Pillote: Student-athletes should follow lead of Thorson, Walker


Bobby Pillote, Web Editor


Student-athletes, as the term conveniently reminds us, are still students.

We cheer for them on Saturdays (and Sundays, and most other days of the week), but we also see them in our classes, bump into them in our favorite Evanston restaurants and play it cool when we pass them on Sheridan Road.

And, as it happened last week, we see them endorse candidates for Associated Student Government president and executive vice president.

Sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson and junior linebacker Anthony Walker, two of the highest-profile stars on the football team, along with former wide receiver Mike McHugh, sophomore offensive lineman Tommy Doles and sophomore linebacker Nate Hall, made public endorsements for the campaign ticket of Weinberg junior Joji Syed and Weinberg sophomore Archit Baskaran. But were these athletes speaking publicly to advance some fringe issue only applicable to football players? Far from it.

“My roommate (Doles) is really involved in ASG,” Thorson said. “He was like, ‘Hey, would you like to do this?’ So I looked into them, and I was like, yeah, of course. They sound like what we want.”

Walker wasn’t much different.

“I know Joji, and I’ve had class with both of them,” he said. “They asked me to endorse, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It’s a great cause, and I know they have student-athletes’ best interests in mind.”

Thorson and Walker’s endorsements are unusual — none of the people who endorsed in last year’s election, according to the websites of the tickets, did so as a student-athlete — but their reasons for doing so are excruciatingly average and no different from the reasons of anybody else on this campus who chooses to take a public position on an election. Thorson and Walker took a stance on something that affected them more as students than as athletes, and their student-athlete peers should follow suit.

For all their time in practice and on the field, student-athletes still participate in activities like Dillo Day and numerous other events funded by the ASG activity fee. And some student-athletes undoubtedly hold opinions on recent causes taken up by ASG, such as one of several divestment movements or the appointment of Karl Eikenberry as the executive director the Buffett Institute for Global Studies. The business of ASG is very much their business, but that’s beside the point.

Beyond merely expressing their own opinions, student-athletes can also have an outsized impact on campus-wide issues, especially at a school like Northwestern where they form roughly 6 percent of the student body.

Take football players at the University of Missouri, who hastened the resignation of university system president Tim Wolfe in the fall by threatening to boycott an upcoming game. Such a scenario is unlikely at NU (University President Morton Schapiro addressed football players at the team’s final spring practice to resounding chants of “Morty! Morty!”) but student-athletes have another, more subtle influence: They remind us to look past our differences.

Students who voted for the winning ticket of SESP junior Christina Cilento and McCormick junior Macs Vinson will no doubt continue to cheer on Thorson and Walker in the fall despite their public stances. In the aftermath of a campaign that inspired record turnout and divisive rhetoric, the student-athletes that we all cheer on can bring us back together.

Student-athletes do lead different lives from the average student at NU, but that does not exempt them from having an opinion on a body that claims to represent all students. Thorson and Walker were right to use their platform to speak out on an issue, and I hope more student-athletes take advantage of this in the future to turn it into a normality.

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Twitter: @BobbyPillote