and artists among us probably will (We do have the Art Mafia). So why do we attack athletics? If we are to say that athletes can’t miss classes for competition, shouldn’t we also come down on artists and musicians who miss classes for shows? What about regular students who sleep through their alarms? Athletes at least know and speak with their professors to inform them they will be missing class.
Athletics gives something else to the campus: a very strong sense of community. As anyone who has attended a Williams-Amherst game can attest, athletic contests shape this school and the sense of community that President Shapiro is trying to foster. To say that I did not gain a sense of camaraderie, school spirit or even just greatly enjoy myself this past weekend at athletic events would be to lie. And the athletes at our school allow us to do that every week, all year.
Athletes should be held to the same standard as the rest of the College. However, in admissions and in school policies towards athletes, I believe that it is just as important to view these athletes as talented individuals who get recognition for their talent, just as we do artists, musicians and scientists.
If we applied the same standard and bias we have against athletes towards other students, I would hate to think about the drop in the level of excellence on the Williams campus that would result.