Throughout the history of the United States, the role of sports in society has been constantly changing. The relevance of sports in society has been contingent upon different factors, such as the political, economic and cultural demands of the time. Dave Zirin, in his book “A People’s History of Sports in the United States,” writes that “[sport] has often acted as a reflection of the national life,” with respect to the United States. However, the national life has changed from the early days of the republic, and the symbiosis that exists between sports and the national life indicates that sports are becoming a money-driven enterprise.

In 17th-century America, the Puritans used sports as a means to an end; their purpose was “to sharpen your appetite onto the duties of your Calling, and not to glut yourselves with them,” reports Zirin. Building on such a Christian custom, Theodore Roosevelt encouraged the ethos of muscular Christianity and valued the qualities of “courage, resolution, and endurance” in his piece “Professionalism in Sports.” Roosevelt firmly believed that successful nations were built upon a strong physical foundation.

Apart from serving the dual purpose of both entertaining and disciplining the populace, “the 1980s saw a deluge of dollars flow into sports,” writes Zirin. Cable television, mass entertainment and aggressive advertising campaigns all contributed to the commercialization of sports. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, was renowned for his qualities as an exceptional salesman as well as a basketball player. Due to sports’ relatively new role as an economic enterprise, universities, institutions and athletes themselves are putting too much pressure on student-athletes.

First of all, the pressure associated with the life of a student-athlete can cause a myriad of psychological problems. According to J. Scott Hinkle, a sports counselor from Greensboro, N.C., “approximately 10 percent of American college athletes suffer from problems appropriate for counseling.” Anxiety results from “the treat of evaluation by others, lack of self-confidence, and unreasonable expectations from coaches and fans.” In contrast to the glory days when athletes played to sharpen their sensibilities and prepare for war, the evaluation, lack of self-confidence and unreasonable expectations are symptoms of sports’ new role as a money-driven enterprise.

oreover, the demand for athletic scholarships is increasing as money gets tighter and sports are seen as the quickest way to make money. Such a demand has precipitated the use of anabolic steroids by high school athletes. According to USA Today and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “steroid use among high-school students more than doubled between 1991 and 2003.” Many coaches attribute it to a “trickle-down effect,” in which students, striving to emulate the performance of professionals, submit themselves to anabolic steroids for short-term gains but long-term physical deterioration.

Due to the “dramatic increase in interest and participation in sports at the collegiate, as well as professional and leisure levels,” writes Hinkle, collegiate sports are fairly well-entrenched in American life. Competitive recruitment is not a fading phenomenon, and the detrimental effects of pressures on student athletes are felt everywhere from high school cafeterias to university locker rooms. On a university-wide level, Georgetown’s motto of cura personalis is translated from Latin as “care for the whole person,” and the pressure student athletes face is especially incongruent with such a philosophy. I don’t wish to indict Georgetown for careless treatment of student athletes: besides having no evidence, I am an athlete and I do not suffer from psycho-social problems. I simply wish to draw attention to a trend prevalent in current collegiate sports.

To solve the problems that are wreaking havoc on the bodies and minds of collegiate athletes everywhere, a few general standards should be observed. First, high schools and universities should encourage prevention before punishment for steroid-abusing student athletes. Punitive measures have shown no propensity to help, as most of the student athletes who use steroids do so out of desperation. Punishing them outright would lead to more desperation and might precipitate a number of unnecessary psychological problems. Cal State Fullerton has instituted a program that consists of “athletic education that starts from recruitment, and a testing program which screens for street drugs as well as performance-enhancing substances like steroids,” according to the Daily Titan. The results of the educational, preventative program have been fruitful, as “[only] one athlete has tested positive for a steroid since the football program left the school more than 15 years ago.”

Next, universities should hold higher academic standards for high school student athletes who want to matriculate to ensure a minimum dedication to academics in order to be accepted. This standard may be unrealistic and dismissible as wishful thinking, but the “should” remains in the argument; whether or not universities will follow up by requiring high school student athletes to demonstrate a dedication to academics, they should, as success in academics could provide a meaningful alternative to a bad season or the result of unwarranted pressure by fans and coaches.

Finally, more counseling services should be available to student athletes to deal with the societal pressures of performance. Sports that produce revenue tend to have more prestige in the university, and the stars of such sports are often elevated to celebrity status. However, counseling should be more readily available to rowers, wrestlers, triathletes and other participants in sports that produce little revenue. In order to effect meaningful change with respect to the pressure of money, coaches and fans, both student athletes themselves and members of society should respect and care for the whole person. Standards for steroid prevention, academic advising and counseling should be prevalent in the collegiate and high school world. As soon as we begin to value our student athletes’ personal development instead of their worth to the university and the prestige they bring, sports will play a more meaningful role in society.

Will Tamplin is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at Ramblin’ Tamplin appears every other Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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