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College Education and Athletics: The Student-Athlete

Rosalie Bigongiari, Iris Kuo, Samara Lavitt,
Zoe Liebeskind, Thanh-Tran Nguyen and Chris Shimir
University of Washington


One plus one equals two. Two plus two equals four. The simple law of addition states that
a whole is the sum of its parts, no matter what order you add them up in. This definition,
however, becomes a bit hazy when we move away from the realm of numbers. For instance,
what comes to mind when someone mentions that he or she is a student-athlete? Is he or she
equal parts student and athlete? Or does one identity tend to overshadow the other?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, otherwise known as the NCAA, is a
nonprofit organization that manages the majority of college athletics programs in the United
States and Canada. Mark Emmert, the associations president, proudly states on the NCAA
website that the organization keeps student-athletes, their well-being and their education at the
heart of what [they] do, and that is what differentiates [the NCAA] from the sports leagues
(Office of, n.d.). In other words, the NCAA emphasizes the student part of the equation and
highlights the importance of giving their athletes a chance to shine in the realm of sports without
taking away from their education. For instance, the NCAA sets standards to make sure
incoming student-athletes are prepared for college course work, tracks their progress toward a
degree once theyre on campus, and disqualifies a teams participation in official games if half
or more of the student-athletes arent on track to graduate.
All in all, the NCAA seems like the real deal. However, according to Taylor Branch, a
journalist who penned the controversial article titled The Shame of College Sports in The
Atlantic, the NCAA does not put its money where its mouth is. Despite being nonprofit, the
organization still reaps in billions per year from merchandise sales and television contracts,
sparking hot debate among critics. Since student-athletes are not paid for their talents, stories of
bribery tend to spread like wildfire, and the NCAA works fast to punish those involved. For


every student that takes a bribe, however, theres another that is put on probation by the NCAA
due to obtaining consistently low grades in college. Yet, those same people almost always seem
to be pardoned just in time for an upcoming big game, especially if they are the aces that carry an
entire schools hopes on their backs. What is the problem here? Branch (2011) states that the
noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existenceamateurism and the studentathleteare cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can
exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that
some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not (p. 3).
Branch has a bold, brave, but also very extreme position on the issue of collegiate
athletics. Regardless, the article brings up questions that need to be addressed. After all, if even a
widely acknowledged athletic association cant seem to uphold its own ideal of a student-athlete,
then what does being one even mean? Furthermore, how are student-athletes educations affected
by the institution of college athletics? By investigating the effects of stereotypes on recruited
student-athletes from high school to college, and seeing how surrounding pressures may affect
ones psychological and emotional well-being, perhaps the answers to these questions will
illuminate themselves. However, the more likely scenario is that more problems will arise than
be solved. The journey from secondary to higher education varies for people of different social,
economic, and racial backgrounds, and it may be naive to believe that theres a one-size-fits-all
solution. Therefore, weve conducted our research in an exploratory fashion, hoping to unveil
hidden truths behind what being a student-athlete traditionally means, versus how this dual
identity is actually manifested in present day collegiate athletics. By doing so, we hope to gain a
better understanding of the college sports culture in the United States and use our newfound
knowledge to pave roads to better environments for student-athletes.


Athletics and High School
While college athletics and the NCAA have received heavy criticism for ignoring the
student aspect of student-athlete, high school sports have remained somewhat untouched by
the same severity of this stigma. In fact, recent studies have shown positive correlations between
high school sports participation and college enrollment, parental involvement, and class
attendance (OBriens, 2008; Veliz, 2012). Yet increasingly common headlines reveal the use of
bribery and other illicit recruiting practices, sounding an alarm. The growing importance of
organized sports in American high schools as a way out of poverty for youth, raise ethical
concerns about the role of sports in an academic institution such as high school (Hardin, 2008).
Research regarding high school athletes commonly falls onto racial lines. African
American youth often seek athletics, not education, as a path to success. Young AfricanAmericans form social identities that are heavily influenced by their neighborhood, family, and
the media. The overrepresentation of successful African-American athletes is replicated through
media, music, comedy, and cinema among other modes of popular culture. From an early age,
young people see African American athletes portrayed as the epitome of success. Presented with
far fewer examples of successful African American professionals such as lawyers and doctors,
youth form skewed notions about the likelihood to achieve success in the athletic field. Thus,
youth disproportionately choose athletics over education as an escape from poverty (Beamon,
These socialization patterns are reproduced by educators. Youth attending struggling
schools with poor graduation rates receive little focus and support for academic endeavors.
When a child displays a particular gift or talent at a sport, they are encouraged and pushed by


family and coaches and educators to persevere, and education is only mentioned in regards to
ensuring player eligibility. At this point, forming the culture of academic engagement is highly
unlikely without conscious thoughts and conscious efforts. Under performing schools become
nothing more than an eligibility requirement for high school students hoping to use athletics as a
ticket to success (Beamon, 2012). Dawkins (2008) study of 214 high school athletes in the MidAtlantic region of the country found that high school students intending to play a collegiate level
sport received significantly less education about college requirements, the importance of GPA,
and career planning from their local schools. High school counselors, who are not required to
know NCAA requirements, often failed to educate students seeking athletic scholarships on
appropriate post-graduation information. When a random selection of high school student
athletes hoping to receive athletic scholarships were selected to take a 9 week training program
on college requirements and admissions, their GPA rose dramatically compared to their fellow
high school peers who had not received the same training. Unaware of non-athletic scholarship
opportunities, many students assume that an athletic scholarship is their only way to receive an
education (Smith, 2012).
When high school athletes view sports as their only way out and receive little
encouragement to pursue academic endeavors, the college recruitment process easily earns their
commitment. Recruiters reach out to young athletes via social media and develop personal
relationships with players, all in an effort to sign them for their respective institutions. The
recruiters interests are fundamentally not in helping the student receive the best education
possible, but to acquire the player for their particular team. Young athletes are incredibly
susceptible to the persuasion and sales techniques of recruiters who make offers seem attractive
without emphasizing the academic limitations collegiate student-athletes will face, or fully


showing the risks of taking athletic scholarships. These recruitment practices further build on
the players inflated view on his or her ability to use athletics as the stepping stone to success.
Recruitment violations are not a new phenomenon, but have in fact been of concern for
the same amount of time that sports have been incorporated with college academics. The same
goes for the socio-cultural and racial dynamics perpetuated by the strong push for low-class
African-American youth to pursue professional athletics as a way out of poverty. Nonetheless,
very little literature and scholarly work from the past decade exists that examines the social and
cultural phenomenon experienced by high school athletes in the center of the recruitment
processes. While research regarding the student-athlete example within a college campus
community is prevalent, the high school years are often overlooked. It seems that debate
regarding the student-athlete at a high school level are largely held to social media and
newspapers, who in the past five years, have exposed hundreds of cases of illicit recruitment
practices, debated the ethics of heavy media attention on youth, and reflected general concern for
the future educations of young high school athletes. It is important that we fill this void with
scholarly work to better understand the way stereotype threat operates within the high school
athletic system, and the impact that the high school sport culture has on academics.
Psychology and Stress on Student Athletes Academic Performance
College students face a tremendous about of pressure, stress, and anxiety throughout their
collegiate years. For a non-student athlete this stress may be developed from the pressure to
maintain high grades and academic rigor in addition to some social anxiety depending on the
individual. Division 1 student-athletes face another stressor compared to non-student athletes;
this is the pressure, stress, and focus that comes with their sport. This can have detrimental
effects on an individuals mental health which can effect ones academic performance. Therefore,


the stress and negative impacts that come with a student-athletes sport can be translated to illfocused, poor academic performance.
Freshman year of college is a big transition full of new experiences and change which
can cause emotional anxiety and stress. A study published in Athletic Insight: Online Journal of
Sports Psychology (2003) conducted by the University of Thessaly titled The Freshman
Experience: High Stress Low Grades with the purpose being: to discuss the overall stress
levels experienced by freshmen athletes and to delineate the specific stressors that operate to
make the athletic and academic transition particularly difficult for most freshmen studentathletes (Papanikolaou, Nikolaidis, Patsiaouras, & Alexopoulos, 2003). They found that the
major problems most freshmen student-athletes face is how to adequately balance their sport
with academics; this struggle is fraught with daily decisions and results in a good deal of stress
(Papanikolaou et. al., 2003). Then, as the stress surmounts, the individuals try to cope with the
pressure which adds rather than reduces the amount of stressconsequently, their coping
efforts are often self-defeating thus increasing their levels of stress rather than diminishing it
(Papanikolaou et al., 2003). This overwhelming amount of anxiety then translates into a poor
performances in practice and games in addition to their classes.
However, this stress does not stop at the freshman level. The stress projected on studentathletes does not effect just freshmen, it follows them throughout their athletic collegiate careers.
John R. Gerdy (2006) an author, sports expert, and an All-American basketball player argues
that, because of the intense pressure to constantly show ones commitment to [sports
programs], athletes are continually forced to make decisions that would further their athletic
goals, while pushing their academic or social aspirations into the background (p. 224). This
constant pressure takes a toll psychologically and physically as a study published in the Journal


