Student-Athlete-Superhuman

Virginia's student-athletes admirable for dedication to schoolwork, respective teams

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Sophomore left-hander Brandon Waddell came up big for Virginia, pitching a complete game with the Cavaliers facing elimination.


Yesterday, my professor abruptly cut off his lecture in front of 350 students to ask if Brandon Waddell was in the room. Seated at the back of the class, Waddell raised his arm slowly. The professor repeated his question for Branden Cogswell, who was seated next to Waddell. Our professor had apparently seen the Virginia baseball team win its weekend series against North Carolina and wanted to congratulate them, putting the two players on the receiving end of 348 stares. Look — varsity athletes!

This was hardly the first time a NARP — non-athletic regular person — has lost it over the presence of one of Virginia’s student-athletes. Once, Jontel Evans peer-edited the introduction to a paper I wrote for our class and I spent the rest of the week telling everyone I knew that Bub said my first sentence was “awesome.” Another friend openly admits to being a tennis team fangirl, and let’s all raise our hands if we’ve ever sent a text saying “OMG Joe Harris in my discussion section.” That’s what I thought.

Student-athletes can sometimes seem like entirely different beings: fit and intimidating creatures roaming Grounds in official ACC sweatpants, branded by the names and numbers attached to their backpacks. They’re humans just like the rest of us — except they’re humans who also happen to perform nearly superhuman feats.

The first part being of “student-athlete” is, of course, being a student. We nerds here at Virginia love to talk on and on about our rigorous and challenging classes almost as much as we love to talk about how much actual homework we have to do. Of course, most of us don’t have to chase an all-night paper-writing session with 6 a.m. lift session, or study for an exam on a bus to New York. Our peers in the Athletics Department must balance the same academic pressures as everyone else — then go out and win the glory for dear Virginia.

Then, obviously, we have the “athlete” part of the student-athlete persona. The football team didn’t get those biceps by lifting red solo cups of Natty Light every single night. The training regimens, practice schedules and competition seasons are, in a word, brutal.

Like schoolwork, criticism is something that all Virginia students have to endure. But Rugby Road gossip seems trivial when held up against the very public and often very harsh comments hurled at varsity athletes. We sports-media people are invincible behind our computers and television screens: we can say whatever we want about whoever we want, and though others may not agree, they can’t do much about it. Student-athletes are often subject to relentless national criticism that might break a weaker individual, and yet they grit their teeth and keep on fighting.

It would be incorrect to portray student-athletes as homework-doing, muscle-building machines, however. They are still college kids, remember? Sideline interactions, Twitter one-liners, and even brief glimpses of them around Grounds provide insight into their quirky, friendly, and all-around human personalities. I’m only surprised “High five Justin Anderson” hasn’t replaced “High five Dean Groves” yet.

Perhaps the best thing about student-athletes is that many of them will not become high-profile, moneybag professional athletes. It’s simply impossible for all of them to make it, and that fact is probably not lost on them. Thus, though they will go as far as they possibly can, most student-athletes are in it not for fame and fortune but something more pure: love of the game. In a world where professional athletes can be jaded and cynical, a student-athlete’s untainted passion is inspiring.

Whether by graduation, injury, or ascension to professional sports, we are going to lose our student-athletes. They may fade off the map entirely, or they may become the untouchable center of a world of security and wealth. The days of casual selfies with — or, let’s be honest, creepy stalker photos of — fan favorites walking to class will end, but before they do, we should appreciate what we have. Student-athletes, we’re trying not to stare, I promise. It’s just that y’all rock, and for that, we salute you.


Published April 22, 2014 in Sports





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