On athletic arrogance

Let me correct a myth on this campus.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an athlete is defined as a person trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.

That’s all. That’s it: trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina. Not a person on a school sports team, not a person who was recruited to be on a school sports team, and not a person who is a captain.

I’ve held multiple conversations on the Williams campus concerning a misunderstanding that seems to have occurred – apparently the Williams dictionary has an altogether different definition for what makes an athlete. Since the issue has been lacing many encounters as of late, I endeavored to discover where the misunderstanding was taking place.

I didn’t have long to wait. A couple days ago, I myself had one of a long chain of similar interactions concerning, “What it means to be an athlete.” So as not to waste time, there were three important points made by the three individuals who approached me: (One) there are specific indicators of a Williams College athlete, (two) one of the most telling indicators is a specific combination of clothing, apparently designated singly for athletes and (three), an individual who wears that specific combination of clothing, but does not fit the definition of being a Williams College athlete, has something to prove.

I was wearing gym shoes, sweat pants and a beanie. A pair of gym shoes, a non-descript pair of sweatpants and a beanie from my local college back home. “You’re not an athlete, so why are you out here dressed like one?” they asked me. Before I could answer, they provided their own, “You’re faking ’cause you want the attention athletes get. You’re not even a real athlete. You’re just a nonner.”

The language is all too familiar; the audacity is all too pungent.

Obviously influenced by a vacuous, doltish reasoning leaving much to yearn for, I was undecided as to what to be angrier about. I concluded I was more appalled by the utter factual certitude with which they affronted my person, their sick compulsion that motivated them to stop me in order to inform me of the fact that my clothing choices didn’t seem to match my social status. It was the conviction with which these young men felt it was perfectly okay to insult my clothing choices, my sense of self and my own personal work ethic in order to deliver a self-serving conclusion, as though someone had deemed them notaries of the mythical Division III Athletic Qualifications Board. I was at a loss for words in the moment.

No longer.

So from me, and all those who’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer the same insolence, to you people out there who think you are the gatekeepers of athleticism: screw you.

Athleticism is a lifestyle. It is a manner of maintenance, an attitude of dedication and perseverance. It is a lifestyle geared towards challenging yourself to set, reach and constantly exceed your own goals concerning growth and development in the arenas of strength, agility and stamina. It is a test of not only the physical, but also mental and character strength, agility and stamina. It is the ability of an individual to structure their schedule, mentality and diet towards attaining self-set health and welfare goals.

It is a process that is intended to be inherently positive, inherently valuable. A personal journey, discovery about the ability of your body and its systems to support yourself, and any weight you decide to take on – it’s a lifestyle of consistent challenge, failure, progress and success.

It’s not a means to a trophy, awards or title. It’s not just a word. It’s not how many pair of mesh shorts you go through in a week. It’s not how many weekends you host a themed drinking party with the same people in other people’s dorm buildings. It’s not how many bags of ice you can wrap around your body; not how many tables you can take up in Mission. It’s not how many pair of Lululemon headbands and spandex capris you own. It’s not how many times you visit the trainer’s office, or how sloppy your post-workout buns are. It’s not about the fake call Nike headquarters made asking you and your team to police the campus for those who violate their “For sports team members only” rule. It’s not how many times you can make a Yak about Livingstone or what type of sneaker you wear. It’s not the number of hours you spend watching baseball, football and hockey highlights, or how many rooms you occupy in Sawyer to do it.

It’s not how many words you can create to make an unnecessarily offensive distinction, designed to make you feel special about your decision to dedicate yourself to yet another social group.

Athleticism is not a badge or a social status lubricant that permits you to perform an inherently negative, violent practice intended to make a distinction based on a false binary. In short, no matter how many hours you spend aching and sore on a track, on a field, in a pool or on a court, you have no right to create an oppressive environment for those who do not pay to behave like you. You are not better. You are not worth more. You are not greater.

And for the young men who informed me of my apparent “nonner” status – I’m in the gym five days a week, earning my muscle, earning my sweat, training myself in exercises, developing my skills in strength, agility, flexibility and stamina. I will wear what I want to wear, when I want to wear it and in the specific combination as I so desire.

Next time I need someone who power cleans less than me to inform me of my athletic status, I’ll ask.

Rika Shabazz ’17 is from Richfield, Minn.

  • Mike

    Let me correct a myth on this campus.

    “OK”.

    According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an athlete is defined as a person trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.

    “OK”

    That’s all. That’s it: trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina. Not a person on a school sports team, not a person who was recruited to be on a school sports team, and not a person who is a captain.

    “Did ‘MerryMan-Webster’ say all that?”

    I’ve held multiple conversations on the Williams campus concerning a misunderstanding that seems to have occurred – apparently the Williams dictionary has an altogether different definition for what makes an athlete. Since the issue has been lacing many encounters as of late, I endeavored to discover where the misunderstanding was taking place.

    “OK”

    I didn’t have long to wait. A couple days ago, I myself had one of a long chain of similar interactions concerning, “What it means to be an athlete.” So as not to waste time, there were three important points made by the three individuals who approached me: (One) there are specific indicators of a Williams College athlete, (two) one of the most telling indicators is a specific combination of clothing, apparently designated singly for athletes and (three), an individual who wears that specific combination of clothing, but does not fit the definition of being a Williams College athlete, has something to prove.

    “OK, getting interesting”

    I was wearing gym shoes, sweat pants and a beanie. A pair of gym shoes, a non-descript pair of sweatpants and a beanie from my local college back home. “You’re not an athlete, so why are you out here dressed like one?” they asked me. Before I could answer, they provided their own, “You’re faking ’cause you want the attention athletes get. You’re not even a real athlete. You’re just a nonner.”

    ” ‘You’re not an athlete, so why are you out here dressed like one? You’re faking ’cause you want the attention athletes get. You’re not even a real athlete. You’re just a nonner.’ Wow, very stilted. Really? Really? OK”

    The language is all too familiar; the audacity is all too pungent.

    “OK, audacious and pungent…I smell it.”

    Obviously influenced by a vacuous, doltish reasoning leaving much to yearn for, I was undecided as to what to be angrier about. I concluded I was more appalled by the utter factual certitude with which they affronted my person, their sick compulsion that motivated them to stop me in order to inform me of the fact that my clothing choices didn’t seem to match my social status. It was the conviction with which these young men felt it was perfectly okay to insult my clothing choices, my sense of self and my own personal work ethic in order to deliver a self-serving conclusion, as though someone had deemed them notaries of the mythical Division III Athletic Qualifications Board. I was at a loss for words in the moment.

    ” ‘I concluded I was more appalled by the utter factual certitude with which they affronted my person….Division III Athletic Qualifications Board….blah, blah, blah’. Division III was your main point in this tortured paragraph. Transparent. Mazel Tov.”

    No longer.

    “OK”

    So from me, and all those who’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer the same insolence, to you people out there who think you are the gatekeepers of athleticism: screw you.

    “OK, Paranoid.”

    Athleticism is a lifestyle. It is a manner of maintenance, an attitude of dedication and perseverance. It is a lifestyle geared towards challenging yourself to set, reach and constantly exceed your own goals concerning growth and development in the arenas of strength, agility and stamina. It is a test of not only the physical, but also mental and character strength, agility and stamina. It is the ability of an individual to structure their schedule, mentality and diet towards attaining self-set health and welfare goals.

    “OK”

    It is a process that is intended to be inherently positive, inherently valuable. A personal journey, discovery about the ability of your body and its systems to support yourself, and any weight you decide to take on – it’s a lifestyle of consistent challenge, failure, progress and success.

    “OK”

    It’s not a means to a trophy, awards or title. It’s not just a word. It’s not how many pair of mesh shorts you go through in a week. It’s not how many weekends you host a themed drinking party with the same people in other people’s dorm buildings. It’s not how many bags of ice you can wrap around your body; not how many tables you can take up in Mission. It’s not how many pair of Lululemon headbands and spandex capris you own. It’s not how many times you visit the trainer’s office, or how sloppy your post-workout buns are. It’s not about the fake call Nike headquarters made asking you and your team to police the campus for those who violate their “For sports team members only” rule. It’s not how many times you can make a Yak about Livingstone or what type of sneaker you wear. It’s not the number of hours you spend watching baseball, football and hockey highlights, or how many rooms you occupy in Sawyer to do it.

    “OK, you feel slighted.”

    It’s not how many words you can create to make an unnecessarily offensive distinction, designed to make you feel special about your decision to dedicate yourself to yet another social group.

    “OK, I have no idea what you just said.”

    Athleticism is not a badge or a social status lubricant that permits you to perform an inherently negative, violent practice intended to make a distinction based on a false binary. In short, no matter how many hours you spend aching and sore on a track, on a field, in a pool or on a court, you have no right to create an oppressive environment for those who do not pay to behave like you. You are not better. You are not worth more. You are not greater.

    “OK, paranoid.”

    And for the young men who informed me of my apparent “nonner” status – I’m in the gym five days a week, earning my muscle, earning my sweat, training myself in exercises, developing my skills in strength, agility, flexibility and stamina. I will wear what I want to wear, when I want to wear it and in the specific combination as I so desire.

    “OK, your clothes are yours. Please keep them on.”

    Next time I need someone who power cleans less than me to inform me of my athletic status, I’ll ask.

    “OK. OK. OK. Now you get it. You competitive devil, you!”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-Fj6ru3TQo

    Rika Shabazz ’17 is from Richfield, Minn. She lives in Brooks.