of American College Health (2010) found that injury and academics were perceived as the
most stressful factors for [student-athletes] (Selby, Weinstein, & Bird, p. 11).
The stress they experience with this dual commitment is seen first-hand by what they
choose to discuss with their physicians and sports medicine professionals. A study published in
the American Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed a survey given to these professionals to then
ask their college patient-athletes. According to the results, the three most common non-injuryrelated topics discussed were stress/pressure, anxiety, and burnout (Mann, Grana, Indelicato,
ONeill, & George, 2007, p. 2140). This is important as it shows hard evidence that comes
directly from athletes themselves. It is extremely telling of the type of psychological pressure
they are constantly under and how it regularly affects their livelihoods. Additionally, Only 19%
of all respondents indicated there were adequate numbers of sport psychologists and other mental
health professionals in their geographical area to treat the needs of athletes (Mann et al., 2007,
p. 2140). This shows that the stress experienced by student-athletes is a pressing problem that is
not adequately dealt with or solved. Therefore, perhaps this is a reason why pressure and anxiety
imposed on scholar athletes hinder their academic performances.
Student-Athlete and Institution Relationship
Student-athletes typically enroll at higher education institutions with lower verbal and
quantitative reasoning scores on standardized tests than their nonathletic peers, yet struggle with
increasing difficulty with regards to academics, especially with regard to earning good grades
and developing respect and trust of their professors. Student-athletes already have access to
academic resources such as tutors, but these difficulties that the students face may not be an issue
with college preparedness, but if students are accepted to a school and utilize resources that the


school offers to ensure success, then the problem may be in line with how student-athletes
engage with their institution and how campuses accommodate them.
More than the institution, the best indicator of academic success of student-athletes is his
or her commitment to academics. An athlete who is determined to engage in the campus
community, develop connections with their academic peers and mentors, and receiving a degree
earns higher grades, simply through their commitment to the institution and academic success.
(Comeaux, 2011b).Similarly, an athlete who is committed to participation, training and
developing personal connections within the competitive sports sphere is more likely to improve
athletic capabilities at the expense of time to improve academic capabilities. The issue with this
trade-off is that student-athletes are pushed to fully commit to one or the other to attain success,
and unfortunately commit solely to athletics as dictated by faculty and community expectations
that student-athletes are more competitive sportsmen than scholars.
This expectation comes through when talking about race and representation for student
athletes. Many of collegiate athletes in football and basketball, most popular and televised of
college sports in the United States so that participation guarantees high stakes and coverage, are
black. This inequality should already disarm how race is handled in institutions, but also paired
with the observation from Jay Coakleys Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies that black
athletes represent one of every six Black men on division one campuses, the high proportion of
athletes to non-athletes among this demographic predisposes the college athletes to feel
unwelcome and less relatable to other students (as cited in Njororai, 2012). If campuses primarily
see black students attending college to pursue athletic careers instead of academic studies, then
the stark contrast between student-athletes and their peers and the faculty in their college
communities drives them to isolation, or full commitment to either engaging as a scholar or



engaging as an athlete. This pressure to make a choice reinforces to students that the colleges
desire for well-rounded students is a sham.

Money in the NCAA

The NCAA operates on an immense budget that has been very controversial of late.
Many argue that student athletes should receive compensation for their efforts, bringing to
attention a crucial question of whether these students are in college to receive an education or to
participate in a for-profit system. Though the NCAA itself is a nonprofit, member institutions
make large sums of money on sports tournaments at the expense of their student athletes.
Mark Schlabach (2011) of ESPN performs a complete look into the massive NCAA
budget and where exactly it is going. Drawing from the NCAA itself as his source, Schlabach
(2011) reports that in 2010-2011 the total NCAA budget was $757 million. Of this, sixty percent
of revenue goes directly to member schools with an additional thirty-six percent distributed to
schools via programs and services. The remaining four percent is allocated to NCAA
administrative costs. The organization spends $22.4 million (3 percent of total budget) annually
on academic support programs and $151 million (20 percent) on scholarships for student athletes
and other forms of student aid. The remaining money is allocated to member schools in the form
of tournament funding, the vast majority of which is paid to schools participating in the March
Madness basketball tournament, and general funding for colleges' varsity sports programs. Much
of the NCAA's income comes from a 14 year, $10.8 billion television contract to air the March
Madness tournament.
Jon Solomon (2013) found that in the 2012-2013 college football season, all participating
institutions made a profit. In total seven percent ($31 million of $446 million) of gross receipts



were kept as net income. Solomon (2013) includes a table showing payouts received per athletic
conference and conference expenses, which shows that in almost all cases the payout was more
than twice the total expenses.
Chris Fuhrmeister (2013) writes on former Division I college football player Arian
Foster's experiences. Foster, who played for the University of Tennessee, admitted that while in
college, he and team members often struggled to pay for food and rent. He admits that he was
receiving money from his coach to cover these expenses, which is an NCAA violation. Foster
also mentions that it was clear that his coach was amply wealthy, implying that there is clearly
money circulating, though none of it is going to the players themselves.
Overall it is clear that there is a huge amount of money involved in Division I college
athletics. The question of whether student athletes should receive compensation is one apart from
the question of education. But what is closely linked to education for student athletes is the fact
that for coaches and colleges themselves, there is a large financial motivation for these students
to perform well on the field or in the court. This system cannot possibly lead to an environment
where academics are the main focus in these students' lives.
James Boker, Ex-University of Washington walk-on football player
Our first case study was intended to investigate the student athlete and the way they have
to balance academics and athletics. We were interested in getting more of the nittygritty details
about student athletes educations outside of the NCAA slogan thousands of us go pro in
something other than sports.
Our investigation is centered on a former University of Washington (UW) walk-on
football player from Redmond, Washington: James Boker. I (Chris Shimer) met James during fall



quarter of the 2013-2014 school year. After we had first met, we briefly talked about his tenure
on the football team at the UW and why he had departed, citing the lack of emphasis on
academics as one of his reasons. I remembered this conversation we had and decided to approach
James for a more in depth conversation about his departure for the team as I thought he may have
some interesting factoids or opinions on the student athlete contradiction. He politely agreed to
meet with me and I sat down with James for a thirteen-minute interview and we discussed in
much more detail the pressures that he felt as an athlete both from his coaches and academic
I opened up the conversation by reminding James of the talk we had and my
understanding of his reasons for leaving the football team. James said that it was very known to
a lot of athletes that if youre going to play division one sports most of the time youre not
going to get the degree that you want, unless you put in that extra effort Because a lot of the
time schedules dont match up and coaches dont want you to take these higher level classes that
take time away from the sports (J. Boker, personal communication, March 6, 2014)
James went on to emphasize that there is pressure from coaches to focus on the sport
rather than school based on the necessity for them to win. He said without winning coaches are
going to be fired and out of a job, so there is a reason for them to emphasize the sport more than
academics, at least in his experience.
James then gave an interesting anecdote about a meeting he had with an academic advisor
early on in his tenure with the team. James said they gave me a list of courses I could take (and)
all of them were not very interesting and they were really easy. He attributed this to scheduling
conflicts with practice and other football related activities. James said that other options for



classes were not even presented to them, and the classes that were presented to them forced them
toward majors that were easier and less time consuming.
After some talk about his current situation in school, James began to speak to the
atmosphere that is created in division one football and what the priorities are in that specific
culture. James said The overwhelming majority, yah know, these guys come here to play
football You go to play football, you dont go to school As bad as that sounds They see
this opportunity to play football and they are like Okay thats what Im going to do. Im going to
do football and the coaches sell them on that A lot of these guys dont take school that
seriously but it doesnt necessarily help that the coaches are just pushing them toward the sport
instead of having an equal playing ground where youre doing school as well as the sport.
We concluded our conversation with some talk about stereotype threat in athletics. James
talked about the dumb jock stereotype and he felt as though that was imposed on him from the
instant he stepped off of the football field. He cited stories about people only knowing him as a
football player, rather than a multidimensional human being. He said that it is very difficult to
shake that stereotype without a lot of intentional effort to make it known that people are more
than just their sport.
I finished off the interview by thanking him for his time and for speaking so openly and
honestly about the topic. James was a pleasure to talk to and was very insightful about the
academic portion of a major division one sport.

Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at UW

Up until sixth grade, Ed Taylor had been receiving his fair share of awards for
outstanding academic achievement, which was something he was proud of. In seventh grade,
however, these accolades shifted towards those of an athletic nature. Ed had started playing



basketball in junior high, and he wasnt even that good. Clearly, his school thought otherwise,
because Ed found himself bringing home trophies that he didnt want (personal communication,
March 7th, 2014).
Eventually, Ed became a strange sort of teenage celebrity. At the end of high school, four
out of five people who signed Eds yearbooks mentioned basketball somehow. If they didnt
comment on his height (the tall guy!), they went straight to the big leagues (youre going to
go pro!) (Appendix 2). Even the people in his neighborhood jumped on the bandwagon. One
day after school, Ed dropped by a corner store that he frequented. Upon seeing him, the clerk
immediately said, Hey, Ed! Nice game yesterday! You know, you could work a bit on your left
I just went in there to get a twinkie, Ed said, laughing as he recalled the incident.
Growing up in a Southern California valley, his experience probably wasnt that strange in
retrospect. The neighborhood Ed lived in provided what he called three distinct pathways that
kids there could end up following. One path was to do what Ed did and navigate his way through
a working class high school to get through graduation (and hopefully, eventually through
college). The other two paths lead to the nearby Air Force Base and federal prison.
For the kids who managed to go to college, this often meant becoming a student-athlete.
Ed found out hed been drafted in his sophomore year of high school. He was eating his lunch
and minding his own business when his coach started walking towards him. As people around
them saw the white envelope held up high in the coachs hand, they stood up and began to cheer.
It was like a crowd was lifting him up, Ed had said. You start to see opportunity in places
that you otherwise wouldnt. Sure enough, Ed attended Gonzaga University, a Jesuit liberal arts
college with a powerhouse basketball team.



