Since Rutgers played Princeton in the first college football game back in 1869, college athletes have been splitting time between the classroom and contests on the field or at an indoor facility. And since the 1860s, such players in college, and even high school, have had to labor under the label “dumb jock.” This generally false insult is now being advanced by a starting football player and sportswriter for reasons that are unclear.
Starting UCLA QB Josh Rosen gave an interview to Bleacher Report in which he claimed that “football and school” don’t go together: “They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs … Human beings don’t belong in school with our schedules. No one in their right mind should have a football player’s schedule and go to school.”
When Matt Hayes, Bleacher Report’s reporter, pointed out players who graduated in three years, Rosen replied “I’m not knocking what those guys accomplished … but certain schools are easier than others.” The economics major went on to say “If I wanted to graduate in three years, I’d just get a sociology major,” showing that overconfidence that marred his sophomore year.
Yes, being an athlete, any athlete (football or any other collegiate sport) is hard. Here’s a good lesson: Life is hard. College is a challenge. It should be. It’s preparing you for something bigger than high school, and is designed to help you in the NFL well beyond your NFL career, if you get there, and for however long it lasts (which is why “Wonderlic” tests are part of the process). It is designed to be earned, not handed to you because you are a talented quarterback.
At our college, we did a study of grades of athletes and non-athletes. The athletes slightly outperformed non-athletes. Whenever I have an athlete come to me, interested in majoring, I think it’s a good thing, just as much as a student government senator or member of the chess club. In fact, those who are part of any campus organization tend to be focused, and recognize the value of discipline and hard work. Well, at least most of them do. I wish I had a column just devoted to their successes in business, law, government, education, and even coaching.
Yet Mr. Rosen has a major enabler in columnist Pat Forde, who calls Rosen’s words “the truth” several times in column, as if saying it enough will make it so. In fact Forde says that Rosen’s “stated truth” will anger administrators, fans and boosters: “It will lead to a series of individual rebuttals from athletes who maxed out their college experience — exceptions to the rule — who competed at a high level while attaining a degree.” Yes, even when you are an athlete who succeeds in academia, you’re just one of the rare exceptions to the “dumb jock” rule.
Mr. Rosen complains about how playing football and going to classes is like taking on two full-time jobs. Mr. Forde piles on: “The non-athletic universe is full of college students who change majors — their interests change, or they realize they weren’t good at what they originally intended to do, or whatever. The same rationale obviously can apply to athletes, as well. But there also are time demands, often tied to scholarship money, that force the hands of many student-athletes.”
Perhaps the UCLA QB and the sports columnist don’t know this, but many of my students also work a full-time job, in addition to taking their classes. I have students with kids, students who must care for ailing parents, and those who serve in the military, having to miss time with deployments overseas and getting shot at. Some have the job, obligations to family and country, and classes to contend with. But they are different from these college athletic critics in one respect: few complain. They know how hard life is, and bite the bullet, and often get the job done.
I noticed in the Bleacher Report article that scouts feel Rosen is talented, but often unfocused. I have some advice for him. Instead of lamenting how hard his life is with classes and sports, I would love to see him show some drive and intensity in academia as well. If he does, I think he’ll convince scouts he can handle the NFL playbook, the harsh glare of the media in professional sports, and the leadership responsibilities that go with being a franchise QB.
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College; email@example.com. Twitter: @JohnTures2.