The List: Student-Athletes Taking the Hit

Posted by at 10:08PM

Photo courtesy of

Seems lists are making quite a splash this year on the college scene (just ask Karen Owen).  Not one to miss out on the latest trends, Stanford is having a dose of its own list controversy.  Earlier today, The Stanford Daily published an article broadcasting the existence – and the debate surrounding – the list of reputedly easy classes given out to student athletes each quarter by the Athletic Academic Resource Center.

Although the Daily touts the front-page article like it is piece of juciy investigative journalism (I mean, can you call it investigative journalism if 70%* of the student body already knew about it?), I first heard about the list my freshman year.  I actually saw it sometime during my sophomore.  My initial reaction was indignation.  Not because athletes were being given inside info on grade-boosting classes, but because I’d taken a substantial number of the classes on the list out of my own volition.  So much for overachieving.

To be honest, the list never bothered me much in principle.  What did I care if Joe Athlete wants to take “Intro to Improvising” (which by the way, I’ve actually heard is a blast)?  Joe Athlete probably doesn’t want to be a Biology major either.  Was I going to hold it against him them that he isn’t taking classes at the rigor level of organic chem?  We have different goals – same as Bob the Art Major and Jane the Mechanical Engineer have different goals too.  Take what you want to take, I’d say.  Doesn’t affect me.
But maybe I just don’t have that competitive edge.  There are certainly students here at Stanford that feel athletes receive unwarranted special treatment that puts us “regular” kids at a disadvantage.  I for one have always been a bit put off by the cliquishness I feel that surround  student-athletes (it’s arguably inevitable when you spend so much time on a team, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it).  Yet my personal feelings having nothing to do with the academic schedules of athletes or anyone else for that matter. 

Actually, what I found most discomforting in the Daily article was not the list or the Athletic Academic Resource Center’s contention that is simply for scheduling purposes.  No, what offended me most was the list’s implication that student athletes are somehow academically lazy or incompetent.

Donald Barr, Professor for the class “Social Class, Race, Ethnicity, Health” (which happens to be on the list), was quoted saying “(Stanford) accommodates athletes in the manner that they accommodate students with disabilities.”  I’m offended on behalf of athletes.  And people with disabilities.  Hell, I’m just offended.   I’ll give Professor Barr the benefit of the doubt that and say that he does not believe athleticism constitutes a disability and was instead just pointing out a parallel in the two groups’ treatment by the university.

The problem with the list is that it reinforces the perception that student athletes at Stanford are academically incapable.  I have known many athletes in my time at Stanford.  And yes, some of them do make you stop and wonder if they were dropped on their head in infancy.  But then again, I know plenty of non-athletes here that also make me wonder that.

Far more common than the “dumb athlete,” are my encounters with the very-academically-accomplished athlete.  The pre-med athlete.  The athlete who spends countless hours in a mechanical engineering lab building robots.  The athlete that is kicking my ass in physics.  The athlete that managed to major AND minor when I, in all my glorious free time, only managed to do the former.

Even if you going to tell me these are ALL exceptions to the norm, the list is very much an assault on the capabilities of those athletes that are outstanding students.  It undermines their accomplishments and puts not the merely seeds, but the big whopping plant of doubt, into the minds of those with whom they interact.  Is she a list-user?  Is she not?  Are they graduating only thanks to that A+ in “Rock, Sex, and Rebellion”?

I don’t envy athletes at all.  I can only fathom the insecurity and bitterness I would endure if I was constantly barraged with the assumption that, because I play a sport, I somehow have the intellectual prowess of a half-blind sea cow (no offense to half-blind sea cows).  If it were me, I’d walk around with a copy of my SAT scores in my back pocket to whip out and shove in the accuser’s face if he or she suggested I was somehow intellectually inferior because of my athlete status**.  Proof of identification: I am not dumb.

The whole thing, really is as Dean Julie called it, “unneccesary.”  Students that want cop-out classes can find cop-out classes.  That’s what CourseRank is for.  And your continuously blazed roommate who still somehow manages to maintain a 3.8.  The information is out there, with or without some list.  However, without the list casting a dubious shadow on their success, academically-minded athletes can start asserting that the student in student-athlete really isn’t a joke.

*This is a percentage based on zero research and/or fact.  But just roll with it.

**Preferably the scores from the second time I took it.  I mean, nobody does well on the SAT the first time around. Right? RIGHT??  Plz?


5 Responses to “The List: Student-Athletes Taking the Hit”

  1. clanny says:

    This is perfect. Send it to the world.

  2. ’11 says:


    Best perspective on it that I’ve seen so far.

    What bugged me the most was that it was so painfully obvious that the wikileaks-happy writers of the article badly wanted to have some “inside scoop” and be the whistle-blowers on something that’s pretty inconsequential. The pretentiousness, combined with the implication of mediocrity, was just too much. Seems they got too wrapped up in the theme of the class (‘investigative journalism’) and jumped the gun.

  3. Josh says:


    I like the points you raise in the article, and I think most people, myself included, would agree on the main takeaway, which is that the list is stupid and all that it does is help cast a stigma on student athletes that devalues student athletes.

    But if that is the case, I don’t see how the article attacks student athletes. If anything, it attacks the athletic department and the fact that they create this list which contributes to an unnecessary negative perception of the students it aims to help. The policies of the athletic department and the contributions of student athletes are two very different things, and I think conflating the two is a problem. The article points out a flaw in the athletic department that devalues student athletes, so it is the athletic department policies that put the hit on students, not the article. The article also helped get rid of the list, which will help student athletes avoid any baseless stigma of lack of academic rigor.

  4. @Josh says:

    I think the point is that nothing is to be made out of the list. No attacks on the athletics department, no attacks on athletes, on anything. It’s a really irrelevant, inconsequential thing.

  5. george says:

    I love this list. Stanford sucks. GO BEARS


Comments are moderated and will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. Please do not be alarmed if your comment does not show up immediately. We will get it posted soon.