It seems like all ended well and happy, but looking back now, all the early social and
identity formation surrounding his persona as an African American athlete bothered Ed a bit. I
didnt realize how problematic it was back then, Ed commented. He went on to wonder whether
a white guy who had all the same growth spurts as he did would be as successful as Ed ended up
being. After all, there was a clear bias towards poverty-to-success stories for dark-skinned
athletes in his neighborhood, and Eds story was one of them. Narratives of kids who became
doctors or lawyers, on the other hand, were rare.
As the current vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the
University of Washington, Ed hasnt stopped pondering these questions regarding collegiate
athletics. In fact, even more dilemmas have piled up, now that he finds himself on the other side
of the looking glass. Whose interests are fundamentally being served? Ed asks himself, when
coaches come to the admissions committee on behalf of a rejected student, hoping to get that kid
a jersey on his back so he can shoot hoops on a basketball court or score touchdowns on a
football field. Does the concept of the student-athlete have integrity? And most importantly,
how is this integrity being served? For instance, what do you do when you know some of these
students wont be able to stick around for more than one or two years, simply because of their
below average performance in high school? Do you let them in anyways?
At this point, Ed brought up a conversation he once had with Scott Woodward, the
director of athletics at the University of Washington. Some men and women are better off
coming [to UW] than staying in their neighborhood, Woodward had said, because even if those
students arent going to stay, they at least have the chance to mature and develop relationships. It
also allows for a more diverse community.



As one who has been through the collegiate athletics system and came out successful, Ed
believes that sports shouldnt be seen as the only way out of life, but it can be one of the
many ways to be excellent. After all, only the truly talented can thrive in sports, and should be
seen as a form of intelligence. Just like jazz musicians that become engrossed in their
performances, athletes can reach that zone of pure concentration where they truly play at their
best. Therefore, the real question becomes, what does excellence look like, and how do you
teach to that level of excellence? In this regard, Ed believes that a liberal arts education is
valuable and shouldnt be lost. After all, he said, we want [students] to be excellent in their
craft, but we also want them to be well-rounded citizens.
However, there seems to be an overall disconnect between Eds beliefs and how the UW
recruitment process currently works. A handful of majors are immediately eliminated if a student
is accepted as an athlete. Ed took business as his example. There are kids with low test scores
and 2.5 GPAs who want to apply to the Foster School of Business, and they see becoming
athletes as their ticket there. We lead them theyll get to the path they want to take, Ed said.
The reality is, those kids probably wont be accepted to the department at all. (And even if they
find their way in, its doubtful that their extensive athletic schedule will leave any room for the
classes theyll need to take to complete their majors.)
Although the UW harbors its fair share of faults, Ed believes that the university does have
a high ethical constellation of coaches. A huge source of the problem regarding the concept of
a student-athlete actually arises from the media, which tends to swap the order of those terms
around. Back in Eds college days, there was no internet. ESPN was just starting up, and people
only had access to games through the radio. If we made mistakes, it didnt last, Ed said. Now,
however, the scope of the game has changed completely. Too often has Ed heard of talk shows



that call in 19-year-oldsstudents not even legal to consume alcoholand start talking both to
and about them as if they were full-time, paid, and professional adults. You dont have the right
to give [those kids] a nickname, Ed said.

Student-Athletes or Just Athletes? Scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is nationally known for its highly ranked
sports programs, especially football and basketball. Its basketball team has won five NCAA
March Madness tournaments, including in 2005 and 2009. This has always been a source of
pride for students, faculty and Carolinians alikeuntil recent years, when scandal tarnished the
Tar Heels' name. Through multiple investigations and faculty statements it has come to light that
the UNC has been in some cases providing their athletes with a seriously compromised
It began to come to the public's attention when UNC student and basketball player
Michael McAdoo was deemed temporarily ineligible for competition because a student tutor had
provided him with excessive assistance on a term paper. Upon close inspection of McAdoo's
transcript, it was discovered that a major essay he had received credit for was largely plagiarized.
Further investigation led to questions regarding the validity of the entire course he had written
the paper for, and eventually, the professor who taught the course (Barrett, 2014).
As it turned out, Julius Nyang'oro, then chair of the African and Afro-American Studies
Department, had been offering compromised classes for years. These classes were populated by
mostly athletes, and allowed them to receive an A or B grade regardless of work completed.
Lectures for the class were never actually held, and the students' entire grade was based on
whether or not they turned in a product, no matter what the quality, for their final paper. Advisors
were quoted as saying it wasn't clear whether anyone was even reading the papers (Barrett).



The University conducted a full investigation of the department in question, which concluded
that since the mid 1990s, over 200 of these compromised (to varying degrees) courses had been
offered. Reviewers also found 560 cases of grades being fraudulently altered and grade sheets
with forged faculty signatures. Additionally Nyang'oro signed off on many students' 'independent
study' courses without giving adequate supervision. Ultimately Nyang'oro and one department
administration member were given full blame and dismissed from the University (Barrett).
The school issued a public apology and attempted to move on from the shameful
occurrence. But more scandal was soon forthcoming. Mary Willingham went public with her
experiences as an academic advisor for athletes, describing the situation in an investigative
article from CNN:
Early in her career as a learning specialist, Mary Willingham was in her office when a
basketball player at the University of North Carolina walked in looking for help with his
classwork. He couldn't read or write. "And I kind of panicked. What do you do with
that?" she said, recalling the meeting...And then she found he was not an anomaly. Soon,
she'd meet a student-athlete who couldn't read multisyllabic words. She had to teach him
to sound out Wis-con-sin, as kids do in elementary school. And then another came with
this request: If I could teach him to read well enough so he could read about himself in
the news, because that was something really important to him, Willingham said. (Ganim,
In 2009 Willingham completed a Master's thesis on the topic of college athletes and academic
performance. When her research became popularized following the Nyang'oro incident, it
prompted a public outrage. Willingham, basing her findings on literacy tests she performed on



183 student athletes, found that 60 percent of those surveyed had between fourth- and eighthgrade reading levels. Another 10 percent achieved at or below the third-grade level (Barrett).
These findings shocked the public, but what was even more surprising was the response
from others involved in the student-athlete industry. Richard Southall, director of the College
Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, said on the issue: We pretend that
its feasible to recruit high school graduates with minimal academic qualifications, give them a
full-time job as a football or basketball player at a Division I NCAA school, and somehow have
them get up to college-level reading and writing skills at the same time that theyre enrolled in
college-level classes...were all kidding ourselves. (Barrett). And the same CNN investigation
cited above unearthed a multitude of evidence that UNC was not a unique case.
A professor at the University of Oklahoma found that 10 percent of revenue-sport athletes
read at or below the fourth-grade level. A former University of Tennessee faculty member stated
that athletes were placed in programs where they did not have to meet the normal graduation
requirements, saying that athletes came to the school illiterate and left the school still
functionally illiterate. Brenda Monk, a learning specialist at Florida State University, stated that
she saw athletes reading at the second- and third-grade level. The list goes on and on.
The general response from universities has been defensive. A UNC administrator publicly
called Willingham a liar, and in general universities have taken the position that many of their
students come to them with learning disabilities which can eventually be overcome with
intensive tutoring. In response to this, Kadence Otto, a former instructor at Florida State
University, commented, "Honestly, it feels to me it's like trying to turn a Little League Baseball
player into a pro (Ganim).



University of Washington Board of Regents

Purpose: In this session we hope to bring the issues associated with the student-athlete role to
the attention of University of Washington's (UW) Board of Regents. The Board serves as the
highest level of administration for the school as a whole, and therefore has a lot of say in how
issues are dealt with. Bringing this topic to the forefront of their attention could be a crucial step
in moving forward and making big changes to the current system.
Context: We are presenting to the UW Board of Regents at their next meeting, which is being
held in May. This group of people is made up entirely of business CEOs, with the exception of
one student position which is currently held by a student working towards her Master's degree in
Communications. The Board spends time meeting as a whole and also is comprised of three subcommittees: the Governance Committee, the Academic and Student Affairs Committee and the
Finance and Asset Management Committee. Due to their common background, this group as a
whole is business-minded, but many members also hold a strong interest in student well-being
and the overall academic experience being offered at the University.

Materials Needed: For the second half of the exercise we will be joined by a group of
representatives from the Student Athlete Academic Services (SAAC) office, including an
administrator of the program, an advisor who counsels student athletes on their academics, and a
well-qualified tutor (a UW student).

