While Ursinus College student newspaper The Grizzly is normally distributed without much ado, today’s issue has stirred the campus community into a frantic frenzy. Within this issue’s pages lies junior John Parry’s controversial editorial “Varsity teams and athletes overvalued at Ursinus,” in which he criticizes UC for raising its athletes to pedestals whilst neglecting its other high-achieving students.
There has been outcry from students all afternoon, both from those in support of Parry’s stance and from those vehemently against it. Many students are displeased with Parry’s “disrespectful” tone and “unnecessary sarcasm” throughout the article.
I leave each person to read the article for him or herself – to find its points of contention and of merit. These are subjective. However, whether you agree with Mr. Parry’s points or presentation, each of us must step back momentarily and recognize the underlying discussion here – that of student and student athlete inequality.
When I was in high school, sports were my life. They were my identity. When I was not on the court playing basketball, I was in the stands freezing my way through football games and soccer matches, painting up for the boys’ basketball games and cheering through the rain at tennis matches. I spent hours talking with principals and youth pastors about next week’s big game or the play of the week. While I was involved in other activities and dedicated to my studies, sports were always what really mattered.
And then, an MRI and a few knee specialists later, sports were gone from my world. I remained atop my martyred pedestal at first, facing the sympathetic looks and a broken heart every time I entered my high school gym, but, eventually, it was too much and I stopped going. I stopped talking about it. I abandoned this part of my life.
To fill the time, I became class president, took over as yearbook editor, wrote a column in the local newspaper, and joined the academic bowl team. I fell in love with my new world and with my new self, but it was different. My excellent defensive stance and precise shooting form were no longer photographed for the front page of the newspaper’s sports section. My accomplishments could no longer be put in a box score for the town to read three times a week. I no longer had a shooting percentage to measure my value.
In my senior year, my high school’s academic bowl team excelled. By spring, we had been named district champions and state finalists and we were headed to national competition in Washington, D.C. Born and raised in our sports-dominate world, my father was speechless. “Do I come to these Nationals?” I remember him asking. “Do parents go and cheer? Do people bring pom poms?”
My dad has always been one of my biggest supporters, but, without being able to sit in the stands and be the loudest cheering section I ever had, he struggled with how to show me how proud he was. It was difficult for him to not be cheering and, to be honest, it was difficult for me to not hear him.
In my time at Ursinus, I have founded a successful community anti-bullying group, I have worked as a volunteering liaison for students, I have advised residents in an RA role, and I have consistently maintained my place on Dean’s List. But I have no scoreboard at the end of my days anymore. I have no UC website articles highlighting my ability to spend an immense amount of time in extra-curricular activities while maintaining a respectable GPA. There are no more banquets. No more special allowances. No more cheering section.
To Mr. Parry, I would say, “I understand.” I understand the emptiness. I understand the jealousy. I understand the injustice, even. Ursinus is populated by some of the most brilliant minds, understanding hearts, and dedicated souls the world has to offer, and many of these amazing students stand on the ground, looking up at our pedestaled student athletes. Is it fair? No.
But why does leveling these differences have to be rooted in attacking our student athletes and our academic institution? Mr. Parry’s article implies UC’s student athletes are the school’s lowest academic contributors and that they “don’t think about anything [other than sports.]” This is blatantly untrue. I have the honor and privilege of calling two of these athletes my closest friends, and it’s not because they can get a ball into the net or send a batter back to the dugout.
Ursinus’ student athletes are just like the rest of Ursinus students: amazing. They are kind. They are understanding. They are passionate and excited. They are thinkers and motivators, people with loving hearts and profound souls. We, Ursinus students, are going to change the world. Because that’s just what Ursinus does for you. It makes you one of those people.
I believe we share a vision to change the world, Mr. Parry. I hope that one day there will be a banquet for “extra-curricular students” and “volunteering students.” I dream of a world in which parents can bring the cheering section to their kids’ academic bowl competitions.
But the answer to getting there is not by tearing down the pedestals we have created, for they are there for a reason. We must work to understand and respect one another for all each of us does, be it lacrosse or biochemistry. We must all recognize each other’s achievements, and we then must come together to build new pedestals. We must build pedestal after pedestal until we are all soaring.
Ursinus gives us all the unique freedom to be who we are and to do what we love. To take this away from anyone would only be to the detriment of our “bear” community. President Fong signs his emails with a salute to the bears not because of the uniforms our athletes wear, but because of who we are. “Ursus.” Bear. Ursinus. A big bear family with some pedestal building to do.