Every day I come across yet another article highlighting NCAA lawsuits, coaching scandals and athletes who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. With the O’Bannon decision, Power Conference de-regulation, and unionization, the upcoming months will be a momentous time for college athletics. In the wake of these matters, I think about my collegiate athletic experience. As a college athlete, I never thought about boosters or royalties; it was all about representing my school while playing the sport I love with teammates who are lifelong friends. We played in front of many, as my coach called them “fans disguised as empty seats,” and I wouldn’t trade that experience for any amount of money in the world.
I’ve always appreciated and related to the following piece, which was originally written about what it means to be a DIII athlete. I believe these points resonate with most college athletes, or at least most I know. Many of us, male and female, played non-revenue sports and we all played for the love of the game.
“It’s not about getting a scholarship, getting drafted, or making SportsCenter. It’s a deep need in us that comes from the heart. We need to practice, to play, to lift, to hustle, to sweat. We do it all for our teammates and for the student in our calculus class that we don’t even know.
We don’t practice with a future major league first baseman; we practice with a future sports agent. We don’t lift weights with a future Olympic wrestler; we lift with a future doctor. We don’t run with a future Wimbledon champion; we run with a future CEO. It’s a bigger part of us than our friends and family can understand. Sometimes we play for 2,000 fans; sometimes 25. But we still play hard.
You cheer for us because you know us. You know more than just our names. Like all of you, we are students first. We don’t sign autographs. But we do sign graduate school applications, MCAT exams, and student body petitions. When we miss a kick or strike out, we don’t let down an entire state. We only let down our teammates, coaches, and fans. But the hurt is still the same. We train hard, lift, throw, run, kick, tackle, shoot, dribble, and lift some more, and in the morning we go to class. And in that class we are nothing more than students.
It’s about pride in ourselves, in our school. It’s about our love and passion for the game. And when it’s over, when we walk off that court or field for the last time, our hearts crumble. Those tears are real. But deep down inside, we are very proud of ourselves. We will forever be what few can claim…college athletes.”
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