Front and Center: Signing Off

Front and Center columnist Melanie Schwimmer ’23 writes a reflection on the place of athletics at the college as well as the importance of improving athletics in the world at large, in her final column for The Student.

As I write my final article for The Amherst Student, I present a starting point rather than a conclusion. I hope this column has served as a new understanding of sport at Amherst and a call to all readers to invest time, resources, and attention to the various ways sports rule our lives.

At its best, sport can be a place of tremendous joy and hope. Recently, NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo earned high praise for his response at a press conference after his team’s elimination in the first round of the playoffs. He contended, “There’s no failure in sports. You know, there’s good days, bad days. Some days you are able to be successful, some days you're not. Some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. And that's what sports is about. You don't always win; some other team’s gonna win. And this year, somebody else is gonna win. Simple as that.”

The problem is that there is a constant failure in sports — not in the win or loss column of a single game — but in our systems. We consistently fail female athletes, queer athletes, athletes of color, and athletes from the global south. These failures are often overlooked for the joy that sport can bring, for the capital it can produce for the few, and for the connections it can create in a community. For the past three years, I have written about these failures, hoping to shine a light on undervalued stories and critically analyzing the games I love. I know that I will continue to shine light on these issues, and hope that Amherst College becomes a beacon of what sport can be at its best. We could start by taking away our male centric way of labeling sports so that when you search “Amherst hockey,” men’s rec leagues don't appear before our women’s team, which won the NESCAC and was a triple overtime runner-up in the first national championship game hosted on the Amherst campus. This small change could make a big difference in acknowledging the achievements of female athletes.

In our own community, the Amherst administration has made it clear that athletics are essential to the college. In response to upcoming budget cuts which include hiring freezes,  faculty members have questioned why the school has continued to post new positions in athletics. Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein explained that “We believe those positions are core to the mission of the college.” This statement is revelatory in our own context, demonstrating that whether we like them or not, sports are dictating our lives in more ways than we can imagine. If athletics are central to Amherst’s mission, what does it say about our school’s vision of equality when male sports come up before female ones?

We should engage in a fruitful debate around whether athletics are central to the Amherst college mission.  If athletics are central to the college’s mission, we should take the study, analysis, and reporting around athletics seriously as an entire campus. This includes dedicating spots on the faculty for sports studies scholars. Associate Professor of American Studies Robert Hayashi offers multiple courses on critical sports studies, where he encourages students and student athletes to think critically about the role of athletics at Amherst and society at large. What if we had an entire department dedicated to this work?

The stakes of sports, particularly female and non-binary sports, remain incredibly high for questions of civil rights, capitalism, and justice on this campus, in our communities, and around the world. We cannot stop now. We must continue to shine a light on these issues and demand better.