As a student who has been here for four years coming up on his fifth, you wouldn’t believe the amount of horrible rumors and nonsense that I’ve heard — not just about the football players that we value so highly on the field, but any other student-athlete who walks around this campus. Let me give you a little background before I tell you how it really is. Coming into this university, I was a shy, nervous and not a very confident person. I was scared because I hadn’t experienced an independent life yet since I had just graduated from high school.
As school began, making friends seemed easy at first since everyone wanted to meet anybody they could just to feel a sense of acceptance. But how quickly those early friendships faded into the distance as people found those one or two people whom they could relate to the most and call their “best friends.” I ended up being a person who couldn’t connect with many of what we would call “regular” college students, and as time went on I began to question whether or not I belonged here at the University of Oregon.
But, how things changed as soon as I met one particular person who just happened to be on the Oregon football team. He not only was willing to embrace my insecurities, but he was willing to help me flip them around into helping me become the confident young man that I am proud to be today. He also opened the door to meeting other Division 1 athletes at this university whom I would eventually call my good friends and on whom I could count to have my back no matter what.
See, from the majority of people who I have encountered, whether it be students here, parents of students here, students elsewhere or parents of students elsewhere, these people have made some unjustified comments regarding our athletes at this university which I plan to put to correct once and for all. Just because one berry in the pile doesn’t look ripe, doesn’t mean all of the berries in the pile aren’t ripe.
Media and social media give us the only lens into the sports world that we can assume to be true and because of that, as normal civilians, we tend to accept everything that is said and make huge assumptions from those observations. If one person committed an unacceptable act at our university, all of a sudden an unwarranted stigma is placed over the entire group. People see a cocky athlete and assume that all of them are in over their heads, but that’s simply untrue.
As someone who has become close to many of our athletes by not just hanging out, but also living with, I’m here to tell you today their side of the story, one most folks never get to hear or read about because it might not be as juicy a story as those about someone committing a crime or saying something so out of the ordinary that it’s deemed wrong by our society.
Here’s something that we tend to forget about the highly praised on-field athletes that we cheer for so loudly … they are human beings — just like us. They have their needs, likes and dislikes, their own beliefs, their different characteristics just like any of us. All we know about them is that they’re athletes and are incredibly talented at their respective sports.
But, what about who they are as people? As students, we live in the same environment as they do. We have them in our classes, but we might not talk to them because they’re athletes. We see them in our lunch lines, but we don’t talk to them because they’re athletes. However, if we’re at a party and are feeling a little buzzed, we might have the confidence to give them a quick, “Hello, how’s it going?” and feel so good about ourselves because we met so and so.
From a personal experience, I can say that the majority of the athletes I’ve met here are some of the most welcoming, caring and personable people you could ever meet. They respect you if you just treat them like any other one of your friends (assuming you are a respectful person towards your friends). Some of them whom you meet might be a little on the over-confident side, but can you blame them? That’s the reason they’re playing and representing our beloved university! Without that confidence they wouldn’t be at the incredible talent level they’re so privileged to have. It’s part of the hunger of wanting to be the best, and sometimes it carries over into their off-field conduct. But, overall it only pushes their friends to be better at everything as well, so no harm done.
Athletes live different lifestyles than we spectators, there’s no doubt about it. Their work ethic will blow your minds if you ever get the chance to see them at work. But just because they live different lifestyles doesn’t mean that they aren’t trying to live a normal college life and meet normal college students. These people are very big-hearted once you get to know them, and they are almost always willing to do stuff with you if you just ask. I mean, imagine having to practice all day with your teammates and then having to go back home to hang out with them again every single day. That’s like a 24/7 marriage to your teammates; they need to experience other people!
So next time you run into an athlete, simply treat them as you would treat anyone else. The royal treatment is normally what pushes them away from people because they want to be equals — on a social level – with everyone else. Give them a chance with an open mind and I guarantee you will find someone in our athletic program who’s more like you than you think.
Top photo by Kevin Cline