I hear them all the time. The whispers in the Shooters line about the basketball players who don’t have to wait. The jokes about how athletes don’t take demanding classes.
Some Duke students have a preconception that athletes here have it easy.
These same people probably would not want to experience an athlete’s schedule for a day, let alone a week.
There are certainly benefits to being an athlete. Athletes have specialized tutoring, training, free gear and professional development programs. Often, they get extended flexibility and leniency from teachers, and socially, they just about seem to run campus life.
As an everyday student, it is easy to view these things without the appropriate context and be jealous. But many people tend to forget that athletes are people too. And at Duke, athletes are students, just like you and me.
I have had the privilege to be best friends with one of the many. She is one of the best people I have ever met—supportive, positive, interesting, thoughtful—and everything you want in a best friend.
She came to Duke to not only do what she loved athletically, but also to study what she loved: biology. Never have I met someone so passionate about a subject in my entire life, and to this day, after knowing each other since we were neighbors freshman year, we laugh about how people are intimidated by her and reminisce on the days I spent feeling the same way.
I would still be lying if I said I don’t get nervous talking to some athletes here on campus.
But I would not be lying if I said that some of the kindest, smartest and most interesting people on this campus are athletes. Some of my best memories and conversations over these past four years have been with them. I have supported them in their games and matches and they have supported me.
Not very many athletes I know would say life here is easy. But not very many I know would change their path here either.
Practice schedules require early morning and late evenings—not to mention are restrictive when it comes to scheduling meetings or accessing resources like tutoring. They struggle to attend office hours and resource room hours, and sometimes can’t take the classes they want to because of practice schedules.
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Athletes also have added pressure: they have to support their teams, coaching staffs and the entire school every time they put on that Duke uniform. And a lot of times, even when they aren’t even wearing the blue and white.
No sport here deserves more or less than any other. No one sport here is “harder”, or even has harder practice schedules. Every single athlete here deserves to be here. They play the sports they love and every sport here is played by people who chose to do it for Duke.
I remember in high school, coming into the gym every morning at 5 a.m. The security guard would let me in the side door, and for two hours before class started I would get some shots up. I would repeat drills from the week or lift in the weight room—anything I thought would help me improve as a player.
My mornings were not spent only for me, though. No matter how tired I was, I knew there was something else I was getting into the gym for. It was my team. For some of the other girls on the team, it was their families. Others, it was the money for a college scholarship.
Everyone plays for something.
Because of that, there’s a lot of pressure. Duke athletes represent our school in the most public arenas. Many people can name Grayson Allen, for example, but not a single other Duke alum. They are public figures as much as students, and that’s a great responsibility.
People know Duke not only because of what Duke alumni have accomplished or because of its academic reputation. Many know Duke because it is an athletic powerhouse in a competitive ACC.
So next time you see an athlete, remember what they sacrificed and support them. Get to know who they are and why they love to do what they love to do. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and step into Taishoff Aquatic Center or go over to Jack Katz Stadium. You’ll find some of your best memories there and support some of the best people on campus.
Athletes are people too.