Student athletes travel thousands of miles every season to represent the University in athletic contests. Whether it be in the stadium, on the sports page or on television, people inside and outside the University community are watching. Because they are constantly in the public eye, student-athletes are viewed as role models and should be mindful of their conduct and represent the University and the student body in a positive light at all times, whether they like it or not.
All students have an obligation to represent themselves and their university positively, but for athletes that obligation is inherently stronger. While everyone should strive to be upstanding members of the community, the truth is that if the average student were to get caught with marijuana, few would notice. For better or worse, the impact of a student athlete’s actions is larger than that of other students, as shown by the ceaseless negative publicity the University has received in wake of the arrests of three football players last week.
Student athletes represent the block M not just on the football field or the hardwood. Their famous faces automatically carry that association into classrooms, dorms and bars. Student athletes attract attention of onlookers and fans wherever they go, so when they act up, people will know and associate their actions with the school they represent.
Athletes should be cognizant of their off-the-field conduct and should always strive to demonstrate good character. Increased public exposure and scrutiny comes with being an athlete at a Division I school. It is not an additional burden that athletes suddenly face when they arrive on campus or should be surprised about; it’s something they should expect when they agree to participate in athletics at the university level. Any increased pressure of being role models is unavoidable and must be embraced.
That is not to say that athletes should be held to an overly rigorous standard of conduct. For example, athletes should not be prohibited from participating in the collegiate social scene or have mandated community service activities solely to increase the reputation of University athletics. Athletes, and everyone else, should try to go above and beyond their obligations, but they should not be required to.
Coaches have a crucial role to play in encouraging good conduct from their players on and off the field. Coaches and the athletic department need to constantly remind athletes of their unique role representing the University and inform them of what types of conduct are unacceptable. Furthermore, they must communicate with their players to help them deal with the stresses of collegiate athletics and should themselves be role models to their players.
Student-athletes have a distinct role, opportunity and obligation to represent the University in a positive light. Coaches bear the burden of making sure their players follow through with that responsibility.