Op-Ed: “Athletics Done the Right Way”

Sam Thomas ‘20 

Senior Sports Writer

There is no denying the importance of athletics on our campus. Not only do they give our small, liberal arts school visibility to the external world outside of the southeastern United States, but they provide an opportunity for our student-athletes to demonstrate their excellence. Davidson is a place where we pride ourselves on being humbly exceptional, and our student-athletes play that role perfectly.

I took both unofficial and official visits to Davidson as a high schooler. From those visits, a familiar line has and continues to echo through my mind. Davidson athletes are students like every other student. This was and still is incredibly important at a school in which we value personal integrity and have a student body composed of 20-25% student-athletes. We have heard the stories of how Steph Curry and the 2008 men’s basketball team sat in the hotel lobby writing essays and finishing problem sets the night before their ultimate defeat to Kansas. Clearly, the scene is unlike any other team of that caliber.

With that said, the narrative of student-athletes fitting both the student and athlete role provides many challenges as Davidson continues to climb in the Atlantic-10. While it may be true that it is possible for student-athletes to fit the par excellence in the classroom and in competition, many sacrifices need to be made. For example, speaking from my own experience, I felt as though participating in extracurricular activities became difficult very quickly. I felt as though I was not experiencing being a student at Davidson in the same way as many of my peers.

To be clear, I am not trying to make a commentary as to whether the high standards that come with academics at a renowned small, liberal arts college paired with a high level of competition needs to be adjusted in order to better suit one or the other. When I committed to Davidson to run cross country and track, I was very much aware of the stresses that I would face. I made the decision to engage in my experience as a student just as many choose to engage with Davidson as student-athletes. I have an unbelievable amount of respect for those that choose the latter. It takes incredible mental fortitude and resilience in the face of the inescapable adversity from expectations that they will all face.

Instead, I am proposing a shift in the narrative. Student-athletes do not experience Davidson in the same way as every other student. Instead, we can look to what Athletic Director Chris Clunie ‘06 told me in an interview this past summer. He stressed the phrase: “Athletics done the right way.” That statement, both concise and powerful, is one that does not diminish the stresses and pressures that student-athletes at Davidson face in their pursuit of excellence. If we push that as our mantra of the ethos amongst Davidson College student-athletes, coaches, and administrators, it would highlight where our community is strong and true to itself. At the same time, this parallels some of our neighbors who are not as true to their convictions.

I appreciate that Davidson has the humility that Ivy League schools do not. I appreciate that Davidson students are brilliant in unique ways that, in summation, form a beautiful community. I appreciate that our administration allows us to say what we believe and be critical. For all of these reasons, it seems counterproductive to push a narrative that forms a dichotomy dividing our community. Instead, we can appreciate that our community is the one that takes the right path instead of the easy path. We can appreciate that we have values as a community. Our contribution to this Davidson community is greater than any individual achievement or accolade.

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