With the excitement of a new season of sports – football, soccer, volleyball – kicking off, I am reminded that our talented UO athletes are, in fact, students. And as an alumnus, and parent of student-athletes, I can say this is an important fact for all UO alumni to remember as we cheer for our Ducks.
The term “student-athlete” became a very real term to me a number of years ago. I was at a Duck football game with my family. Our team won the game (I think it was against USC), and everyone was euphoric – including my son, Carson. He told me he wanted to rush the field with some of his friends who were also there, so Lisa and I ended up waiting after the game for him.
After what seemed like an eternity, Carson finally joined us outside of Autzen Stadium, and we wandered across the lot toward our car that was parked at the Boy Scout offices. As we walked, he showed to us the autographs he had gotten from various players. He then excitedly recounted pretty much every play from the day’s game (I could barely remember what I had for breakfast that morning).
Still trying to make our way to the car, we decided to go along the backside of the Len Casanova Athletic Center, toward the tunnel where the teams exit Autzen. Nearing the tunnel, Carson quickly pointed out the visiting team’s buses waiting for the players. Lisa and I noticed all of their parents lining up near the buses to greet the team.
One-by-one we watched the young men walk up to their parents. Some sobbed. Some were quiet. All were hugged by their family. It was a poignant moment for me – it quickly occurred to me that those student-athletes were boys, just like my young son. Of course, they were much larger and older … but boys, just the same.
That’s the “athlete” part of the term. But there is the “student” part to consider as well. The intense players from all of the teams we watch on the court, field or track are amazing students who not only compete athletically, but compete in the classroom and in communities.
Just think of the additional burden these busy student-athletes have while they work diligently to excel daily in the classroom. And many go off-campus to get actively involved and have a lasting impact in the local community or abroad. Here’s a great example of the type of “student-athlete” enrolled at the University of Oregon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoj9ebU0Fp0.
While I never competed in sports (I have a body made more for running from football players than running at them), both of my children have played competitively … and still do. I have seen them experience the thrill of victory, which always inevitably comes with the sorrow of defeat. It’s the nature of competition. And, Lisa and I have been there, giving hugs and consolation after a devastating loss as well as hugs and high-fives after a thrilling win.
That moment outside of Autzen was so moving for me because, in an instant, I realized that the opponents on the field that day were just like my son. The enthusiasm of “our” win was quickly dampened by the sting of loss I saw on the faces of the young men.
As parents, alumni and fans, let’s all remember this when we cheer on our student-athletes at their games. Let’s not forget how hard they all work to compete in the game and to excel at their school accomplishments and philanthropic endeavors. These student-athletes deserve our support and encouragement. And every now and then they just might need a hug too.