'Dumb Jocks' at Harvard: Debunking the Myth

Athletes Say They Study Like They Play

Worn and sweat-stained team caps, ubiquitous grey sweatshirts and a wandering mind appear to some the standard accoutrements of the Harvard athlete.

While the outside world may equate any Harvard education with omniscience, students see clear intellectual differentiations within their ranks.

In place of the Greek ideal—fitness of body as a necessary complement to fitness of mind—many Harvard undergraduates assume that their sports-inclined classmates are simply scholars in their spare time.

"While there is no outspoken discrimination, there is an inherent assumption that football players are dumb jocks," said Varsity Football Captain Edward D. Kinney '95.

But Harvard athletes often have more to offer than directions to Carey Cage.

"In a strange, sick way, Harvard engenders scholar-athletes," says Kinney, a sociology concentrator. "You can't help but be one here."

Some athletes complain, in fact, that fellow students don't appreciate how hard they work or recognize how many of them excel.

"To some degree, people think football players got in because the coach pulled strings," says Academic All-Ivy offensive lineman Sean W. Hansen '95. "Some people recognize that we work hard and just happen to like football or lacrosse or whatever."

"Still I've been surprised at the negative stereotype, especially considering the large number of athletes at this school," adds psychology concentrator Hansen.

Varsity Women's Soccer Coach Tim W. Wheaton says he thinks there's a perception that Harvard athletes are in some way different from other students.

"One of the problems we have at schools likethis is that athletes stand out," Wheaton says. "Sometimes the expectation is that they aren't as smart as everyone else."

But he says the academic success of an athlete is comparable to that of any student who is involved with a time-consuming extracurricular activity.

Many student-athletes say they're aware of a frustrating intellectual stigma that accompanies a team-affiliation at Harvard. Unfortunately, they say, they have little choice but to ignore it.

"When I called up one of my roommates before school started and I told him I was a hockey player, he thought I was a complete jock," said varsity team member Douglas M. Sproule '98.

In his first semester at Harvard, Sproule enrolled in Chemistry 10 and Math 21a as the basis for a pre-med college career.


Recommended Articles