Sports should be secondary to learning

Universities need to prioritize education ahead of their sports teams.

Trent M. Kays

IâÄôve never been a fan of sports. IâÄôve been interested in martial arts, though I hardly consider martial arts a sport. When I was younger, I was forced to participate in many sporting activities, and I think that experience altered how I view and understand sporting events as an adult. Despite my distaste for sports, they are an integral part of higher education.
As a college teacher, it seems my identity is attached to whatever sports teams exist at the college where I teach. Often, when I meet new people for the first time as a teacher, they make quips about the successful or unsuccessful football pass made by some quarterback at the university. I usually just smile and nod because, honestly, I donâÄôt know what to say. It seems my identity as a teacher of writing is secondary to my identity as a college teacher working at a college with a football team. This proves irksome for me because I didnâÄôt come to the University of Minnesota because of the football team; I came to the University to teach and study for my doctorate.
I hold no ill will toward those who focus on my universityâÄôs sports team rather than my own interests and reasons for being there. I understand that sports are a vital part of the University. Sports teams bring in alumni money for upkeep of and more sporting events. However, I think often whatâÄôs lost on many people, especially in American society, is that a university is not a sports factory.
The university should not exist to churn out sporting events and sports players to please its alumni and, to a lesser extent, non-alumni supporters. A university exists for one reason: to educate. If education is not happening, then the university is failing its charge and its students.
As a teacher, I find it disconcerting to know that the university plays a large and active role in furthering problems of class and value through over-accommodation of sports teams and players. When students enter a university, they should enter into a place that values the knowledge they already have and helps them acquire new knowledge to be successful outside of the university. Yet, many students are often separated from students engaged in sports through many factors.
Sports students often get more excused class absences than non-sports students. They get extended deadlines, more leeway in class and academic coaches who help them with and make sure they do their work. Non-sports students rarely get such consideration when completing their assignments. While I am extremely proud of the sports students I have in my class, mostly because they seem to be good students, I still find it grossly unfair to the rest of my students that my sports students are treated so differently. Indeed, perhaps it is also unfair to my sports students that they are treated so differently from my non-sports students.
This different treatment reinforces class and value issues, which often appear outside the University: You either are a sports student or you are not a sports student. The former comes with far more privilege than the latter, and this is a disgusting issue in the University. Given the UniversityâÄôs reliance on sports teams for recognition, IâÄôm expected to accommodate and encourage the privilege my sports students receive. I find this extremely difficult because I care more about those studentsâÄô learning than I do about how successful they are on a sports team.
Nevertheless, many universities care more for a game than they do for learning. If the tragedy of Penn State has taught us anything, itâÄôs that sports can completely dominate, rule and destroy the integrity of a universityâÄôs mission. While I doubt that the type of student rioting in the name of a dismissed football coach would happen at every university with a sports team, it should serve as a stark reminder of what happens when a universityâÄôs priorities are misplaced. Sports should not rule education.
I understand the allure of sports. They give us a window into lives some of us wish we had. They serve as an escape from our troubles, worries and studies. Sports give us something to support and promote. They let us develop and be part of burgeoning communities. But, shouldnâÄôt the university be the community? The university supports us, binds us and drives us; while sporting events can only be mere moments in our lives, education and knowledge are eternal.
When someone looks at my students or me, I want them to see someone who worked hard on their education, who chose a difficult path toward knowledge and who wanted to better themselves. I donâÄôt want them to look at my students or me and see only someone who went to a college with a sports team. ThatâÄôs hardly the point of education.
Education is about personal sacrifice and hard work for a better tomorrow. I can appreciate the importance of sports teams and players, especially considering the money they bring to the university. However, the economic situation of the university is at a place where rising tuition is most certainly a given, faculty members are not being replaced when they retire, and students are not getting an effective education because they are being shoved into larger classrooms and encountering fewer teachers.
Perhaps itâÄôs time the university focused more on learning, knowledge and preparing students for their futures than a game.