Method: For the first thirty minutes or so of the session, we will take time to fully describe the
issue to our audience. Topics covered will include:



-A brief introduction on how sports can be very beneficial to students by providing a

healthy form of stress relief and fun while enforcing important values and life skills
-Talking about how when they get too competitive and high-stakes, athletics actually
create stress in students rather than relieve it
-Connecting this concept to the system of intense varsity/televised sports in place today.
Athletes are under intense amounts of pressure to do well for a variety of reasons: public
pressure, money involved through coach salary/monetary prizes for school for winning
tournaments/conferences, how currently college athletics are the path to pro athletics
-Detrimental effects to students: stress for above reasons, unable to complete desired
majors because of sports schedules
-Essential question: why are these students in school? Is it to receive an enriching
education or participate in what are essentially extracurricular activities?
The next thirty minutes of the exercise would allow the board to split up into their three
committees and discuss the issue. The Governance Committee, the Academic and Student Affairs
Committee and the Finance and Asset Management Committee would talk about: feasibility of
making administrative changes, how to effectively support student athletes' learning, and how to
deal with the role that money plays in this system, respectively.
Finally the last hour would be spent coming back together as a large group. We would be
joined by representatives from the SAAC, who would lead a discussion on potential changes to
be made, roadblocks to these changes, and first steps to be taken in implementing these changes.
SAAC members would speak on behalf the student athletes, being well-informed on the state of
athletes' educations.
The session would conclude with a review of the UW Mission statement:



The University of Washington educates a diverse student body to become responsible

global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed
by cutting-edge scholarship. Discovery is at the heart of our university. We discover
timely solutions to the worlds most complex problems and enrich the lives of people
throughout our community, the state of Washington, the nation and the world.
We would remind the Board that this is the core purpose of our school and that all student
programs should ultimately be run with this in mind.

Division I Coaches
Purpose: The purpose of this conference is to convince a group of D-1 basketball coaches to
structure practice schedules and all athletic events with their players academic success held to
highest priority. It is key that each coach leaves the meeting with a full understanding of why
players academic success is of such importance outside of their eligibility to participate in
collegiate athletics and how they can serve an important role in implementing new policy that
favors education.

Context: Mounting criticism regarding the lack of academic focus for student-athletes erupted
in a series of vocal protests outside major D-1 college stadiums. In order to appease the growing
group of angry citizens before the arrival of March Madness, the NCAA announced it would take
a series of steps in order to help improve the academic experiences for its student-athletes around
the country. One part in this plan involves educating D-1 coaches to be support systems for both
the academic and athletic endeavors of the players they coach. This NCAA sponsored two hour
conference attended by 40 regional basketball coaches is an event in which coaches can learn



more about supporting their players educations. The coaches care deeply about their players
well-being, but are unaware of the core issues at hand and are skeptical of any attack on college

Materials Needed: For this conference we will need four or five tables, a projection screen, two
guest speakers, and a catered lunch.

Method: Before beginning, secure two former division 1 athletes.

1. Set up small round tables so that the coaches are forced to sit in small groups of six or seven.
Serve food to create a more casual style conference and to foster a comfortable atmosphere.
2. Have the speaker introduce herself, qualifications as a former D-1 athlete, researcher, and
educator. Allow her to explain her intentions (to work with the coaches to understand the best
environment and policies for student-athletes). Display a short statement of the conferences
mission on a projector during this introduction. Invite questions.
3. Introduce the core issue: student-athletes participation in athletics inhibits their ability to
receive the same quality education as their non-athlete peers. Show data reflecting the list of
basketball players majors at each of the college represented at the conference (without
players names).
4. Invite discussion, questions and concerns. Take a short break to eat lunch (in hopes that the
data will have sparked conversation).
5. Regain the attention. Again, ask for discussion, questions and concerns. Introduce two former
D-1 basketball players and recent graduates who will, one at a time, share their experience as



a student-athlete. The first speaker is a Communications major and the second speaker quit
the basketball team after one year to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics.
6. Invite questions.
7. Facilitate discussion by asking first the former players, and then the coaches, how we can
improve the athletes academic experiences.
8. At the conferences closing, reiterate the issues and the suggestions raised during the
discussion. Thank the coaches for working together to create better experiences for the
9. Use concerns posed during the discussions to format the following conference.

University of Washington Academic Advisors and Admissions Officers

Purpose: A plan for teaching five two-hour sessions to address the issue within each of these 3
case study/ portraits. Our goal for this two-hour session is to highlight the injustice in the
academic lives of athletes in regards to their academic lives on campus. This is prompted by our
conversations with Dr. Ed Taylor and James Boker and some of the insights into the student
portion of the student-athlete.

Context: We are going to address this session to a group of academic advisors and admissions
officials because this is where we see a majority of the issues arise. We are going to have this be
a serious come to Jesus meeting. We really want to highlight the misleading of prospective
student athletes about the academic portion of their college experience and see if we can band
this group together to help us make radical change to the student athlete contradiction.



Materials: Projector, white board laptop, Wifi, sharpies, butcher paper, tape, scissors, open

Method: Before the academic advisors and admissions officials arrives, we would set up the
room. We envision ourselves writing a quote from Ed Taylor during our interview with him, We
lead them to believe theyll get to the path they want to take. We would write this on the board
and then pull the projector screen down in front of it. We would then connect our laptop to the
projector and have Chris interview with James Boker ready to be played when everyone arrives.
After everyone is settled, we would roll the video and have them watch what James had
to say about the state of college athletics. We think it would be surprising to some and
unsurprising to others. But it would get them to think about the issue at hand.
Once the video is finished, we would lift the projector screen to reveal the Ed Taylor
quote. At this point we would hope the group is rattled that the dean of the school is taking issue
with the way we are treating student athletes. It would hopefully raise thoughts of infantilization
of the student athletes, or at least get them to realize that the athletes do not focus on their
education in any way, shape, or form.
One of us would then give a short speech about the issues we see in the phrase studentathlete and attempt to evoke some sort of remorse or guilt in the audience. This will be the
tough part though, because there is a clear boundary between making them feel guilty and
criminalizing them. That being said, it would be important to highlight systemic issues that have
arisen, which make it necessary for the lack of emphasis on academics, while showing the
audience that they are the ones who are in control of changing that emphasis.



From there we would like to get much more dialogic and have all these educated people
respond to what we have presented to them. We would first give them a little break to allow them
to digest all the information we just threw at them and let them catch their breath and gather their
thoughts. After a short little intermission we would ask for their ideas and opinions on what was
just presented to them. We would try and steer them toward reformation and things like that. I
think they will have plenty to say on the subject at hand so this could go in a million different
directions, but the end point needs to be ways to change the system.
Once we get to that point we would break them off into a few different groups with
sharpies and butcher paper allowing them to collectively think about the issues at hand and ways
to alter the focus in intercollegiate athletics. Once they have it all brainstormed, we would have
them share back to the whole group and start to make a cohesive and holistic list of changes that
could be made.
This would be the end of the session and at this point we hope to have recruited enough
powerful people in the university to join with us in an effort to make a greater emphasis on
academics in athletics.

Purpose: The purpose of this lesson plan is to conduct a two-hour session to address the issue of
stress management and mental training for collegiate student-athletes. It will help teach studentathletes how to appropriately manage the stress that comes with juggling athletics, academics,
and their overall busy schedule.



Context: College students in general face a remarkable amount of pressure and anxiety to do
well in academics but student-athletes have the added pressure of succeeding in their sport too.
These scholar athletes are forced to prioritize their commitments which result in their sport being
ordered above their academics. This then results in an intense amount of pressure, stress, and
anxiety. However, there are several proven activities and skills that can be developed in order to
better manage and fight this stress. These can then be implemented in high pressure
circumstances to remain more level-headed and avoid constant, continual, unhealthy stress.
The group for this teaching would range from about 20-30 students all in different grade
levels and sports. Or, another way of implementing this is doing so as a team activity.

Materials Needed: Pen/pencil, Notebook/journal, Ready to Play by Ron Chamberlain Ph.D.

Method: We will begin our lesson plan by having the students fold their paper in thirds. In the
first third we will give the group a few minutes to brainstorm and list their current main stressors.
Is it the championship? Injuries? Staying on top of classes? The upcoming midterm? In the
second column they will write down why their stressor is a point of anxiety. For example, I need
to do well on this final or else I will fail the class or I am afraid my ankle sprain will not heal in
time for the game. In the last third, they will brainstorm action they can take to reduce their stress
levels. For example, I will go to office hours and review or I will make sure to do my physical
therapy and ice regularly for my injury.
Then we will introduce and explain Albrechts Four Types of Stress which are: time
stress, anticipatory stress, situational stress, and encounter stress. We would put this idea on a



power point or some type of visual aid. Then, after we have clarified each type of stress we
would ask them to write the category of stress next to his or her own brainstormed list.
This activity produces a visual map of what, why, and how to defeat their personal
stresses. Then, we will ask for volunteers to share an example of what they wrote down. Since
the group is composed of student-athletes, perhaps they are more willing to share their
experiences since some of them probably have similarities. Additionally, as a warm-up activity, it
helps each individual focus on him or herself throughout the class and in the rest of the activities.

