February 14, 2022

MEIDENBAUER | Students and Athletes: All Teams Deserve Support From The Student Body

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Cornell hockey games are full of packed, cheering crowds every weekend, chanting alongside the band. Well, the men’s hockey games are. I went to a women’s hockey game for the first time on Friday, and I was shocked at the quiet. The pep band played as loud as ever, but the crowd was maybe a third of the size that it typically is for the men’s games. The same sport, same location, same cheers. Why had so many fewer people turned up?  

It’s not the cost of tickets – men’s hockey games typically cost around $15 for students, while the women’s game cost me only around $5. Many other sports are free to attend. Nor is this an attribution to the skill level of the team; our women’s hockey team is consistently one of the best in the country, as is the men’s. 

That same afternoon, members of the wrestling team were in Trillium dining hall promoting their senior day meet against Binghamton, which occurred this past weekend. It was a whole spectacle: One of them was running around in a red morph suit trying to convince students to attend. 

There’s a lack of recognition from the general student body of the dedication behind Cornell’s student-athletes. For most Cornellians, sports are something to get engaged with when it’s convenient, particularly those with strong legacies and traditions, such as men’s hockey. But for all student-athletes, regardless of the team, sports are an integral part of our college experience, and all teams deserve to be supported by the student body as such.  

To preface, I myself was a varsity athlete here for three years on the rowing team. I know all too well that being a Division I athlete is certainly not easy. In addition to 20 hours of structured practice, you often have to attend team and coaches meetings, additional workouts, physical therapy and health appointments. You also have to prioritize eating and sleeping well, which can prove really hard for any Cornell student. Time is by far the most limiting factor in this equation, and athletes are forced to choose what they prioritize, making sacrifices that other students simply don’t have to make. 

I’ll never forget a moment during my sophomore year when I went to get a resume critique from the Engineering Career Center. The upperclassman peer advisor read through the page and asked me directly, “So, what do you do on campus?” 

“I’m on the rowing team,” I answered. 

“Anything else?” 

The moment may seem innocuous, but when it happened, I immediately felt inadequate. When you’re a student-athlete, it’s virtually impossible to do anything else. Most clubs meet during the academic dead period between 5 and 7 p.m., but that’s when we have practice. Rowing is a year round sport, with races in both the fall and spring semesters. I was, however, able to join a project team thanks to COVID taking racing away for the fall of 2020. I worked on the team for a grand total of one semester — and even then, the demands of balancing practice with the necessary time and effort of the club proved challenging. 

The question implied that being a student-athlete on campus isn’t “enough” on its own; I had to do more to feel accepted by my peers.

The general Cornell attitude is that student-athletes should be treated just as any student would be. On the surface, this statement makes sense, yet our peers are often the least supportive of any additional needs that student-athletes have. I’ve been told by several naive peers that student-athletes think they’re better than the rest of the student body; this idea is a pervasive one that exists across campus. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

At many other schools, athletes get great benefits: lots of gear, early access to class signups, even separate dining halls. That’s not the case at Cornell. Being a student-athlete here earns no special privileges; the gear is usually old and reused, and the Ivy League doesn’t provide any kind of scholarships for athletics. More often than not, being an athlete is an academic hindrance. We have to navigate exams and assignments around race schedules, coordinating with our professors and coaches in an effort to survive the semester.  

Particularly when COVID first impacted student life on campus, it was almost taboo to admit to being an athlete. Teams were often blamed for outbreaks on campus — sometimes rightfully so, but, as with any group, generalizations often do more harm than good. Many student-athletes live together in large houses; my house was even listed on an anonymous Instagram page, which called us out for hosting a “party.”In reality, that gathering was composed only of members of our household. In fact, we had been isolated for weeks, with no outsiders allowed inside. It was incredibly frustrating to be doing everything right, yet still get blamed by fellow students.   

Last summer, I ultimately made the decision to prioritize my medical needs and retire from the sport. It definitely wasn’t an easy choice to make, though I found a strong silver lining. Quitting gave me the time and energy I needed to pursue so many amazing opportunities, such as writing for The Sun. Most athletes make these sacrifices quietly, often without even realizing the extent of what they’re missing. It’s only in hindsight that I fully see the opportunity cost of being a fulltime athlete, and yet it’s a tradeoff I would absolutely make again in a heartbeat.

Being a Cornell student-athlete is challenging, and all of the athletic teams here deserve our support and respect. 

Lorelei Meidenbauer is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester