Humanize the athlete


U.S. star Simone Biles pulled out of the individual all-around final at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Photo via NPR and taken by Gregory Bull/AP.

We live in a society that puts more money in athletic programs for public schools than academics. While doing that, we push athletes past their limits of capability — juggling school, homework, practice, family, sleep, etc.. We punish them for not keeping up grades by pulling them from games, but still requiring attendance and not offering resources to help them succeed.

The Big Ten, SEC, Pac 12 and more are common conferences that resonate with striving, current and past intercollegiate athletes. Where you go to school as a player can make or break your future chances at going professional.

Division I school players are frequently favored in top picks for professional leagues. This is due to the rigorous schedule and pressure on those players. It is as close to the professional level as possible without being in the pros.

An athlete is to prioritize their sport and academics, meaning they can not hold a job. If they are on an athletic scholarship and are working, they can get their scholarship revoked. If athletes get an offer to go pro, they lose their scholarship and money to finish their degree.

We start pushing these players physically and mentally at such a young age — and we can see the repercussions of this as they grow older. These can result in influencing their performance, or even worse, ending their career. If they focus solely on their athletics and not on their academics and get a career ending injury, that is it for them.

Where do they go from there?

Coaches like Nick Saban at University of Alabama and Juan Pablo Favero at Oakland University are protecting their athletes from having to even think about this. They put more than just their sports career in priority. They do not keep putting in players who are injured and forcing them through it. They offer resources to those who are struggling academically and personally.

Saban requires athletes to finish their degrees before they can go professional. More coaches and their representatives should be following in their footsteps. Athletes are more than just their skill and performance — they are humans.

Athletes do not even receive the grace of their audience the majority of the time if they are not in games or performing at their peak. Take Simone Biles, who pulled out of the 2021 (2020) Tokyo Olympics for mental health issues.

When Biles announced she would not be competing in all her events in Tokyo, the world went into an uproar. Some bashed Biles for appearing fine and refusing to compete, while the others praised Biles for taking care of herself.

We put more money into these athletes to entertain us and when they do not perform to our liking, we cancel them.

This is further proof that athletes are seen for their entertainment and skill, not for who they are and what they represent. Protect the athlete. Protect the person. Humanize the player.