Against antagonism

To anyone on this campus who has felt degraded or devalued by a member of the athletic community, I’m sorry. In fact, I’m sorry that anyone on this campus is degraded or devalued by anyone else, whether the perpetrator is an athlete, actor or active avoider of organized activities. As humans capable of compassion and empathy, we should know better than to treat others with such insensitivity and pointless disrespect.

That said, I think it is unfair to blame the entire athletic community for an incident of just that – insensitivity. People say and do stupid things. That doesn’t excuse any incident and it doesn’t erase what has happened, but criticizing a group of people who do not deserve to be stereotyped as rude or cruel or arrogant does not help anyone either. I do not mean to speak for the entire athletic community, given that it accounts for 44 percent of our student body, and I don’t want to generalize the opinions of such a diverse group of people. But, as an athlete who wears purple and gold with pride, I can speak from my experience.

Most of the athletes I know are breathtakingly modest. A girl I sat next to in English for over half a semester turned out to be one of the best runners on the cross country team, and I didn’t know about it until I read a Sports Information article last weekend. Some of the fastest rowers I know show up to workouts in old cotton t-shirts or running shorts left over from past endeavors. To me, none of those habits screams “arrogance.” On the contrary, maybe being an athlete teaches Williams students humility. No matter how fast, how strong or how skilled we train ourselves to be, there is always someone faster, stronger or more skilled from whom we can learn. To me, that is one of the fundamental principles of training.

Training is the process of learning how to respond when something is challenging, physically, mentally and emotionally. Training as an athlete can and should inspire confidence, and in general, I think athletics make a positive impact on the Williams community. Sports serve as a competitive outlet and provide a camaraderie that is difficult to match. They challenge individuals to set goals and surpass their own expectations. They inspire cooperation and support – there’s a reason it’s called “teamwork,” and the team is, in my opinion, the most valuable aspect of athletics. Teamwork is seeking excellence together.

I am proud that my team takes up three tables at Driscoll. To me, it says that we have created a community in which we are willing to work hard together as teammates and then unwind and support each other as people. A team is founded on trust – that a pass will be made at the right moment, that a defender will hold his position and that each person will respond when it is time to sprint. A team is a group of people who have each other’s backs when it means the most.

As for the other alleged infractions committed by Williams athletes, I don’t think anyone wraps herself in ice for fun. The people who frequent the trainer’s office are in real, physical pain and are treating their injuries responsibly. They deserve compassion, not ridicule. True, going to the trainer eight times a day will not make someone “more” of an athlete than anyone else, but neither does it make her less of a person deserving of respect.

Furthermore, I don’t know anyone who looks at a pile of sweaty socks and shirts with anything other than disgust or dismay that she has yet another load of laundry to do.

Enough has been said already on the athlete/non-athlete divide at Williams for me to believe it. I’ve heard enough about a culture of exclusivity to accept it must exist. But how much of it is self-perpetuating? Because we keep talking about it and emphasizing its role in our social fabric, we give it power over us. By emphasizing the difference between us, we create that difference. When we look at our fellow students, we shouldn’t define them in such narrow terms as “athlete” or “non-athlete” or even as “musician,” “partier” or “Schow resident-in-chief.” The beauty of Williams is that our peers can be all of those things or none or any combination they choose.

I am not trying to deny that a problem exists or suggest that we ignore it, but I don’t think we can get past this as a community until we stop seeing it as an issue of absolutes. How much you power clean does not determine your value as an athlete or as an individual.

Molly Burroughs ’17 is from St. Louis, Mo. She lives in Mark Hopkins.

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