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Brewer: The purple crayon paradox

The Daily’s Mikaela Brewer shares her thoughts on the academic perceptions of student athletes

I want you to be really honest with yourself when thinking about the following question. Sit with your instinctual answer. Would you be surprised upon hearing that a highly touted college athlete, primarily known for their athletic capabilities, is also an aspiring mechanical engineer, with a 3.7 GPA? Why are you surprised? Where does such a concrete divide between athlete and student come from? Why is there a line at all? Why do you have to be either a student or an athlete? In this realm, you can be either blue or red in the crayon box, and mouths drop when there’s purple.

Of course, by mouths dropping, I don’t mean in disgust. I mean in amazement, as if purple is the most uncommon and rare crayon there is. What is interesting to note is that student athletes are relatively abundant in themselves, and most are very intelligent. Many go on to pursue incredible jobs, research, partnerships, companies and start-ups later in their lives, beyond and often not related to their athletic abilities.

I personally love many of the popular movies featuring athletes. There’s often an intangible message to work hard, be a great teammate and fight for your passions. However, the athlete who sleeps through class, cheats, thinks two plus two equals five and miserably fails their SAT is a common denominator archetype. As much as it may be amusing to follow this character’s struggles, this type of student athlete is not very common.

Student athletes are some of the most motivated individuals you will meet. They have to be — they wouldn’t be successful if they weren’t. I bet you can visualize an athlete working on their mid-range jumper late into the night in an empty gym. Now, switch gears. Why is it so hard to visualize that same person putting the same energy, same motivation and same brain into their studies late at night, at the desk in their empty bedroom? Why did I have to ask you to switch gears? The brain that makes ESPN top-10 decisions on the field, ice or court is the same brain that correctly chooses which equation to use on their math exam.

Purple is the color usually associated with royalty, success, intelligence, motivation, ambition, creativity, dignity and devotion. So, I suppose my question is: Why can’t we normalize and expect purple crayons?

 

Contact Mikaela Brewer at mbrewer8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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