Athletics Vs Academics Essay

“Me and my four or five friends took academics very seriously,” says 2010 Harvard graduate J.P. O’Connor, musing about his high school experience. At a school like Harvard, such a statement is not uncommon. However, beyond the intricately-wrought gates of Harvard and other such American universities, all too many American students are less concerned than they should be with academics. Even in high schools—especially in high schools—academics usually fall by the wayside, pushed to the periphery of students’ consciousness by a culture that simply does not value education enough.

This pattern may be traced to a misguided belief in the mutual exclusivity of sports and academics. Few Americans would openly subscribe to such an over-simplification. However, a closer look at American culture reveals a tug-of-war between sports and school, in which school is losing sorely. “Me and my four or five friends took academics very seriously.” J.P. finishes: “We were the exception.”

Too Cool for School?

In popular culture, nerdiness equals funniness. Considering the accessibility of TV and other sources of mass culture, it makes sense that TV portrayals of academic intelligence would silently extend into the American psyche. Sheldon Cooper and his 187 IQ make The Big Bang Theory one of this fall’s most popular TV shows. Brick Heck, the über-nerdy middle school student who reads novels with which Albert Einstein would have struggled, adds immeasurably to the comedy in The Middle. And who can resist laughing at The Office’s Dwight K. Schrute, the nerdiest paper salesman conceivable?

In addition to nerds, athletes are a mainstay of popular TV shows.  The two groups are almost always distinct: nerdy athletes and athletic nerds are virtually nonexistent.  Moreover, on shows in which one character fits the nerd paradigm and another fits the athlete paradigm, the two characters sometimes blatantly clash.

In The Middle, Brick fights constantly with his brother, Axl, a high school football star with a college athletic scholarship awaiting him. In The Office, Dwight’s geeky habits consistently provoke the tall, lean, former high school basketball player Jim Halpert, who in turn spends more time brainstorming pranks to play on Dwight than selling paper.

In the nerd-athlete clashes, the athletes usually win in the court of public opinion. Though occasionally dumbed down, they typically have redeeming qualities. Axl can be a loving big brother, while Jim is a doting boyfriend and charismatic salesman, when he actually works.

The nerds, however, tell another story. They are often so ridiculous that they cannot possibly be taken seriously. Instead, they become the laughing stocks of their respective shows, the best source of comic relief. For example, there is nothing endearing about Dwight K. Schrute. Even when comedy TV’s nerds are shown to possess at least some personable qualities, they are still primarily a source of comic relief and a foil for the more popular athletes.

Of course, most people take popular culture with a grain of salt, enjoying the entertainment but not necessarily accepting every idea presented by it. Americans who watch shows like The Middle and The Office generally do not consciously agree with the stereotypes that these shows present. However, even without openly accepting such stereotypes, they may inadvertently internalize them. Merely by consuming popular culture, Americans may come to believe that people who succeed in school cannot succeed on a sports team, and that they should emulate the athletes instead of the nerds.

The American obsession with televised sports further exacerbates the problem. Over the seventeen days of the 2012 summer Olympics, NBC drew a daily average of 31 million American viewers. Total online streams reached 160 million in the U.S. alone, more than half of the U.S. population. Since CBS, ABC, and Fox also broadcast the Olympics, NBC’s viewership represents only part of the total Olympic viewership. Meanwhile, nearly 110 million Americans, more than a third of the U.S. population, tuned in to the 2013 Super Bowl. Most likely, the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2014 Super Bowl will attract equally impressive ratings. Wide viewership is not limited to big athletic events: even regular baseball and football games receive plenty of attention. After all, sports understandably make for fantastic TV.

The implications of America’s enthusiasm for televised athletics extend far beyond the entertainment industry’s domain. Children grow up to admire the hoop-swishing basketball players and the homerun-hitting baseball players that they see on TV, while they complain about school. Sports are a hobby; school is a job. Combined, pop culture and televised sports form a lethal cocktail. The result is a belief in the mutual exclusivity of athletics and academics, and, more worrisome, a clear tendency to prioritize athletics.

A Report Card to Keep off the Fridge

In the 2010-2011 school year, 7.6 million American high school students played sports. For the 2011-2012 school year, almost 4.5 million boys and about 3.2 million girls—a total of roughly 7.7 million—participated on high school sports teams. This increase from 2010 to 2012 is no outlier; athletic participation has increased for twenty-two consecutive years.

While sports participation has risen, American educational rankings in comparison to other countries across the world have troublingly continued to plummet. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, the U.S. walked away with more gold medals than any other country. Yet Americans accept not first but 31st in global math education, 23rd in global science education, and 14th in reading when compared to these global competitors.

