Response to the Elephant in the Room

I am a student-athlete at Amherst College who plays for the men’s soccer program. I am not enrolled in classes such as Bowling 1; I do not have people doing my homework for me as I prepare to get drafted by a pro sports team; and, there are no “fans” asking for my autograph as I walk around campus. I say this because I felt disappointed and slighted by the way that male athletes at the College were stereotyped in Professor Dumm’s article, “Elephant in the Room,” because the athletic scene that Professor Dumm describes involving entitlement, misogyny and homophobia is not one that I am a part of. I am not writing this to say that the student-athlete culture at Amherst is perfect. As a sophomore, I am trying to do my part in improving the role that my team has within the community. As inspiration, I look at how the leaders on campus — professors, coaches, captains and club leaders — try to make the Amherst community better. I was upset about the article, not because Professor Dumm voiced an opinion that I disagreed with, but because he went about it in an unproductive manner. It was frustrating that Professor Dumm was publicly accusatory towards the entire athletic department without proposing some sort of forum for discussion with the athletes. I think many athletes want to start a dialogue about how we, as athletes, can make the Amherst campus better as a whole. However, many of the athletes I have spoken with feel ostracized by the article, and now this type of discussion will be harder to start.

While the student-athlete’s role in the community can always be improved, it is important to know that many athletes on campus do not fall into the negative athletic stereotype as described by Professor Dumm.

The first day of my first year at Amherst began with a team meeting. Being new to the program, I expected that the meeting would be purely soccer related. However, the first thing our head coach did was make sure that we were all acquainted with the cardinal rules of the Amherst soccer program: academics always come first, we respect women, we recycle (winners care about the environment!) and we are accepting of people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds as well as sexual orientations. Our coach went on to say that while winning is important to the program, the most important thing is that the team is made up of a group of good guys who care about one another and hold each other accountable for their actions. The fact that all of the upperclassmen on the team had bought into the idea that character is the most important part of our Program made an impression on me. I remember sitting there thinking that I was lucky to be part of a team that cared about the same values that my parents had instilled in me. Right then and there I decided that I wanted these same values to be an integral part of the team when I became an upperclassman. This emphasis on character became even more apparent when I learned that the most revered of the soccer alumni were the ones who cared about the Program, made good decisions off the field and were respected by the Amherst community as a whole. Molding us into better people over the course of our four years here is the main objective of the program. Everything else is secondary.

Contrary to the stereotypical belief that athletes feel like they can do or say whatever they want because they are athletes, being part of the Athletic Program has made me more aware of how important my actions and words are due to the effect that they have on those around me. I am constantly reminded that I represent myself, my teammates, my team, the coaching staff, the athletic department and the Amherst crest on my jersey, and this informs the decisions I make. We hold each other to very high standards, and I know that if I make a bad decision, I need to answer to my own conscience, my teammates and my coaches. We take our bond as a team very seriously and we always look out for each other by making sure that those around us are making good decisions. Although I have mainly been talking about the Amherst men’s soccer program, I have interacted with many coaches and players from other varsity teams around campus, specifically through the Amherst Leads Program and I know that the values that I associated with the Soccer Program are values that are major parts of the philosophies of other teams on campus. Amherst Leads, a leadership development program in which many varsity athletes participate, is a good example of the Athletic Department attempting to create a more community-oriented athletic environment.

I know that Professor Dumm is not alone in his beliefs. His argument does touch on a larger issue within the community and the country. The point of my response is not solely to criticize the way in which Professor Dumm wrote his article. I am writing this because my biggest fear regarding this situation is that people will discuss this issue privately within their respective groups and not in the community at large. My hope is that this article can be a starting point for Amherst and its leaders to talk about the culture of the college and how we can change it for the better. To this effect, I would love to see the professor in my class on Monday morning set aside 10 minutes to begin a dialogue about student-athlete culture, drinking culture and sexual decision making amongst the whole class. This is by no means a final solution, but it would be a tangible start to approaching a community-wide issue. I think it is important for professors and coaches alike to facilitate these types of discussions because they are the leaders we look to every day.