Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Athlete Stigma in Higher Education

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Athlete Stigma in Higher Education

Article excerpt

In this study 538 collegiate athletes were asked how they were perceived and treated by faculty and other non athlete students. 33% reported they were perceived negatively by professors and 59.1% by students, Only 15% reported positive perceptions. 61.5% reported they were refused or given a hard time when requesting accommodations for athletic competitions. 62.1% reported a faculty member had made a negative remark about athletes in class. 370 athletes reported specific comments about athletes made by faculty and non athlete students. The comments reflected the dumb jock stereotype; low intelligence, little academic motivation and receipt of undeserved benefits and privileges. There were race, gender and sport differences in the stigmatization. Due in part to the dumb jock stereotype athletes are stigmatized (devalued social identity) in the academic domain.

If a professor knows you are an athlete, you are assumed to be stupid until you can prove otherwise. (White male water polo)

In a big, class (400 people). Before test professor said, "It's an easy test. Even athletes can pass." (White male swimming)

Professor asked the student athletes to stand on the first day of class and said, "These are the people who will probably drop this class." (African American female, basketball)


Universities place a heavy burden on student athletes. They are expected to be both successful in the academic as well as the athletic domain. They must meet the same academic demands as other students with only minimal accommodations while devoting extensive time (30 to 40 or more hours a week) and energy to their sport, spending time away from classes for athletic competitions, satisfying demanding coaches whose livelihood depends upon their athletic performance, and maintain self esteem by performing up to their own, coaches' and family and friends' expectations.

A less recognized burden faced by athletes is the negative perceptions and expectations by faculty and other students about their academic capability and motivation. These negative perceptions are embodied in the dumb jock stereotype that holds that athletes lack the motivation and intelligence to succeed academically at the intercollegiate level (Zingg, 1982, Leach & Conners, 1984). They are seen as academically unqualified illegitimate students whose only interest is athletics, who expect and receive special treatment from professors and others. The perception is that in order to remain eligible and participate in sports they put in minimum effort, do little academic work, take easy classes and have others do their work for them.

Jokes like other forms of folklore can reinforce stereotypes and reflect issues that are of concern in society but cannot be expressed openly (Dundes, 1987). Dumb jock jokes provide a socially sanctioned way of expressing anxiety about the existence of intercollegiate athletics and the threat it poses to the academic integrity and purpose of the university. The following dumb jock jokes express these concerns:

Did you hear they finally found twelve jurors who never heard about O.J.?

Answer: Twelve of his professors at USC (Dundes, 1966).

This concern about the lack of academic qualifications and seemingly non existent admission standards for athletes can be seen in the numerous examples of College Entrance exams for athletes found on the internet which include questions that a child could answer. A few examples follow (, 2005):

What are coat hangers for?

What time is it when the big hand is on 12 and the little hand is on the 5?

Where does rain come from?

(a) Macy's

(b) A 9-11 store

(c) Canada

(d) The sky

Athletes are also believed to receive undeserved extra benefits not available to other students. Extra benefits athletes are thought to receive include academic credit for no work, cars, girls, and illegal monetary payments as these light bulb jokes show. …

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