Stillwater News Press

September 19, 2010

Athletes aren't any better or any worse than other students

By Laura Wilson

STILLWATER, Okla. — People who feel they are entitled to the world exist in every organization; people who work hard and give back exist in every organization. To paint an entire group with a label of entitlement is wrong.

I was an athlete in junior high, high school and college. In junior high, I (briefly) played basketball and ran track. I was horrible in basketball and tried to be a sprinter in track. In high school, I joined the cross country team to train in the fall for track and learned that longer distances are better. I ran both cross country and track in high school and college until a knee injury put an end to it.

I also was involved in theater in high school and college, made straight A’s in high school and was valedictorian and kept a full-tuition academic scholarship in college for four years.

I knew a lot of athletes. I knew a lot of theater people. My high school was small, so I knew a lot of smart kids, chorus kids, band kids, FFA kids, 4-H kids, Girl Scouts, Campfires, Boy Scouts and kids who weren’t in anything. I knew entitled jerks in all of those groups and nice, never-in-trouble kids in all of them, too.

The kids who were the most trouble weren’t the athletes. They were the kids who didn’t do anything.

It’s not true to say athletics doesn’t teach you anything. Some people might say it, but they’re wrong. It teaches teamwork, you say, but you can learn that from a lot of things. You can learn to work with people in a theater production.

It teaches you to work hard and do your best, but you can learn that in 4-H, band and choir competitions.

Here’s what I learned: No matter how bad I feel, I can keep going. I may slow down a little because my side hurts and I feel like I might throw up at any time, but I can keep putting one foot in front of the other until I hit the finish line. Quitting is not an option.

Competition is good, and you can be friends with people you’re running against. You can even cheer them on. Cross country runners invariably encouraged each other even as they were passing each other or getting passed. You may beat someone else, but you’re pushing hard to beat what you did last time out. Other people’s times don’t matter if you’re getting better.

And your brain works better if your body gets exercise, so it’s not fair to say that athletics doesn’t help academically. In fact, running distance can even help math as you figure out different ways to calculate how much farther you have to run.

Athletes aren’t better than students involved in other pursuits, but they’re not worse either. Please don’t say they are.

Laura Wilson can be e-mailed at