    • Wow

      This person sounds pretty salty

  • Sarah

    I think while the article may not have used didactic language completely, or completely simpleton language for the likes of Mike to understand – I think the message is a clear one. It’s also a problem everywhere, not just on that campus.

    Reading the above comment, without being a student there, I can’t say I have a full picture of the scenario; however, after reading the article I can say the above comment by Mike is overwhelmingly underwhelming. Not as clever as he would have hoped to appear, and wholly underwhelming as a critical review of the article – but hey, he didn’t use the supposed stilted language. Big clap for small words and smaller brains.

    The pressure of “performing” athleticism appears on a lot of campuses. I’m a student at a public university and as a student who does not play on a sports team, the pressure is very real. I often hear people who do play for sports teams on the campus throw fits and complain about how people “blow things out of proportion,” and accuse people of lying concerning the often negative environment they create for others. Things like, “you wouldn’t understand, you’re not an athlete;” or “you wouldn’t get it, you’re not an athlete,” or “why don’t you work out more/join a team/come to the gym.”

    Sometimes, unconsciously even, teams are guilty of creating an environment where the message is: if you aren’t on a sports team, or an athlete, your life is lacking. That’s a dangerous message and I think that was the purpose of the piece. Don’t impose your lifestyle on others, and don’t make them feel bad about it either.

    It’s also a difficult thing to address without people childishly taking it personal.
    So, in my opinion, Bravo Miss Shabazz!

    • Mike

      Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,

      As I am a simpleton, I’ll try again and keep it simple….just for you.

      I was not questioning Ms. Shabazz’s writing skills. Now, why would you assume that?

      I was questioning the veracity of her description of an encounter with ‘three young men’: “You’re not an athlete, so why are you out here dressed like one? You’re faking ’cause you want the attention athletes get. You’re not even a real athlete. You’re just a nonner.” Nothing wrong with the sentence structure. However, in my opinion this quote sounds painfully STILTED. It sounds like the dialogue in a low budget after school special. It does not have the ring of truth. Simple enough?

      In keeping with the theme of simplicity, I’ll only address one more point. When you express your angst about organized athletics by playing the division 3 card, you lose all credibility….in my opinion. Last time I checked Williams was classified as a ‘small, elite, highly competitive, northeastern, self hating (Ok, my opinion again) liberal arts college. If you would feel more comfortable in your ‘togs’ in the company of division 1 athletes, there are some reasonable academic choices. Might I suggest Duke, Rice or Northwestern. Maybe not Vanderbilt–that’s way too old south and way too SEC for fragile egos.

      The admissions process at highly competitive colleges is today largely an exact science. They all get exactly the student body they expect, want and need. Swarthmore gets Swarthmore. Harvard gets Harvard. Williams gets Williams. They all know it. Moreover, you all know it before, during and after your search. Every student at Williams had options. Complain, protest, scream for change at the school of your choosing. Just don’t whine. Grow up.

      The admissions process at highly competitive colleges is today LARGELY an exact science. Like all science there is thankfully still some mystery. Apparently, liberal arts colleges are still searching for a fudge factor to weed out fragile egos.

  • josh

    I find this quite offensive because you personally have generalized me, claiming that I was exhibiting the same behavior as every other member of my team does. As an individual, like any other person on this campus, I think its somewhat disconcerting how comfortable and open you are with making such generalizations about VARSITY athletes. In other words, athletes who have REQUIRE workouts and team activities at times as often as 7 days a week. Of course, this is an ADDITIONAL commitment in addition to all the general requirements that going to a top college entails. (And no, our teachers do not give us special treatment because we have to allocate so much of our short amount of free time to our team) Also, as a VARSITY athlete, we have the privilege and responsibility of representing and competing for our school , a concept that many people fail to acknowledge and can make everyday life as a student much more stressful and difficult. If you get offended by someone calling you a “nonner” or asking you why you wear sweatpants if you aren’t a varsity athlete, I think what you have is a self-esteem problem and probably should take a look in the mirror.

  • ShabazzNapier

    You’re an angry bitter person, I’m sure that no athlete at williams power cleans less than you.

  • Eph

    I thought athletes were frowned upon for being less intelligent than all the other students…. It’s division 3 aka nobody cares.

  • Qaim

    ^ in response to Josh

    “In other words, athletes who have REQUIRE workouts and team activities at times as often as 7 days a week. Of course, this is an ADDITIONAL commitment in addition to all the general requirements that going to a top college entails.”

    Ok.

    “(And no, our teachers do not give us special treatment because we have to allocate so much of our short amount of free time to our team) Also, as a VARSITY athlete, we have the privilege and responsibility of representing and competing for our school , a concept that many people fail to acknowledge and can make everyday life as a student much more stressful and difficult.”

