Current, Former College Athletes Discuss Academic Pressures During Summit
Several current and former Division I-A collegiate athletes gathered earlier this week on the campus of George Washington University to examine the experience of college athletes during a summit presented by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
The summit, which also featured journalists, coaches, professors and leaders of sports-related organizations, addressed a range of issues often encountered by student-athletes, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs, violence and gambling. But the conversation often returned to the theme of academic performance. Negotiating a full-time athletic commitment and a full student course load is a daunting task for many athletes. For many of the panelists, time management and personal maturity have proved vital to success, both on the field and in the classroom.
“Most of the days start at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, and I’m done at 6:00 or 7:00 at night,” says football player Jemalle Cornelius, a junior at the University of Florida. “All my studying comes at night or if I have breaks during the day. It’s kind of rough. But at Florida, we have academic counselors who make sure we stay on top of our stuff.”
“These students are basically working two jobs when they play a major sport,” agrees Kareem McKenzie, who played football at Penn State University from 1997-2000. He is currently a starting offensive tackle for the NFL’s New York Giants franchise. “They have a full schedule of 16 credit hours and then they participate in collegiate sports. It’s a hard and long day. It’s something that I didn’t understand when I first went to school.”
Beyond trying to balance sports and schoolwork, student-athletes must overcome often hostile perceptions in the classroom. The “dumb jock” stereotype is alive and well on campus, according to several of the athletes. The celebrity status that accompanies many high-profile athletes is often tempered by professors who question their academic ability, with or without good reason. Cornelius, a member of the All-SEC Freshman Academic Team his first year and a current member of the 3.0 GPA Club, says he had never personally experienced an antagonistic professor, although he often hears horror stories from teammates during their mandatory study periods.
“A group of football players will be in a class, and the professor will generalize the whole group as a bunch of guys who don’t really care about school, they’re just there to play football,” he says. “They’ll nitpick any little thing they do. You are under the microscope.”
Like Cornelius, McKenzie had to prove himself academically before gaining the respect of his professors at Penn State. Although he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in three and a half years, he still felt that many professors expected the worst.
“I didn’t come to college just to play football. I came to get an education,” he says. “A lot of people don’t understand that when you are a collegiate athlete, some professors love you and some professors hate you. Some take a liking to you because you play sports, but others don’t like you at all and want to see you fail.”
— By Ikenna Ofobike
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