Viewpoint: Student-athletes want to be heard

BY STUDENT ATHLETE ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Published November 16, 2014

To Whom It May Concern:

We are Michigan student-athletes. Among the recent controversy regarding Michigan Athletics, our voices have been left out. It’s time for us to be heard.

We believe that recent coverage of Michigan Athletics has been largely one-sided. Understand that media coverage and decisions made about Michigan Athletics intimately affect our lives. We have been insulted and discredited not only as student-athletes, but as people. Out of respect to our university, we have stayed silent for weeks; now, we feel the need to speak up.

We appreciate the discourse among stakeholders in Michigan Athletics: alumni, students, administrators and the community we serve. We have no problem with people expressing opinions of the administration that, in large part, governs our experience as student-athletes. What we do have a problem with is those outside of our 900-plus-strong community attempting to speak for us.

The balance that student-athletes maintain between academics and athletics is under intense scrutiny. One example of many appeared last week in University President Mark Schlissel’s comments regarding student-athlete academic eligibility and performance.

“We admit students who aren’t as qualified, and it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year.”

Let us be clear: this is just one example of a misunderstanding that has left us feeling disappointed and frustrated. We have acknowledged President Schlissel’s apology, but maintain that his comments are not only hurtful, but indicative of a larger problem on campus.

Public perception of student-athletes is too easily swayed by the media and deafening public opinion. Our objective in the near future is to take back the autonomy of our image. We are here for an education; there is nothing less that is expected of us simply because we are student-athletes, and we hold ourselves to the same standard as every other student on campus.

The discourse of prior weeks, as shortsighted as it is, comes from a history much deeper than the events of this fall. A history where it is OK to dismiss student-athletes as dumb, unmotivated and one-dimensional simply because of the time they spend outside of school. Stereotyping diminishes not only its perpetrators and its victims, but the entire campus community that should value diversity and compassion over judgment and spite.

We consider it the ultimate honor to wear the block ‘M’ , and this is a unifying value throughout campus. The block ‘M’ unites us all — students and musicians and engineers and actors and activists and researchers and student-athletes. It’s a privilege to share this tradition, one that we believe is the best in the world. We appreciate all contributions to make Michigan the Leaders and Best and hope our contributions are valued as well.

In President Schlissel’s inaugural address, he implored us to agree on three central tenets, the third of which stated that “as members of this community, we will always seek out, encourage, and value all voices.” In these times of turbulence, we turn to you, no matter how you wear the block ‘M’ . We are asking for our unique voice to be received with curiosity instead of judgment; and we promise that to yours, we will do the same.

Cooper Charlton is an LSA junior and SAAC President, Kevin Bain is a Ross senior and SAAC Vice President, Becca Garfinkel is an LSA senior and SAAC Vice President of NCAA Reform, Gina McNamara is an LSA junior and SAAC Community Engagement Chair, and Leslie Smith is an LSA senior and SAAC Marketing and Communications Chair.