    Ok. And if you don’t win the NESCACs in whatever sport you play…are you kicked out? Are you shunned on campus? Sure your coaches/you-yourself/your “friends” who care so much about your athletic performance might be disappointed…but it isn’t the end of the world. Not trying to understate your feelings. As a non-athlete during my time at Williams…can’t say I share your same “passion” for representing Williams in a game.

    “If you get offended by someone calling you a “nonner” or asking you why you wear sweatpants if you aren’t a varsity athlete, I think what you have is a self-esteem problem and probably should take a look in the mirror.”

    Uhm…

    Josh, 11/12/14, 8:02pm- “I find this quite offensive because you personally have generalized me, claiming that I was exhibiting the same behavior as every other member of my team does.”

    She did not specify a team. She did not generalize you. So, seems to me you’re offended by a “non-athlete” expressing slight disdain at some athletes being jerks.

    If you get offended by someone calling a few athletes out their bullshit, not specifying you (but you are an athlete yourself)…I’m not sure what problem you have, but there’s one there.

  • Eph

    While I understand your outrage at someone calling you out for wearing workout clothes and not being on a sportsteam I would be hesitant to make the accusation that “nonners” or students who are not on sports team generally receive those sorts of accusations -speaking from personal experience. And, while I agree that the whole nonner vs athlete can sometimes be offensive, the way to address this issue is not by writing an angry post. Yes, people will get “childishly defensive” which will likely make matters worse, but that’s almost besides the point. The problem is in making generalizations about such a large group of people. Granted a good amount of both sides will be exceptionally obnxious about the issue but for the most part, moooost people will not feed into it.

  • Concerned Alum

    This might be the most paranoid, self-obsessed article to grace the Record in quite some time – and that’s a competitive field! Maybe one day students at Williams will strive with this level of arrogance and self-congratulation to be the brightest, most creative, more intellectually curious, and not the best at power cleaning – which I hear is something you can do at almost any school.

  • ddeph

    Josh, if this doesn’t concern you and your feel like you are different that’s great. You have no reason to take it personally. But the fact that you don’t see the problem in what was said to Miss Shabazz suggests otherwise…

  • jesus

    Rika it sucks you had to go through that. To the above commentators, I don’t even know if people like Josh are being legitimate, and don’t know what to even respond because God forbid you’re just another troll “boohoo I feel victimized in your generalized sweep of—-” holy fucking cock are you serious? grow the shit up. Its bull like this that impedes progress. I bet you hashtag not all men in your tweets– and i bet your best comeback wouldve been u dont use twitter.

    Worst of all, I can’t believe the athletic division/discussion is still going on. Get your heads out of your constipated asses and go find some other problems to focus on. You’re not extra cool for being an athlete. You’re not extra cool for not being one. what are you, a 9th grader in a B movie?

  • Eric B.

    I think this is a really harsh statement of accountability; I think it is relentless. I think it is extremely assertive.

    That’s what a controversial piece is supposed to be. That is opinionated writing. For those of you who don’t appreciate it, I wonder what your methods of writing about your opinion look like. What language do you use? The language of compromise and neutrality? I miss the days where people wrote and said something, instead of attempting to please people. That’s the issue with most “liberal” colleges and universities – this need to be coddled and talked to in a sweet voice and tone. The need to be called on to be held accountable but in the nicest way possible.

    As for people’s claim of generalization – you all need to read again. Or read it the first time. I’m not a fan of patchy writing, but if athletes are so enraged, then she clearly hit a button of truth that folks are ignoring – for one reason or another. She states explicitly who she is talking to: she is addressing athletes, who like the young men who talked to her, have an unhealthy attitude concerning what does, or does not make an athlete.

    She’s right. And to “shabazznapier” I think your reading of critical writing in order to character assassinate is equally as problematic as her mishandling of the writing.

    People are clearly hotheaded. And from what I have heard, and read – extremely unreasonable, and unfair. “Josh” you are completely out of context – introducing issues that she does not even bring up, character attacks, and completely non sequitor argumentation as a whole. Your formatting and argumentation is not as well-developed as I think you would have hoped. You bring in generalizations that are sterotypical OF athletes, but that’s not her message at all. You need to re-read.

    I think the bigger issue Ms. Shabazz calls out is an equivalence of health/physical capability with social status and self worth. That and the harmful exclusivity which MAY present itself as a result. I don’t read anywhere in Ms. Shabazz’s piece where she makes generalizations, or stereotypes. She doesn’t write in a completely coherent manner but athletes WHO ARE GUILTY have overwhelmingly responded from hurt feelings (or egos) and have thrown the baby out with the bath water – deciding to not hold themselves accountable after either deliberately misreading the article, or preferencing trivial aspects of the article to support their defense.

    Take the time to have purposeful discussion. With a controversial piece like this, it’s not that difficult.

  • E

    Nonner.