April 4 is. . . National Student Athletes Day. In many ways, the day reminds us to acknowledge that the notion of student athlete is not an oxymoron. It is — when truly practiced at the levels of individuals, teams, institutions, and nations — a way to challenge oppositions of brains and brawn, of mind and body, of thought and action. As Title IX reminded us, sports is one arena for social justice in colleges and universities; and, of course, Title IX remains fundamentally about equal access to education. So, National Student Athletes Day is also a time to focus on the challenges facing us all around the notions of student athletes — and social justice.
Today, we connect sports on campuses to such major news stories as (a) the wish to unionize college football players (including at Northwestern); (b) march madness (and the wisdom of Inside Higher Education who pushed us all to think again by ranking the various schools academically); (c) local and national stories about Michael Sam and the homophobia of professional sports as well as the wonders of his colleagues at the university level who challenge and challenged that homophobia when he came out recently. And, of course there is much more. Sports scandals are sometimes as shocking as those in other sectors (think Penn State football or Duke Lacrosse) — and sports fan are as loyal as any others. We think about the struggles of athletes to balanced there lives, combining sports, academic achievement and for many the need to work many hours to fund their college experience. We wonder about sports as a part of the lives of those nontraditional age students who are rapidly becoming — or already are — the new normal on many campuses. We remember that just because that student over there is brilliant does not mean the student is (necessarily) a klutz.
Most crucially, we think about how student athletes remind us that couch potato is not the equivalent of the scholar, that healthy minds and healthy bodies are not disconnected, that not all basketball players are of one race nor all crew teams of one gender (to get that allusion, click here), and that the industrialization of students’ lives, the capitalization of their lives, is all too often the flip side of the ways students have come to be seen as consumers rather than learners. For, our mission as educational institutions is just that: education of the whole student — mind, body, spirit and more.
So: National Student Athletes Day. We all learn from one another.