It is more fun to sit back and relax with a cold beer on Super Bowl Sunday if one is not worried about the fact that only 77% of American students graduate from high school and that six other countries have higher graduation rates. It is easier to cheer for a favorite basketball team than to acknowledge that 24 countries currently outpace the U.S. rate of educational improvement. As long as this attitude persists, America’s academic standings relative to other nations show little promise of rebounding. American children are increasingly falling behind as their international competitors in today’s globalized world pull ahead.

Of course, the surge in high school athletic participation and the decline in high school educational success may not be directly related. Correlation does not ensure causation. However, given the modern American cultural environment, it is at least plausible that Americans prioritize athletics over education and in doing so hold themselves back academically.

Time Out

Contrary to cultural undercurrents, sports participation and academic success are not mutually exclusive. The education attainable through sports can be incredibly valuable in other arenas of life. As Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, told the HPR: “There is some good evidence to suggest that we culturally focus maybe too much on sports, [rather] than on academics. But, that said, we don’t actually know that the values you learn [in sports] don’t ultimately help with being successful in life.” In an interview with the HPR, New York middle school teacher and softball and bowling coach Marni Torgersen listed the skills learned on sports teams that, in her experience, translate into success in the classroom: leadership, resilience, self-discipline, patience, persistence, time management, and self-esteem.

Sports participation is an incredible opportunity, as long as it is balanced with concern for academics. If Americans viewed sports not as an alternative but as a complement to education, then the two enterprises might excel simultaneously. Former Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Eleanor Duckworth believes that athletic participation can improve academic performance: “People can be very fascinated by academics and intrigued by athletics and good at both. They enhance each other.”

It is not always easy to strike that balance. Giovanni Galvano went on to play soccer in Italy following his graduation last June from a New York high school. Discussing the challenges of balancing school and soccer, the 18-year-old Galvano says, “When work gets heavy with soccer it’s easy to have work in class become insufficient and vice versa, but that could be avoided. It then becomes a time management challenge.” Although Galvano was extremely passionate about soccer and knew that he would pursue athletics after high school, he challenged himself academically by taking college-level courses.

Obviously, people can have multiple talents, and deciding which talent to pursue beyond high school rests with each individual. Yet, as Galvano exemplifies, having one’s heart set on a sport does not preclude nurturing one’s other potential talents as well. People like Galvano need not be exceptions; they should be the norm. Athletic success and academic success are not incompatible; rather, they are intertwined.

Take, for example, our Harvard graduate J.P. O’Connor, who won countless distinctions in wrestling, including that of 2010 NCAA champion. Meanwhile, he excelled academically, completing a Harvard College degree in human evolutionary biology. “If you want to be an NCAA champion wrestler and a successful premed student, you can succeed in both of those ventures,” J.P. told the HPR. “It’s not this mutual exclusivity, it’s not one or the other. It’s ‘be great in every aspect of your life.’”

Photo Credit:

Tags: Education, Fall 2013, K-12, magazine, Popular Culture, sports, Television, United States

blog comments powered by

College Athletes Vs. Academics Essay

There is a reason that they are called student-athletes and not athlete-students, because being a student should come first. In many cases, however, it appears that it is the other way around. Colleges are focusing more on athletics than academics today, but colleges must start concerning themselves more with students' futures in the real world because very few will use their athletic experiences as much as they will use their education after they graduate.
College sports has become like a job with players getting paid in scholarships, and the coach being the boss. The players must do what the coaches tell them to, and that is not always the best thing because coaches will do whatever it takes to win and earn money, even encouraging the use of drugs (Peck 36). Sometimes when coaches want players to come to their schools, they will give them preferential treatment and benefits while they participate in college sports regardless of NCAA rules (Saffici and Pellegrino 1 of 6). There is no doubt that college athletics are changing and becoming a big business, so the rules associated with how student-athletes are treated must change too (Saffici and Pellegrino 1 of 6).
The majority of colleges do not have their priorities straight and that needs to change as well. There is proof that many colleges put athletics above academics. A survey done of 97 public schools that have major football programs revealed that spending on athletics between 2005 and 2008 increased at a rate of 4 to 11 times more than the spending on academics (Carey 1 of 2). What is worse is that if major programs continue in the direction they are headed, it will only cause athletic spending to rise and there will be an even greater imbalance in fiscal priorities (Carey 1 of 2). As a result of this, there have been efforts to try and stop the growing imbalance in funds. One example of this is the recommendation for the creation of an Academic-Athletics balance fund, which would reallocate money from the NCAA basketball tournament and appearances in bowl games (Carey 2 of 2).
Schools try to win as many games as possible to earn money, but some research shows that almost all schools lose money on sports, and that athletic success does not always translate to alumni giving (Derfner 3 of 4). Only the coaches and staff of the schools make money. Presidents and Chancellors of schools have access to spending information that they can compare to their schools’ expenses, but the public does not. Furthermore, at Division I colleges, it is the students and the public who are shouldering the cost of supporting the athletic programs with tuition fees and tax dollars (Lee 1 of 2), so they should have access to this information. College athletes used to not have academic standards to meet. It was not until graduation rates were opened to the public that academic reform happened in college athletics (Carey 1 of 2). Many believe the same will happen for financial reform when athletic expenditures...

