There is an iconic moment in sports pop-culture that jumped out at me during last week’s #sachat about student athletes. That iconic moment is from the film Rudy (1993) – the story of an underdog football player with little chance of actually playing college football. By the end of the movie, his perseverance pays off and he gets carried off the field as a hero. The media and pop-culture would have us believe that all athletes get the Rudy treatment in life – if they work hard, they’ll be carried off the field and glorified.
Then a less iconic sports film also stood out to me as I considered how student affairs educators should be doing their work with student athletes. There is a scene in the movie Hardball (2001) where the coach says, “What I’ve learned from you is that really one of the most important things in life is showing up. I’m blown away by your ability to show up.” That quote struck a chord with me as I thought about the student athlete community. Student athletes show up, put in an incredible amount of work, and are left with no one showing up to support them or to give them the Rudy treatment.
The harsh reality is that only a select few athletes have people that show up for them – and they are disproportionately male athletes playing either football or basketball. Even when we do show up for those highly visible and popular sports, it is usually because we want to see the team win. Regardless of the sport, I find that as a profession, we care too much about the logo on the front of the jersey and not enough about the person wearing the jersey. The jersey is what we see first and academic success is what we see second – and that’s often where we stop (if we even get that far).
We assume the most salient identities of a student athlete are just that as an athlete and as a student. Student development theory tells us otherwise. On top of their identities as athletes and students, they are experiencing development of their other identities – racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, religious identity – and that’s only scratching the surface. Simply put, we treat student athletes differently and it is a problem. They need our support – they need what we have to offer outside of the locker room and the classroom. We need to be better about showing up for our student athletes on all fronts, plain and simple.
At the end of the day, I want students to grow and to achieve. I want the students I work with to learn that the most important thing in life isn’t winning (Full Disclosure: I’m a Chicago Cubs fan), but rather, showing up. I know that I am not alone in this philosophy, and I know many of us work painstakingly to coach our students on a daily basis. We coach our students through all things academic, personal, and professional. We encourage the exploration and development of different identities. We show up for them and we encourage them to show up. What makes student athletes any different? It is time to learn from Hardball and from our student athletes. It is time to start showing up. Perhaps, if we show up, we’ll actually be giving our student athletes the Rudy moment that they deserve, even if it’s not on the field.
With that, here are a few ideas on how we can start to “show up” more for out student athletes:
- Reach out to your institution’s athletics department and find out how you might be able to bring your services to them.
- Make an effort to learn more about NCAA regulations and what it means for the day-to-day life for your student athletes – what are they experiencing and how can we support them?
- Go check out and support sports other than football or basketball on your campus.
- If you can, get to know an athlete (and make sure to ask about things other than the sport they play). Get to know them as a person first and an athlete second.
These are just a few ideas – have more? Tweet me at @DerekBundy to keep the conversation going!