Then, we will conduct a lesson on guided imagery/visualization as a tool for mental stress
management, especially time and anticipatory stress. We will explain what exactly guided
imagery is so the class knows what to expect. It is where you use your imagination and imagery
to relax yourself and feel more peaceful and calm. Although this sounds silly at first, we will
emphasize that studies and research have found that using this technique greatly reduces stress
levels and enhances athletic and academic performance. We will also show a video of an elite
athlete explaining his/her method of visualization (there is a great video of Ryan Lochte an
Olympic swimmer explaining his guided imagery). Found at:
v=6wkH0yFZXBE .
We will then guide the class in visualization and begin by turning off the lights to help
make the setting more quiet and relaxed. We will emphasize trying to use all your senses while
closing your eyes and following this guided imagery. First, we will make sure the class is quiet
and then tell the class/each individual to imagine a comfortable setting (your bedroom, the beach,
the field etc. ) and simply relax. You can imagine a vacation or winning a gold-metal; by letting
your mind drift to a place and access your imagination, it relaxes and helps de-stress the body.



Afterwards, we will get feedback as to how this experience went for individuals and point
to them towards Ron Chamberlains book which discusses how to mentally train and manage
stress in athletics and academics. It is an easy to read, paperback book that is full of information
and each section has a journal entry prompt. We would explain the benefits of keeping a stress
journal as a technique to better understand the sources of stresses in your life and how to beat
them. The idea of a journal and the reference to Dr. Chamberlains book allows the mental
training to continue on their terms and not just one time in the lesson.

Prospective Athletes in Division-1 Schools

Purpose: Through these workshops that take place during summer bridge day camps, we wanted
to address how high school students priorities shift while enrolled as a student-athlete. By
offering this day camp as a way for student-athletes to interact with their institution in a lowstakes environment and assess his or her intentions as both student and athlete, we hope that they
begin, if they have not already started, to make conscious decisions that are in line with their

Context: The real tragedy for student-athletes is coming to realization that their commitment to
athletics and education will conflict in time consumption and values, eventually dropping
academics or competitive sports.
These student-athletes would be in a summer bridge designed for graduating high school
seniors going into freshman year, but is not required for attendance. While the students are
attending the day-camp, they spend their time meeting and bonding with other student-athletes,



acquainting themselves with campus resources and faculty, as well as getting a sense of their
college priorities and goals.

Materials Needed: Loose-leaf sheets of paper or journals, or computers if space offers them

Method: This workshop takes place during the day camp for an hour a day, exploring questions
that ask the students to reflect on identities and goals within a private journal, online or on paper.
For each of the workshop sessions, we ask the prospective students one of the following
questions to write about:
o Where and who did you grow up with?
o Who are you as a student?
o Who are you as an athlete?
o What is important to you?
o What do you hope to accomplish at the institution?
Through the first prompt, we hope to give the students an opportunity to draw from their
upbringings, backgrounds, and pasts to define their identities. From there, we expect that the
students investigate their core values and consider their origins when contemplating the present
and future. The next two questions ask the student-athlete to define themselves through
academics and athletics, and through self-determining this identity that became the crux of their
student status, the student would then discover his or her balance of education in both realms.
The last two prompts are meant to allow the student to guide himself or herself through their
time at the institution. Often for student-athletes, day-to-day obligations and abundance of tasks
obscure the big picture of how the student wants to see himself or herself on graduation day.



Does the student want to graduate as a business major? A renowned athlete? A community
leader? Even though this image could change during the college experience, having a mission to
return to is invaluable when the students are in confusion.
More than anything, this workshop would reinforce the intentions of the prospective
student-athlete and provide a moment for the students to reflect on and self-determine qualities
that are truly valuable in a college experience, as well as life outside of higher education. If
student-athletes have a clearer idea of their goals and values prior to starting college, then their
academic and athletic careers would be guided by intentionality and resolution.

When we first ventured into the realm of college sports culture, we had an agenda in
mind, and that was to find the answers to two seemingly simple questions. What does being a
student-athlete look like, and how does the institution of collegiate athletics affect the education
quality of those involved? As all journeys have a beginning, we looked at high school as the
launching point for our investigation. From there, we hoped that one thing would lead to another,
eventually taking us on a straightforward path towards college and beyond. Maybe we would
encounter a couple of fork roads along the way, and perhaps wed have to double back to check
that we were traveling in the right direction. However, as more and more questions came up
during our search, we ended up getting a labyrinth of uncharted territory in return.
Being in high school is tough enough as it is, having to deal with puberty, hormones, and
thoughts of the impending future. For current and prospective student-athletes, however, being
recruited to play for a college team is a way to cut past some of the pit stops required to attend
university. However, this luxury comes at a cost, because theres more to college sports than



lending your time for a couple hours of practice and games. Instead of giving some people the
chance to pursue their interests, sports only adds another layer of pressure, although it may not
always be apparent to the person directly affected. For instance, stress resulting from having to
juggle academics and athletics, and often failing to find the right balance, is a common burden
for student-athletes of all types. African-Americans, however, tend to be affected most, not
necessarily because they are expected to perform poorly, but because of the stereotype
surrounding dark-skinned individuals having high athleticism.
This stereotype begins early and internalizes quickly because it is perpetuated by the
media. On TV, we saw Miami Heats Lebron James overcome a childhood marked by
homelessness and poverty to become the 4th highest paid athlete in the world in 2013. Inspiring
stories of people who rose from the ranks of an average kid shooting hoops for fun, to a high
school star hounded by college recruiters, reinforce the social norm of associating athleticism
with African-Americans. We hoped to investigate how such effects of stereotype threat manifests
in early high school, but our research revealed an overwhelming tendency to overlook how
crucial secondary education is on a students social identity formation.
For instance, Ed Taylor shared with us his memories of receiving awards for his academic
achievements as a young student, before he emerged as a basketball star. Why did his community
not immediately celebrate his academic successes and push him to exploit his aptitude for
learning as a way out? He guessed that being an African-American, and a really tall one at that,
had something to do with it. The moment Taylor exhibited even a slight aptitude for the game of
basketball, he was pegged an athlete, a position that his community would foster throughout the
following years. From the way his community recognized him as the towns basketball star, to
the encouragement he received from teachers, Taylors social identity structured around his skills



and value as a basketball player. Although this is just one example out of many, it is still one
story where fickle things such as race and sports culture intertwine with societal biases to
produce a student-athlete.
Although the race dialogue is rampant in high school, it doesnt stop there. Ed Taylor also
confirmed that the vast majority of recruited student-athletes tend to be African-American, at
least in the University of Washington. Altogether, these findings served as a major theme that
popped up throughout our exploration: race matters, although we dont know why. Is there an
overwhelming amount of research done on African-American individuals because we are trying
to understand where the societal assumption that they will excel at sports comes from? Or does
the average African-American really have a higher chance of becoming a successful athlete than
the average white American, or any other type of American for that matter? In the end, the
question of stereotypes becomes a larger one of public morals, values, and judgments that
actually extends beyond the world of college athletics.
One thing that does seem to unite most student-athletes regardless of race, however,
seems to be the grades they go into college with. For example, drafted athletes typically enroll at
higher education institutions with lower verbal and quantitative reasoning scores on standardized
tests than their non-athletic peers. There could be multiple reasons for this, but the most common
narrative is that student-athletes usually dont need high scores in order to play ball. Thus, it
makes sense that they would be admitted as long as they had their athletic talents to offer the
However, there are obviously exceptions to this crass generalization. For instance, a
student-athlete who is determined to engage in the campus community, develop connections with
their academic peers and mentors, and receive a degree earns higher grades. The reason? He or



she is more committed to the institution and academic success. Similarly, a student-athlete who
chooses to spend that same amount of time participating, training, and developing personal
connections within the competitive sports world is more likely to improve their athletic
capabilities at the expense of their academics. The problem with this trade-off is exactly as it
presents itself: student-athletes are often pushed to fully commit to one or the other identity. If
you choose like James Boker did and put academics before athletics, then you often have to
withdraw from sports. However, since the majority of student-athletes are recruited for their
athletic abilities (and are therefore on athletic scholarships), they choose to commit to sports
instead. Here, the idealized model of the student-athlete becomes nothing more than a
contradiction. Why do we collectively label student-athletes as such if most of them focus on
athletics, despite the amount of variation among individuals? What happens to the student half of
the identity?
When we looked closer at this phenomenon, we realized that it wasnt just a clean trend
of student-athletes freely choosing to devote more time to sports. Rather, their environment
simply didnt allow the athletes a chance to develop as scholarly thinkers. Because studentathletes carry the burden of having dual identities, this causes an immeasurable amount of stress
and poor performance both on the field and in the classroom. This stress is as much as an
encumbrance on an individuals success as it is difficult to find a balance between the two.
Optimistically speaking, college years should be full of expanding ones learning and delving
deep into personal interests. Instead, student-athletes are limited in the classes and majors
available to them. Since they are required to work their academics around their practice
schedules, athletes often do not have time to immerse themselves in their studies. In other words,
opting for success on the field means falling behind in class and watching your grades drop. A



major revision is in order if we want to decrease the monopolization of sports for those who wish
to pursue academics interests as well.
Unfortunately, the distractions do not stop there for student-athletes. Another major
theme of our findings lay in the issue of money. The system currently in place revolves around
earnings for institutions, coaches and players alike. NCAA colleges make money off of
conferences and tournaments, while Division I coaches make extravagant salaries. Studentathletes, though not paid while in college, are often working toward multi-million dollar salaries
in the NFL or NBA. This creates a strong motive from all parties to push these athletes to their
limits. The overall result of this is that for these students, if it comes down to it, athletics will
almost always come before academics.
It is virtually impossible for a student-athlete to give proper attention to their studies
under these circumstances. The practice and game schedule for varsity sports is exceedingly
demanding, often to the point of restricting players to a subset of less challenging, less time
consuming majors. In response to this, many schools have put into practice special tutoring
programs and academic advisors for their athletes. This is a helpful step, but ultimately often not
enough. For 'special-admit' athletic scholarship students who would not otherwise have been
admitted to their institution, expecting them to keep up in classes which are beyond their current
abilities while attending countless hours of sports practices is simply asking too much.
The ultimate takeaway is that its simply not feasible for students to be fully invested in
both academics and this sort of high-stakes athletics. There is simply too much riding on the
success or failure of these athletes on the court or field. Removing the prospect of high profits
from the equation would likely lead to a system which was better able to put proper focus on
students' educations.