Loading: Checking Spelling


Read more

The Athletic Advantage in a College Education

1029 words - 4 pages Attending college is not only a chance to further one’s education; but an opportunity to experience lessons in life. One of the hardest lessons to learn is how life is not always fair. Students who work diligently to achieve academic success can realize all too soon how countless hours of studying to achieve the grade, may not pay off as much as the ability to kick a football fifty yards. It appears the ability of the student athlete to...

Reform Models in Collegiate Sports Essay

1343 words - 5 pages Over the past 100 years, college sports have attracted controversy pertaining to how they should be treated, that is, as business opportunities or academic vocation. Different reforms have been initiated, with academicians and researchers coming up with different models explaining how college sports and sports people should be treated. These models seek to understand and give directions on the need for balancing education with commercialized...

College Athletes Should Not Get Paid for Play

929 words - 4 pages The argument whether a student-athlete should be paid to play or not be paid is one that spans the ages. College sports are considered to be of amateur status by the NCAA. Therefore they believe student-athletes should not receive a pay check to participate in a sport. However on the other end of the spectrum, many critics believe that student-athletes should receive pay for play because not only are they participating in a sport, they are...

College Student Athletes Should Be Paid

605 words - 2 pages The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a nonprofit association of 1,281 Institutions, Conferences, Organizations and Individuals that organizes the Athletic programs of many Colleges and University in the United States. Do athletes should remain unpaid like they have for over 100 years? For the past years one of the most demanding issues in the world of sports today has now become a matter the NCAA cannot afford to ignore it. ...

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

1543 words - 6 pages There is currently a major issue in today’s college athletics. Universities and the NCAA make billions of dollars while some student-athletes go hungry. There is a huge debate over whether or not student-athletes should be paid as employees of their respective colleges. Personally, I don’t believe players should receive full-time salaries, but Universities and the NCAA should be required to increase the value of the scholarships that they award...

College Sports and Money

1615 words - 6 pages College athletes should not be paid and the reasoning for that opinion is that college athletes attend school to get a degree not to become rich and famous afterwards. A majority of college athletes are attending school with all expenses paid so there is no reason for them to be receiving money from outside sources. If college athletes were to be paid for playing their specific sport then a lot of them would not try as hard as they do now...

Student Athletes Should Not be Paid

1789 words - 7 pages "The best argument against paying players is that it diminishes the value of an education" (qtd. in Zimbalist). State University has breached its academic standard by allocating unnecessary expenditures to athletically advanced students. Student athletes should not be paid at State University, because it focuses on an extracurricular activity as a means of profit, praises athletic ability over merit/ scholastics, promotes a bridge between players...

Why College Athletes Should NOT be Paid

1997 words - 8 pages The proposal of payment toNCAA student-athletes has begun major conversations and arguments nationwide with people expressing their take on it. “This tension has been going on for years. It has gotten greater now because the magnitude of dollars has gotten really large” (NCAA). I am a student athlete at Nicholls State University and at first thought, I thought it would be a good idea to be able to be paid as a student-athlete.After much...

Why Student Athletes Struggle with Time Management

1097 words - 4 pages Why Student Athletes Struggle with Time Management Entering class Monday morning from a fun weekend, with a mindset that all is ok, I excitingly take a seat then, reality hits when my teacher utters “will you please hand in your research papers.” Your first thought is oh my how did I forget, and, before you know it, your grade takes a hit for the worst. This situation is common amongst freshman, student athletes; not only is a paper due, but...

NCAA Atheltics: Young Money

936 words - 4 pages To pay or not to pay, that is the question. This question, one of disparity, confronts the NCAA all the time today. Football and basketball players generate billions of dollars in revenue for their schools but do not receive any. College athletes cannot be paid because of the “no pay” rules and the “Principle of Amateurism.” The NCAA will not have to deal with as many rule violations and scandals. Plus, the NCAA could still label an amateurism...

The Effect of College Athletics on Academics

1862 words - 7 pages When I first came to South Dakota State, I decided that I wanted to go pre-dental but after talking with my advisor, I ended up undecided on my major and took courses irrelevant to anything I wanted to do for a career. I still remain bitter that I let my advisor talk me out of what I wanted to do, but he did have a point. If I took the classes I needed to go pre dental, I would most likely get bad grades due to traveling, practices, games, and...


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *