A survey of Haverford College athletes explores the stereotype
By Geoff Hartmann
The “dumb jock.” It’s one of the oldest stereotypes in the book. They’re the kids who rule high school and end up as the big men on campus in college. They’re weak in the classroom, don’t work very hard, and are only friendly to their own kind, often bullying anyone who is an outsider.
You wouldn’t expect to find many of these dumb jocks at Haverford College, one of the best academic schools in the country. Because Haverford’s athletic teams compete on the Division 3 level, they aren’t allowed to offer any scholarships or financial aid to athletes based on their athletic performance. As a result, all athletes must go through the same stringent admissions process as every other student.
Since athletes aren’t given any special treatment in the admissions process, you wouldn’t think that the same sorts of stereotypes about athletes would prevail at Haverford.
You would be wrong.
A survey was recently sent out to the Haverford athletic community to gauge their feelings about their experiences as student-athletes. The poll, which garnered 46 responses, highlighted a few interesting trends in the athletic community, as did subsequent one-on-one interviews with athletes..
For starters, a surprisingly large number of athletes feel non-athletes at Haverford view them negatively. Over one quarter of the athletes surveyed felt that non-athletes think of them as being “unintelligent” and “unfriendly.” Additionally, nearly 20% of the athletes said that they thought non-athletes think of them as “slackers” and 10% said that they thought non-athletes consider them to be “lazy.”
When asked to choose which term best describes how they feel non-athletes view them, nearly one quarter of the athletes chose a negative term – either “unintelligent,” “lazy,” or “unfriendly.”
Though there are a large percentage of athletes who feel they are viewed negatively by fellow students, there are differing views about the extent to which it’s a problem.
“I wouldn’t say that people say I’m dumb, just because I’m a math major, but people definitely wouldn’t go out of their way to say I’m smart in the same way they might for a non-athlete,” said senior baseball player Brett Cohen.
“I think the majority of non-athletes, and I realize this is a pretty big generalization, but I feel like a majority of them would at most see an athlete as being average academically,” said senior basketball captain Louis Cipriano. “While they might not think of athletes as stupid, they definitely don’t think of athletes in a positive way.”
So while “unintelligent” may be too strong of a word to describe how non-athletes view athletes at Haverford, it’s clear that there is a difference between how athletes and non-athletes are thought of academically.
What’s unclear is why this difference exists, even at a school like Haverford. Not surprisingly, non-athletes aren’t eager to open up about this subject. However, Cohen, who’s known on campus for being eager to speak about issues in the athletic community, has a few explanations for why athletes have they academic reputation that they do from the rest of the student body.
“I think a lot of non-athletes think athletes are dumb for two reasons,” said Cohen. “First, they think a lot of athletes just take easier courses. So while a non-athlete might take an extremely heavy course load because they have more time to devote to school, an athlete may try and choose one or two easier classes just because they don’t have as much time to dedicate to studying. The second thing is that athletes usually have less academic kinds of conversations outside of class than non-athletes. So, for example, when kids are in the Dining Center, a lot of times you hear athletes talking about sports or pop culture or social gossip, as opposed to ‘academic talk.’ And so people interpret this to mean that athletes are less academic and, therefore, less smart.”
Cohen brings up an interesting point in his extremely blunt take on this subject. This idea that athletes take easier courses than non-athletes should be looked at more in-depth. At Haverford, there are certain courses and certain professors that are known for being “easy.” In general, a lot of the students who take these classes are athletes.
However, the fact that these “easy” classes have a large number of athletes doesn’t mean as much as it might appear. First, most of these “easy” classes are entry-level classes and, therefore, are larger classes. Because athletes make up 37% of the student body, per the Haverford admissions’ website, the fact that there are a lot of athletes in large classes shouldn’t come as a surprise and doesn’t necessarily mean much.
Second, as Cohen points out, a lot of the differences in schedule difficulties has to do with the amount of time that athletes have to devote to school, an issue that we will look at further shortly.
Despite the way they feel non-athletes perceive them, athletes still view themselves as being just as intelligent as the broader student body.
“I don’t notice any difference between athletes and non-athletes when it comes to academics,” said Cipriano. Continue reading