Sports before studies: FUS not exempt from the American-college tendency to idolize athletics

by Joanna K. M. Bratten

That modern America has made a god of sports is a common charge among Christians and non-Christians alike. However, I shall not take it upon myself to chide the general populace for their preference for lounging languidly before their TV sets, looking rather like glazed puddings, catching every game on ESPN, rather than frequenting St. Paul’s, Our Lady of Lourdes, or what have you. I would like to examine, though, the fact that this preference and overall mindset has so permeated America’s institutions of learning that we are the proud inventors of the much-coveted “football scholarship.”

The idea of the sports scholarship is quite contrary to the overall purpose of a university, particularly if one approaches this issue from a Newmanian standpoint. One is, or at least should be, appalled to see the manner in which many schools—high schools and universities—have utilized the sports scholarship. There has been case after case of teachers and administrators refusing to reject or fail below-average students simply for the sake of the school’s sports status. Many of these so-called students will receive a Bachelor’s degree without having done a lick of work, save on the athletic field. The damage that this has done to the quality of education is apparent to all of us who have spent any amount of time with the “average” American teenager. This problem is, of course, part of a larger problem: namely, that knowledge and learning are no longer seen as ends in themselves. Such a manner of thinking makes football scholarships and the like quite permissible because, after all, these “students” are making themselves not only useful, but successful—to be a sports hero is part of the “American dream.”

We at Franciscan University can be thankful that since our University does not offer sports scholarships we need not fear that our fellow students in the desks behind us are passing their courses by the grace of their speed on the football field or their batting average, while the rest of us wrestle with Aristotle in the library until 11 o’clock every night—figuratively speaking at least. We are fortunate enough to be studying at a university which, for the most part, values knowledge for its own sake and encourages its students to seek truth above all else—even above success. Our University acknowledges the fact that when success becomes the end of education, the process of learning is viewed as a mere means and quickly falls to the wayside.

However, this golden calf, if you will, has nevertheless crept stealthily onto our campus, unnoticed by many of us until it has interfered with our studies. There are always those things that try to sway the student from his course and take precedence over academics. Of all these things, sports has become the most insidious, in spite of the fact that it is, objectively, the least important.

This past semester I was coordinating the annual Honors Symposium and was annoyed and even dismayed when a number of the other students involved in the symposium consistently skipped planning and rehearsal sessions, nonchalantly informing me that they could not put time into the symposium because of—what?—Frisbee. Of all the ridiculous excuses, Frisbee games take the cake. When intramural Frisbee games take priority over a serious academic project, we can be assured “something is rotten” in Steubenville.

I am sure that many will shrug their shoulders and smile, saying that I am taking this far too seriously. I will remind these individuals that being a university student is a serious thing and necessitates commitment. If Franciscan University, a bastion of the truth and a proponent of intellectual integrity, allows its students to be distracted from their scholarly pursuits by athletic pursuits, the caliber of our intellectual environment will decline very sharply. The responsibility lies primarily with the student body. If we are the mature adults we assume ourselves to be, we should be capable of taking the initiative and making academics our primary concern during these four years of our lives. Father Michael made a comment during orientation when I was a freshman that I will not forget: “You are in college now; it is your first vocation to be a student.” We are no longer in high school; we have chosen to further our education, and—out of respect for ourselves if nothing else—we should not be distracted by lesser goods, such as intramural Frisbee games.

Before the larger portion of the University community think me entirely rigid, I will cede that athletics do have a legitimate place in a university setting. Oxford students, after all, have their rowing competitions, but you will not find a “Rowing Scholarship” in the Oxford handbook. It remains that we must care for mind and body alike, but when flag football or Frisbee games become more important to a student than his classes, problems are bound to arise. I am not suggesting that campus athletics be obliterated, but that those students who find themselves in the fieldhouse or on the soccer field more frequently than in the library should be careful they are not following in the footsteps of a good portion of our nation in selling out to the sports-god.

Joanna Bratten is a senior English major and Contributing Editor of the Concourse.