Yamin: Reflecting on disrespectful criticisms of student-athletes

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Jennifer Yamin, Columnist

Shawn Oakman’s size. Odell Beckham Jr.’s catch. LeBron’s hairline. Athletes and organized sports are some of the most meme-able and tweet-able entities available to the general public. Collegiate sports, including Northwestern athletics, are no exception. As an avid social media user, I have come across many tweets or Facebook posts calling out the mistakes of NU student-athletes during important games. Although expressing opinions on athletes and sports is entirely acceptable, I ask that you consider a few things before publicly criticizing your student-athlete peers.

However obvious it may seem, student-athletes are just as much students as they are athletes. They are college students receiving an education and making plans for employment while also putting in the full-time work for their sport. Yet it is all too easy to disregard that simple definition of a student-athlete when jumping to make negative comments. These are the people you see in your classes, in your dorms and trudging to class through the polar vortex. Sorry, where were we?

These are the people representing NU; they represent you. They rely on you for their fan base. To be clear, I believe athletes should be expected to give the best of their ability. I am not saying athletes are superior and above all criticism. And in no way does being an athlete make you better than the average student. But it also does not make you worse.

Based on my own experience at NU, I think the disconnect between student athletes and the rest of NU students could be fixed if regular students spent an entire day with a student-athlete. You may find yourself awake at an hour you never thought existed on a Tuesday morning. You may find a three and a half hour practice after an entire day of class tiring. You may find studying for a final exam on a bus ride inefficient and difficult. But, you will understand the responsibilities and commitments of an NU student-athlete.

I have seen firsthand instances of disrespect directed toward me, my team and my fellow student-athletes. During roll call in some of my smaller classes, I sometimes hear condescending comments if an athlete’s name is called and he or she is not present. Before assuming athletes are skipping class, consider that they may be on a bus or plane heading back to campus after a long weekend of competing out of state.

Some may find my opinion to be too optimistic, naive or reminiscent of the girl from Mean Girls who just wants to bake a cake full of rainbows and smiles. They may argue criticism motivates them to perform better and that at the end of the day these people are athletes and should be able to take it. While all of this may be true, it is important to remember these athletes are also your peers, bleeding purple right beside you in below freezing temperatures.

At a school like NU, student-athletes are constantly subject to media scrutiny and learn to ignore such criticisms. It is a different story when the criticisms come from their own peers. I am not here to reprimand NU students. After all, some of you have even shown up to my fencing meets. At the end of the day, student-athlete or not, we are all Wildcats who belong to one NU community. I am simply asking that before roasting an NU student-athlete or team either on or off social media, consider the community you share with them. Go Cats.

Jennifer Yamin is a Communication junior and a member of the Northwestern fencing team. She can be reached at [email protected].  If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

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