When I first decided to respond to the article “The Dodge Divide” in The Eye, I thought about making myself anonymous. I figured I could say whatever I pleased in this response—be as vulgar and angry as I wanted to be—and no one would be able to trace it back to me. But I decided not to do this. My name is Chad Washington, and I am currently a sophomore on the football team, for which I play defensive end. I am a declared political science and statistics major. I have a 3.03 GPA after three semesters at Columbia, and I am currently enrolled in four classes.
There is a certain passion that comes with playing a sport—a will inside of that athlete that drives him or her to become the best that athlete possible in order to win. Similar to what the baseball player said in the article, I won’t stop playing football until someone tells me to hang up my helmet and pads and go home. Being a football player since middle school has definitely shaped me into the man I am today. It taught me discipline, gave me a tireless work ethic, and helped me learn new things at a relatively fast rate. It also aided my acceptance into one of the top five colleges in the world, and I am so thankful for that.
But at Columbia, teachers and professors are quick to judge and criticize athletes because they have never been athletes themselves. I marvel at Nathan Pilkington, the Lit Hum instructor who insisted that Columbia athletes are not Division I athletes and are on some sort of lower stage. I looked him up: B.A. with highest honors from UNC-Chapel Hill, master’s from, of course, Columbia in history. It sounds like Nathan was almost made to be at Columbia. I’m guessing he does not share my passion for athletics, and that’s not a bad thing. But I would never question his accolades and achievements as a student. He has no right to question the authenticity of a Division I program. Columbia is a member of the Ivy League conference, and has one of the oldest NCAA football and athletic programs in the history of college sports. We play Division I football with Division I responsibilities, coaches, and competition. I speak for all athletes when I say this: Do not question our authenticity of our status until you take the time to immerse yourself in the athletics of Columbia.
It was interesting to me that the editors decided to title the article “The Dodge Divide.” Unless I pick a class I know my fellow teammates will be in, chances are I am one of two or maybe three athletes in a class. But like basketball player Cory Osetkowski said in the article, everyone at Columbia is here to get an education. We are all Lions who are striving after the same goals: to earn a degree and make our parents and families proud. My parents taught me that this is something that requires both success in the classroom and on the field, and standards were always pretty high in my household. That is what fueled me to take on Columbia as a challenge in my life.
I know I am viewed as an athlete first on this campus. Physically I look the part, and I often introduce myself as a football player. Yet as soon as I begin to mention my studies and the degree I am pursuing, people question my intelligence and seem to doubt my abilities as a student. Athlete is not a good category to be in. At Columbia the main problem is that instead of athletes being praised and respected for their ability to achieve more than the average student by keeping up with academics and athletics at the same time, they are seen as less than the average student.
Most of my fellow students at Columbia feel so divided from athletes because, once again, sports have never been a part of their life. During Friday nights in high school, they were probably in the library and not at the football game. During the Homecoming pep rally, future Columbia students were most likely working on extra homework and problem sets. There is nothing wrong with making those choices. But by doing so, these students are distancing themselves from a huge and important part of life. The problem doesn’t lie with the athletes, but instead the students who surround them. In Contemporary Civilization, we learn about the tyranny of the majority. As only 13 percent of all Columbia students, athletes are clearly in the minority. Columbia is nothing like a democracy, but at the same time, opinions reflect the manners of the majority.
In order for the lifestyle at Columbia to change, Columbia must change. The least Columbia students can do is engage in athletic events. Basketball Mania has been successful the past two years, but that’s just the beginning. Maybe we should think about incorporating a Homecoming rally during the week before the Homecoming football game. Maybe we should set up a portion of NSOP where Columbia students are able to sit down with an athlete and ask them questions about what it means to play a sport in the Ivy League. Columbia student-athletes, and all Ivy League athletes, should be praised for their performance. The fact that Columbia athletes are able not only to excel and grow in their sports but also to pass classes consistently and make it through the curriculum of an Ivy league school is an incredible achievement.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in political science and statistics. He is a member of the varsity football team.
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