For the glory of sports

Jenna Culpepper, Head Editor

Staff writer Jenna Culpepper (second from right) with her Varisty cross country team at their state meet

Although the pandemic has changed many things, it has not managed to shift our cultural focus off of sports. High school, collegiate, and professional sports have all persisted through the pandemic at different levels with new protocols.

Athletics are more than entertainment for those watching. They’re a great outlet for the athletes involved and a path for people to pursue in college and beyond, but I have always wondered why academic achievement can’t be placed at the same level as athletic achievement.

It is important for students to see and understand the importance of having both and—through that—not valuing one over the other. More than a battle between academics and athletics, it’s a fight to value education over someone’s performance on the field.

Throughout the fall I heard it said that we as a school should be careful to follow COVID protocols as to protect the football team (and other sports) and their season. Everytime I heard that I wondered why we couldn’t emphasize safety for the sake of simply protecting students’ academic experiences.

Even as someone who was participating in a sport in the fall during much of the unknown and working out of protocols, I always found it more important to practice safety in order to protect my time at school instead of my time on the field.

Throughout the entire school year, various student athletes from numerous sports transitioned to online school in an effort to protect themselves and better ensure their participation in a sport. I agree that that is important, but in high school aren’t we scholars first and athletes second?

Those are just two small examples of how pervasive an influence athletics has on culture, but to me the peak of valuing athletics over academics is signing day. A huge deal is made for athletes signing to play sports in college. Whether a division one, two, or three school, signing to play in college is an important and life-changing decision.

I love and support my peers who have signed and will sign and I am truly proud to watch them achieve their dreams. It is special to see students who I have gone to school with for years sign at schools all across the country.

Much of signing day is intended to be special for athletes as they sign their contract, but students who earn large scholarships or get accepted into prestigious universities don’t get the same level or type of recognition for their accomplishments.

Signing day should be unique to athletics, but I believe there should also be some type of recognition or celebration for students who are accepted into academically competitive colleges. Why can’t academically gifted students experience the same level of recognition for earning competitive merit-based scholarships or get admitted into an elite school?

Signing day and other cultural practices around sports place more value in athletics than academics across all stages of life. Why is it that athletics are put above all else?

As a society we elevate—and I argue worship—athletes and athletics to an unhealthy degree. So many people believe that what they achieve on a field is far more important than what is achieved in the classroom, but I don’t think that’s true.

An extremely small percentage of people ever go on to play division one sports and an even smaller amount go on to play professional sports. That doesn’t make an athlete’s experience less meaningful, but it does put into perspective the true importance of education.

Overall I believe this cultural worship of sports as a whole isn’t in ill will towards academics, but it harms it nonetheless. At the end of the day shouldn’t society celebrate and encourage the intellectual accomplishments of young people instead of overvaluing those who succeed on the field?

It’s time society remembers the names of scientists and doctors who are making the world a better place instead of today’s star athlete.