College athletics are intended to foster young peoples’ development, but the supposed commitment to academics and personal growth has created a system where student-athletes often face an uphill battle. Conversations about the role of sports on college campuses have spun out of control; high-profile scandals and a few celebrity athletes drive perceptions of what college sports actually are while the day-to-day obstacles that the vast majority of student-athletes face rarely factor into the discussion. In this 3-part series, we examine what college sports really mean for the hundreds of thousands of student-athletes who interact with this flawed system and whose daily struggles and life-altering decisions go unnoticed. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.
Part 3: The real student-athletes of the NCAA
You’d think that a group of Communications majors at Stanford University would communicate better, but Adam Sorgi knew he was being left out of the loop once again.
Baseball players are creatures of habit. Sorgi, the Cardinal’s starting second baseman, spent a memorable afternoon just like he spent most afternoons, running the same old drills and joking around with teammates. But that day there was something else on his mind, weighing him down as he went through his daily routine. Sorgi knew that while he was on the practice field his classmates were meeting in the library. He couldn’t help thinking that they were talking about him, about how they got stuck with the dumb jock who couldn’t care less about this group project and that it was up to them to carry his load.
“They would leave me out without consulting me to do the work,” said Sorgi, who played for Stanford from 2004 through 2007. “I would say that I can’t meet in the afternoons because I have baseball practice and they would be like, ‘well, we just did it.’”
Earning respect as a student and establishing an academic identity are part of the daily struggle for student-athletes like Sorgi. In the fast-paced, scandal-crazed college sports universe that exists, the day-to-day realities that student-athletes face often get overlooked. Student-athletes try to balance athletic commitments with school and a social life, often having to make difficult sacrifices. It all comes with the territory as a college athlete—it’s why they worked so hard in high school and it’s what they signed up for—but it also makes for a very unusual college experience that few outsiders ever see or understand.
Meanwhile, this summer, Johnny Manziel’s alleged hangover was the talk of the sports world for a week and his autographs-for-cash “scheme” nearly broke the Internet. And that isn’t even the most recent NCAA scandal.
We are constantly prodded with superficial questions like whether or not athletes should earn money or if we should be upset when they do.
Such scandals make for good copy, but these issues, particularly surrounding college athletes receiving money, are inconsequential for almost all student-athletes and just distract people from real issues that they deal with every day.
There are players being tossed onto the street that can hardly read and all over the country and hard-working student-athletes, like Sorgi, have seen their college experiences and future careers impacted—both in positive and negative ways—by playing sports. For the most part, we prefer to focus on whether D.J. Fluker made money before he turned pro and ignore the less glamorous, little-known athletes, even when their stories more accurately portray the tradeoffs of playing sports in college.
“I really wanted to major in psychology but that was an afternoon major,” Sorgi said. “I don’t play baseball professionally anymore and I would love to be a psychologist right now, but I can’t afford to go back all the way through school. If I would have done that in college, I’d be on a different career path right now.”