However, living in the greedy, sports obsessed world that we do, removing profitability
from the equation is highly unlikely, if not impossible. This brings us to a whole new issue: what
is a reasonable and realistic solution to the issues that have arisen throughout our research?
Despite the sad truths weve uncovered along the way, we acknowledge that the United States is
unique in its love for college athletics. Thus, we have come to the conclusion that it would be
irresponsible to pose a viable reformation strategy without much more extensive research. Even
though we made remarkable headway in two and a half weeks, the labyrinth we are navigating is
much too complex to escape at this moment. We could take James Bokers interview as fact and
apply it to all student-athletes academic experiences. We could make Ed Taylor the all powerful
and all knowing scholar in regards to student-athletes. We could assume every division one
university is just like University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. However, it would not be wise to
generalize these three examples to the entire United States population at large. It would be even
less wise to create a holistic reform based off of the shallow depth of knowledge we have
obtained thus far.
For this investigation, we focused primarily on the effects of stereotypes, stress, and
college environment on the student-athlete. Topics such as a deeper look at the NCAA,
secondary education, the way out phenomenon, and narratives of students who have positively
benefited from athletics are important future directions to take if we hope to gain a better
understanding of American sports culture. After all, a country can only function as well as the
citizens who reside in it. Thats why we hope that conducting more research in this field will lead
people to realize that sports in America has become more than just recreation. Its a way of life,
and it should at least be possible for us to support student-athletes academically and emotionally
so they can lead healthy lives.





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1) Link to interview with James Boker:

2) Ed Taylor showed us some signatures in his high school yearbook to highlight the way he was
only thought of as a basketball player. We took pictures so that we could share it with the world.





Rosalie Bigongiari
I have always been somewhat perplexed by those who do not enjoy learning. Since
before I was old enough to attend school, I have derived nothing but pleasure from experiences
that involved intellectual challenge and new ideas. It was for this reason that this project topic so
interested me. I had gone through my primary and secondary education alongside numerous
students whose attitude appeared to me to amount to: school is dumb, sports are fun. That is
not to say that intellectually engaged students, myself included, cannot enjoy athletic pursuits.
But there has always been a clear subset of students for which school is simply an obligation
while sports are an obsession.
I initially envisioned our project as a study on the American high school's sports-oriented
culture. I was highly surprised when I read that it was not uncommon for high school teachers to
enter the profession only because they wanted to coach a sports team. And I had always been
skeptical of the college athletic recruitment process, especially after seeing peers get to bypass
the lengthy college application cycle and receive free tickets in to selective universities. The
ultimate question that I wanted to explore was: what is the deal with those who voluntarily
involve themselves in the world of school, but do not have a strong interest in education? In
other words, are our schools serving a central purpose in some peoples' lives that is not the
pursuit of learning?
The process of completing our project was unbelievably dynamic. We spent at least a
week researching the general topic of sports in education, during which we changed the focus of
our project multiple times. We finally settled on the idea of exploring the NCAA and its effect on
college athletes' lives. At the time I was not overly enthused about the idea. I knew absolutely



nothing about college sports. After a year and a half at UW, I have still never attended any Husky
spectator sporting event. The extent of my knowledge about the NCAA came from my AP
Calculus class, where we received extra credit based on the accuracy of March Madness brackets
that we filled out at the beginning of the tournament. It seemed to me at the time that we were
heading into territory that would involve researching NCAA statistics and sports-related
As it turned out, I personally spent a lot of time reading about both of those things. And
the more I researched, the more interested I became. It became clear that college sports, college
academics and general educational philosophy were far more closely related than I had expected.
I spent hours doing outside reading that I knew would not be included in the project, simply
because I was too interested to turn away from the article about a college football player who
spent time each night reading first-grade How to Read books (The Education of Dasmine
Cathey, from the Chronicle of Higher Education).
And the more I read, the more it became clear that I was, in fact, investigating the
question that had originally sparked my interest. College athletics represented a facet of the
American education system that was almost entirely separate from the classroom side of things.
It has become a cultural norm for colleges to contain two subsets of students: the larger and more
traditional group, who are at school to learn, get a degree and improve job prospects, and the
full-ride scholarship athletes, for whom college was a necessary step on their way to the NFL or
NBA. These students are not to blame; they have no choice but to participate in this system if
their dream is to end up in the world of pro sports. But the fact remains that we live in (and
support via our passivity) a world where college is no longer purely a place of learning and
intellectual growth. This is not purely a criticism. Maybe college should be a place for betterment



of all kinds, whether mental or physical. But if this is the case there needs to be a change in the
publicly held belief of what it means to go to college.
As I hope is clear from my above reflections, this project really made me think about not
only college athletics but the entire institution of education. I also had a great time completing
the project in the more general sense of research projects in general. I was not expecting to
become so interested in anything to do with college athletics, and this experience completely
reaffirmed my belief that learning about completely new things can always be interesting if you
take it on from the right angle. I also have never had the experience of participating in such a
fluid and flexible overall topic. My group's general approach was: read about the topic, find
things you think are interesting, and then find ways to tie all the sub-topics together into a
coherent, unified document with a clear central theme. This was an ideal setup as it allowed
everyone to research things that they individually found interesting. Compared to a traditional
approach involving choosing a topic and then finding information to support your position, this
made for a much more interesting end product. Besides the fact that all of our work was better
because we had a genuine interest in our topics, our document ended up examining many facets
of the issue in question, providing a more comprehensive review than if we had all been working
off of a more specific common topic.
Finally, this project completely sold me on UW Honors in general! Before taking this
class, I had only taken Honors science classes. They were great in that they were challenging and
had smaller class sizes, but I have to admit I was still leaning towards dropping out of the Honors
program. As a student with many interests I decided that I would rather earn a double major, or a
couple of minors, than spend time fulfilling requirements in order to get an extra distinction on
my degree. But after this experience I have concluded that it is worth it. I have had no other class



at UW, or possibly ever, where I got to work with a group of smart students who are really
interested in learning. Usually group projects are somewhat of a paineveryone grudgingly does
their part of the work, and it culminates in a semi-cohesive work that everyone probably has
slight qualms about. But in this case each member of our group contributed valuable ideas that
really made our end result better. This positive experience of academic collaboration was just so
novel to me. It felt like a utopian experience of what I always thought college should bea place
where people who like to learn choose to go! (Sorry if this is a bit overboard, but I really mean
In all, this project opened my mind to the world of contradiction embedded in the term
student-athlete. It is a fascinating issue that clearly needs to be addressed. But what will have a
more permanent impact on me personally was the process of actually completing the project.
Though college can serve many purposes in young peoples' lives, I know that I myself am here
in pursuit of knowledge and novel ways of thinking.
Iris Kuo
As someone who participated in countless sports summer camps, recreational teams, and
mock Olympic Games in P.E. class throughout elementary school, I grew up as a very restless
child. I expected this trend to continue as I entered junior high, except my name ended up being
pulled from a lottery and I eventually attended International Community School in Kirkland,
Washington. This school was not the place I envisioned spending my teenage years in. Besides
the fact that students spent 7th-12th grade there, that school was tiny. My class only had around 70
people, and that was considered a lot. There was no elevator, the library was the size of a
standard classroom, and the gym was two basketball nets stuffed awkwardly on either side of a
room. Oh, the theater stage was in there too. And we ate lunch in there. The overall lack of a



proper gymnasium meant there was no P.E. or fitness class. Instead, ICS-ers completed 300
hours of any athletic activity they chose outside of class, and obtained signatures from coaches,
parents, or supervisors as proof (your friend or sibling worked fine too). Probably only 10% of
the students actually did those full 300 hours. The others just B.S.ed the form, because nobody
really cared if you did sports or not. Let me repeat: nobody really cared if you did sports or not.
As someone who came from a school that put education first and athletics, well, nowhere
on the list, it was surprising to learn about other American high schools that willingly spent so
much money on sports alone. I mean, the way ICS collected funds was by asking for 300 dollars
up front and 50 volunteer hours from every students family. There was no money for sparkly
stadiums, and maybe thats why the sports culture never caught on at ICS. This doesnt mean that
nobody was drafted as student-athletes. One of my classmates ended up going to a school in
Iowa on a lacrosse scholarship, and everybody knew about it. But its not like anyone
particularly cared, except for the people in that guys immediate family or close friendship circle.
Because of the education-driven goals of ICS, I never got to experience the thrill of
homecoming games or season playoffs. The two sports we did have were intramural soccer and
ultimate Frisbee, and those dont exactly amount to anything in the big leagues. When we first
started researching high school sports culture, I went directly to my younger brother, who
currently attends Redmond High School as a 10th grader. There, the sports culture is intense. Not
only do they have a full-blown gym thats separate from their cafeteria, RHS even has a beautiful
football field, as well as a whole plethora of athletic clubs in which the teams actually competed
in games that mattered. The glass case near the RHS main office is filled with trophies won from
hours and hours of sweat, adrenaline, and hard work. The ICS glass case, on the other hand, has
trophies from math championships and Future Business Leaders of America conferences. If two



schools that were only a 20 minute drive apart from each other could be so different, then I could
only imagine what schools on the outskirts of Washington state would look like, let alone even
begin to consider schools across the country.
As we delve further into our research, however, the race dialogue came up repeatedly.
The majority of student-athletes who are drafted and succeed are African-Americans, as society
has come to expect and take for granted. This got me thinking about the racial diversity at ICS,
and how I only remembered having one African-American classmate in my grade (or in the
entire school, for that matter). Although he played a bit of basketball, he was nothing like the
stereotypical black jock thats so prevalent in the United States. I distinctly remember one of his
friends saying to me, hes the most non-black black person youll ever meet. Um, what?! And
what does that say about racial stereotypes regarding intelligence?
So, its either that ICS purposely selects for education-minded people, or that educationminded people just tend to choose ICS over other options. However that works into the lottery
system that ICS supposedly uses to draw its students from, well, thats a different matter entirely.
Whatever the case, this way of thinking clearly separates ICS from RHS, where sports is much
more engrossed in every students life. My brother told me stories of athletes who got put on
probation due to getting drunk during after-game parties, only to have this punishment be
shortened in time for upcoming tournaments. Furthermore, when my brother, one of the most
avid soccer players I know, said that he wasnt trying out for the Crossfire soccer team in order to
focus on schoolwork and violin lessons, a classmate of his flat out told him, Thats lame.
Since one of our main agendas was to find out when the burdens of being a studentathlete begins, it was clear that we had to investigate high school before jumping into college.
Our conversation with Ed Taylor, who kindly shared his experience of transitioning from



secondary to higher level education with us, gave me some answers, but left me with more
questions. I had hoped to pinpoint exactly what it was that enticed some people to pursue
athletics, and others to avoid it, but it seems like it all depends on the environment, morals, and
values you grew up with as a child. Ed touched briefly on this by bringing up identity formation,
and as a psychology major, I knew that this began young. Even as babies, we are fed information
regarding whats considered normal versus extraordinary in society, and we internalize these
concepts so quickly that we dont even realize were doing it half the time. If nothing else, this
project has made me firmly believe that sports culture is ultimately nothing more than a social
phenomenon, not an athletic one, and its been so fascinating to see how coming across the right
opportunity at the right time can send you soaring (while those who missed the train are left at
the platform, frantically searching for other modes of transportation).
Samara Lavitt
Soon after I learned to walk, I learned how to kick a soccer ball. My personal identity as a
student-athlete was prevalent throughout the first 18 years of my life. When looking towards
taking the next step to college I was faced with a choice: soccer or academics? I know I could
not reasonably have both. This was because the schools I was offered to play soccer at were not
synonymous with the schools that suited my academic achievements. After lots of deliberation, I
chose to go to college to focus on my education because, as I told myself, I am not going to
major in soccer. I will always wonder what if but I confident in the path I have chosen to
follow. Therefore, since sports have played a predominant role in my life and I was almost a
college athlete, I was extremely interested in the group project that Chris proposed: how the
institution of collegiate athletics affects student-athletes educations.



The first task each group member accomplished was to read the mind-blowing article
featured in The Atlantic titled The Shame of College Sports by Taylor Branch. It truly opened
my eyes to the flaws of the NCAA, college athletic programs, and how college sports affect the
athletes and universities at large. What irked me the most was that the NCAA is run like a
business and is deemed as a non-profit organization, however, I think that cannot be further from
the truth. Although they are categorized as a non-profit, Branch eloquently defines the NCAA as
a spectacularly profitable cartel. In reality, the NCAA is a greedy organization that is all about
money, power, and control. They have a monopoly on college athletics and are able to follow and
construct any rules they please. Since the NCAA has to remain a non-profit they spend all of
their revenue on academic corporations, coaches, stadiums, etc. I think it is absolutely disgusting
that money and funds are going towards this instead of benefitting professors, student-athlete
education services, or the overall university. It is shocking that the University of Washingtons
head football coach is the highest paid employee in the state. This article made me realize the
impact of the NCAA and college athletic programs on universities and strengthened my opinion
that the universitys focus should be on education and that of professors instead of athletics and
A more specific aspect of this project that I am interested in is the stress that student
athletes face with juggling academics and athletics. I addressed this subtopic in the literature
review as sports psychology is a very intriguing field to me. During fall quarter, I took a class
called Sports Psychology taught by Ron Chamberlain Ph.D. (University of Washingtons sport
psychologist). I learned different tactics and methods on how to overcome stress and hardships
like visualization, listing, and weekly journal entries. This gave me a window into the pressures
and commitment it takes in order to be a student-athlete. Additionally, since I was immersed in a



setting with them as a peer instead of a researcher or interviewer, I was able to gain a first-hand
experience of what it is like to be in their shoes.
I was able to reflect on this experience for the project and realized that they were all
mainly focused on athletics and blindly follow what their academic advisors told them. In fact,
on the first day when asked why we signed up for the class, I specifically remember a student
saying, because my advisor told me I need another class for credit and told me to take this one.
Upon reflection, this is a textbook example of how student-athletes are forced to prioritize their
commitments, with academics taking a back seat to their sport. After taking that course and
further researching and synthesizing my ideas during this project, my opinions surrounding
college athletics and athletes have drastically changed. I used to project them as superhuman
individuals and place them on a pedestal and perhaps I was jealous because I could have been
one. However, I have come to realize that they face a tremendous amount of stress and pressure
that I was previously unaware of. Although their athletic achievements are remarkable, this
project made me more sympathetic towards the anxiety, hardships, and commitment they face
day to day. Additionally, it made me confident in my choice to follow my academic aspirations
and respect those student-athletes who are truly able to juggle both academics and athletics.
As part of my individual research for this topic, I sought help from the Odegaard Writing
& Research Center and found lots of helpful material and research databases such as psycINFO
and PubMed. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this project and my group members were
hard-working, thoughtful individuals. I had never experienced working in a cohort where each
person put forth a genuine effort, so it was exciting to be part of something like that. I felt like
each group member's voice was shared and appreciated and this project truly made me look at
the NCAA and college athletic as a corporation in a new, more critical light. Overall, this project



and Teaching to Transgress as a whole opened my eyes to the complex, frustrating, yet beautiful
field of education.
Zoe Liebeskind
Just like the majority of Americans, sport culture is embedded in my life. It would be
difficult to imagine the last twenty years absent of weekend tournaments and late night practices.
When I think critically about my progression from a painfully shy child to the more confident
individual I am today, I realize the integral role that organized sports played in facilitating my
growth as a person. My passion for soccer forced me to adapt to and accept the discomfort of
uncertainty and newness. The years of changing teams and coaches helped me grow from the
closed introvert of my youth and feel confident. When I reflect on my childhood soccer career, I
am shocked to see how I encountered so many life skills through the ups and downs of my
involvement in athletics.
I have therefore always been one to support organized sports on every level. What is
better than teaching kids life skills, encouraging physical activity, and forming a community
around a shared passion? Healthy competition, teamwork, leadership, organization, hard work; it
is difficult to imagine a better way to foster important character traits than on the field, court, or
diamond. While I have questioned the sanity of a system that makes athletes millionaires, I have
never scrutinized the place of athletics in the college setting, nor have I critically analyzed the
NCAA as an institution.
In fact, I found myself feeling offended and even a little defensive for the sake of
athletics in schools while reading Amanda Ripleys Smartest Kids in the World. However, as I
began my own exploration into the world of the NCAA, student-athletes, and high school
recruitment, I realized that something about our current system is simply not right. Why is it



acceptable, at age 15, to commit to a future college based on your athletic skill? How is it
possible that a high school builds a 60 million dollar football stadium? The deeper a dug, the
stranger things were. Stories after stories of illegal recruiting practices piled up, but the real
disturbing part was the realization that it all stemmed from the all-powerful and wealthy NCAA.
The stories of parents moving school districts to place their children in a better sports school, or
high school State titles removed due to recruiting violations were shocking. Yet what I found to
be even more troublesome, were the complete exploitation of young high school athletes from
struggling schools and so called underprivileged families. How does a student enrolled in a 4year division 1 college read at the level of a 5th grader? The answer lies in a complex system of
money, pressure, and power that starts at the top of the NCAA and trickles down to coaches,
recruiters, and high school educators. Colleges have little interest in recruiting students, they are
more concerned with athletes that will help their program win and therefore make money. Youth
from the poorest, most difficult and struggling high schools abandon education in favor of
athletics. Teachers, family members, and coaches applaud this choice because it provides a way
out of the system. While wonderful opportunities have developed from this very premise, the
truth of the matter is that a student-athlete will not have the same academic opportunity as nonathlete peers in college. He or she will face major roadblocks if they wish to choose a major that
does not fit with their practice and game schedule. They will face a mountain of both advertent
and inadvertent judgments about their backgrounds, futures, and academic capabilities.
Moreover, even if they have the opportunities to take challenging courses, they are unlikely to
have the prior skills, experiences, and knowledge necessary to succeed. The entire system then,
is simply set up so that student-athletes have little chance for success. How does this make



The argument that athletics are the only opportunity that some have for an education is
simply not good enough. In fact, this statement is reminiscent of arguments made about laborers
employed in sweat factories the idea that while sweat factories are ethically wrong, closing the
shops would simply deprive already impoverished individuals of their only (albeit meager)
These arguments represent convenient explanations to troubling problems. Just as
sweatshops are indicative of deeper structural issues that must be addressed, the process of
exploiting student-athletes for their athletic skills reflect a systemic issue.
The complexity and power dynamics make tackling the problem daunting. My glimpse into this
disturbing world of college athletics showed an endless web of troubling matters. While I do not
have the solution, nor can I imagine a solution that would fit neatly into a few paragraphs, I am
confident that we can address the problems through a greater understanding and a promise to
advocate for change.
Thanh-Tran Nguyen
Beijings streets were narrow near our hostel, and the heat stuck around during the dark
hours, making the humid air in my lungs ready to burst. Too many thoughts were buzzing in my
head. I picked my head up to find my next steps, looking over my glasses, and ahead of me was
an active girl, Jordan, whose excited smile lit the way back to the hotel. She was the leader of
Amnesty at our school and, more importantly, captain of the girls Frisbee team. For as long as
Ive played competitive Ultimate Frisbee, Jordan was simply good at all the right things,
sprinting, throwing, catching, and being a decent human being. If anyone was fit to be looked up
to, its her. As we waded through street stands, I asked her in a breath, How are you so cool? I



didnt feel like I had anything to be proud of, and I just wanted to know what it was like at the
To my surprise, the upperclassman replied, Im not that cool. From over her shoulder,
she told me how her sophomore year was the worst time of her life. Jordan had partied all of
freshman year, to the point where she was known as the wild freshman among her seniors, so
come the next year she got sick of how she presented herself, and locked herself away from her
friends. Once she ventured out from her castle of isolation, she picked up both Amnesty and
Ultimate Frisbee to relive her old joys, and discovered that her presence and personable nature
made her a natural leader. As she walked, she kept looking forward; I walked faster to match her
pace. She had been as low as I have, and reached the top. I wanted nothing than to rise to the top
as well. I kept my eyes trained on the path I walked, let the past be entertaining reminders, and
never miss an opportunity because of stage-fright. Since an embarrassing incident with asking a
boy out to a dance the winter prior and this conversation with Jordan, Ive trained myself to turn
an emotional disaster into an enjoyable anecdote, because Ive learned that theres nothing wrong
with being out of the ordinary, doing extraordinary things. I ask myself, Would I regret not
doing this? From that dusty day in China onward, I became motivated to pursue experiences
that cant be replicated, and be confident in my actions so Im never shameful of who I am.
Im not an athletic person. The competitiveness and antagonism I saw in all sports really turned
me off from participating in them. When nearly everyone in my middle school class was so into
it, saying you should play Ultimate Frisbee, I wanted to know what drew my friends in. When
I started, I ran the slowest, couldnt read the field, nor throw the disc where I wanted it to go. It
broke my spirit sometimes when I couldnt live up to my own expectations, but I kept coming
back in hopes that even I could play a sport. Even though I played since middle school, once



Jordan became captain of the girls Frisbee team I could consider myself and sports within the
same realm of existence. By playing with my team and going to tournaments, I fell in love with
the game. Theres no animosity among Frisbee teammates, or between teams, just support and
cheering for one another. I fell in love with the spirit of the game that defines Ultimate Frisbee
and the unique sense of teamwork I get from the game. After competing for four years on our
high school team, Im still slower than the average of all the girls, and I can only throw well
when I catch the Frisbee. But despite my boring Ultimate Frisbee records, the first time I scored
a point in the end zone for our team lit up my love for the game, and for my teammates who
rushed out onto the field to congratulate me, which was a tradition that Jordan thought up. My
love of Frisbee has kept me coming back for more each season, made me discover that I can be
active, and opened me up to enjoy doing things Im not skilled in.
This research project caught me during a bittersweet time. Since Ive graduated, I told
myself that Id keep playing Ultimate Frisbee in college, yet I found myself avoiding the club
practices and leaving the disc in my dorm room every day. After a quarter of this goose chase, I
put away my cleats and buried my favorite Frisbee underneath lecture notes. Once Seattle
warmed up, my dorm mates and I decided to throw a Frisbee out in the courtyard of our living
space as a way to distress from Dead Week anxieties. The moment I caught a disc from a long
pass, my passion for the sport flared up and had me craving field play. Id hate for my love of
Ultimate Frisbee to be tainted by fiscal concerns and scandals, so it feels right to advocate for
Chris Shimer
This reflection is awkward for me. Seeing as we have yet to present and yet to completely
wrap up and finalize all of our individual deeds, writing this reflection seems a little premature.



However, what really makes this reflection feel premature is not the fact that we are yet to finish
our work for this class, but it feel premature in the sense that this is going to be something that
stays on my mind and in my heart far beyond this classroom.
I have a deep love and passion for both sports and education, so looking at the student
athlete critically really creates a conflict of interests for me. The academic in me says that the
student portion should trump the athlete portion under any circumstance. The athlete in me says
that I learned more in sports than I can even quantify, making them just as valuable as a formal
education. The realist in me says the overwhelming American obsession with athletics will lead
to stagnation and perpetuate the current trends in the American school system. Suffice this all to
say, this is a complicated issue.
This group project was pretty unsatisfying for me, just because I want to know all there is
to know about the student athlete contradiction. That being said, I learned an immense amount in
such a short period of time. We had just over two plus weeks to research and develop our
thoughts and information and luckily for me I had the privilege of doing a bulk of the
investigatory work for our group. I was relatively well versed in the subject compared to my
colleagues, so being able to interview and investigate some topics that I was personally curious
about was extremely beneficial.
I really enjoyed doing my first interview with James Boker. He was very excited to
contribute to this project in any way he could, because he takes issue with a lot of the same
practices in intercollegiate athletics as I do. It was a really easy interview and I didnt really have
to coax anything out of him that I wanted to hear, because he was very unafraid to share some of
the not-so-glamorous portions of college athletics. I was very appreciative of him for that. I also
want to be very cautious when using this as evidence, because James experience could very well



be an aberration, but for lack of time we could only conduct one interview with a former student
athlete. I also want to make it clear that academics were not the only reason he left the football
team, there was much more to his decision beyond just the academic portion. That needs to be
stated so that it is not over emphasized as the sole reason for his departure.
My second interview with Ed Taylor was actually one of the most interesting
conversations I have ever had. I consider myself fairly well informed about college athletics
through a lot of my personal connections, my work experiences, and through reading lots and
lots of writing on the subject. That being said, Dr. Taylor gave me an unprecedented look into the
recruitment process of prospective student athletes from admissions departments prospective.
This is something that is not often publicized and goes without a whole lot of media attention
relative to the amount of coverage there is for the athletic portion of recruitment. I had no idea
that coaches physically stood in front of a panel of admissions officials and made individual
cases for players that they are recruiting who would otherwise not be admitted into the
university. That was baffling to me. I had always assumed coaches just sent in lists of the kids
they are recruiting who would like to attend the university and the admissions department
automatically let them in. Clearly, I was under the wrong impression.
The one thing that blew me away during my interview with Dr. Taylor was when he said,
We lead them (prospective student athletes) to believe they will get to the path they want to
take. I still cant get over that quote. He admitted that during the recruitment of athletes, the
students are told they can take any path they desire and that is not always the case. This clearly
corroborated James Bokers claims that athletes are funneled into a small selection of majors,
even though they are not told that when they are being recruited. I take major issue with that fact,
and think it is very unfair to the student athletes.



With that being said, many more issues arose than I was expecting when looking at this
topic. There is just so much to look at and it is so multifaceted that this group project doesnt
even start to scratch the surface of the student athlete contradiction. I wish I had more time to
personally investigate stereotype threat, athletics as a way out, looking at the educational
benefits of sports, looking at paying college athletes, etc. But I am very pleased with the efforts
of my group and think everyone learned a lot and we worked very well together. I am very
excited to see the final product and the proverbial fruits of our labor.