#whyd3: In defense of athletic recruitment

Lindsay Avant

I’m tired. I’m so tired. I’m so incredibly tired of people telling me I don’t deserve to be here.

Yes, I was a recruited athlete. Yes, I went to a prep school. And I deserve to be at Williams just as much as every other Williams student.

How often do you deal with imposter syndrome as a white person from New York attending a Predominantly White Institution? Well, for me, I’ve been dealing with imposter syndrome since I was 12 years old in middle school. As a Black woman who grew up in a Black neighborhood, and add that to the fact that I am by no means rich, (the only way I could attend this College Preparatory School was because of their generous financial aid) I’m sure you can imagine how going to a prep school had its challenges. One day a white person will tell me I was only there because I’m Black and the next day a different white person will tell me I was only there because I just happened to be decent at playing a game with a ball. If you would have told 12-year-old me that these comments would not cease, not when I got to high school, definitely not when I was applying to college (“Oh you’ll get into a good college because you’re Black,” and when I got into Williams the only reason had to be that I was an athlete), and, unfortunately, not in college, I’m not sure I would have believed people could be so cruel. 

So, I’m sure you can imagine why I have a problem with more people telling me that I did not truly earn my place here. What gives you, or any other student, the right to decide who “deserves” to be at Williams? Why do people continue to think that I am not good enough? Why do they always make excuses for the things I have worked very hard to earn?

In response to this someone might be thinking, “not athletes like you.” This is a weird statement to me, because who gets to determine which athletes are “good” and which ones are “bad”? Why am I one of the good ones, but my teammate doesn’t receive the same distinction?

You talk about the privilege that is needed to excel at a sport, but you make it seem so simple! If someone invests enough money into their child, then they will become an NCAA athlete according to this logic, which is just false. Money may enhance it, but you can’t just take any billionaire’s son or daughter and make them athletic. There happens to be many collegiate athletes who participate in all three divisions of NCAA athletics that did not grow up wealthy, and the facilities that a school like Williams can provide help these students to reach their potential. As someone who is somewhat familiar with the men’s lacrosse team, I can say they had quite a few Black athletes on their team last year, contrary to a popular stereotype. Hockey, lacrosse and skiing often have less diversity in their teams; however, this is due to a lack of access to these sports for young People of Color, and is a problem of accessibility and not a problem that Williams created.

“Likely thin or strong, white and privileged,” hmmm. As a recruited athlete, I definitely do not identify with all four of these physical traits that you’ve assigned to the identity of a Student Athlete. A lot of athletes have body image issues, and when someone literally writes that they are expected to be thin in an op-ed in a newspaper … it continues to perpetuate a damaging idea that runs through athletics. There’s actually this super cool international athletic competition that happens every few years that shows that athletes of all shapes and sizes can be successful in a variety of sports. And this value system that you speak of says that I, a Black woman, am part of supporting the college’s history of “white, privileged men, pursuing their masculine endeavors of physical dominance.” That’s a tough idea for me to get behind. It is not a particularly fun experience when someone tells you that you don’t fit the mold of what a true Williams athlete is expected to be because you’re neither white nor thin, or you didn’t grow up with the same privilege that some of your teammates might have grown up with. Have you ever considered the idea that all the People of Color on athletic teams increase the total number of People of Color on campus? I think that having People of Color on athletics teams increases the diversity of activities that People of Color are involved with on campus and brings new perspectives and experiences to campus. According to your op-ed, these same People of Color who just happen to be athletes should not be here, because athletics are the only reason we were worthy of admission at Williams.

I’m gonna let you in on a couple of secrets that athletes keep: 1) We had to fill out the same exact Williams application that every other student did. And had to wait for the same acceptance that everyone else had to wait for. 2) Student Athletes have to take the same standardized tests and submit them with their application. 3) Student Athletes do their homework at any opportunity they get. In the locker room, in the training room, on the bus to games, in the hotel lobby on overnight trips, even in the library *gasp*, just like you. 4) Our coaches really want us to get good grades. 5) Student Athletes will miss practice to finish an assignment for class. 6) Many of them participate in other activities and clubs outside of their sports team (some would even call that being well-rounded!) 7) They have friends who don’t play sports. 8) Some Student Athletes even complete a thesis. 9) Student Athletes are not dumb.

Your solution to stopping athletic recruitment seems a bit infeasible, if I’m being completely honest. To get eleven schools to get rid of Division III athletics is an absurd and complex task. You’re also forgetting how difficult travel is for athletic teams. There was an article in the Record earlier this year that discusses the issues that JV sports teams have had in recent years that give insight into why JV sports have seen dwindling participation. The idea that you proposed is not a sustainable option for Williams, as the article linked shows.

I’m sure you know some smart, kind and creative people at Williams who just happen to be athletes. Maybe an entrymate, or someone who was in one of your classes or maybe even your orientation leader, who probably would not appreciate that you believe they do not deserve to occupy the same spaces in this college as you do simply because they were recruited. Maybe it is difficult to see them regularly because they always have practice. But, at a school like Williams, other students have other time intensive extracurriculars too. Whenever a play or musical is in tech week, I’m sure it’s hard to find time to spend with your friends that participate in those shows, or the week before a big concert or art show, or even your friends who need to go off campus for an important conference for their club. I bet the same time restraints apply for them, too.

I like to think I am friends with a lot of non-athletes and athletes alike, especially considering I am no longer on a team. But I still get immense amounts of pride watching the women’s soccer team tear up NCAA Division III year after year. Watching the women’s hockey team’s run last year was incredible to witness and turned me into a hockey fan. The excitement of watching these two teams play and dominate brings the campus together in support of them, which I don’t think is a bad thing. 

I don’t understand why athletics have to clash with the values of the liberal arts.

For me, the liberal arts education combined with the competitive athletics was a huge reason for why I chose to attend Williams. I knew that I wanted to go to a small school, but what really brought Williams to the forefront for me, was the success of the sports teams. I knew that at Williams I could not only have the opportunity for success as a student, but also have the opportunity to participate on a team that was continuously challenging for national championships.

So, I hope you can understand where I’m coming from. I know I was a recruited athlete, so this article might not be up to your idea of the Williams standard of intelligence, but I promise I tried my best. Please take some time to rethink your stance on my existence at our amazing school. I just want people to think I deserve to be here as much as I, and clearly the Admissions Department, know I do.

Lindsay Avant 21 majors in history and french and is from Los Angeles, Calif.