When Kansas City Chiefs football player Jamaal Charles tore his ACL during a game in 2011, he was abused for it on Twitter, according to ESPN.
Brandon Jacobs, a running back for the New York Giants, received a death threat because he was sidelined during a season opening game due to a hamstring injury. Avo News reported Jacobs and his family were threatened if he didn’t rush for at least 50 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, all because the fan wanted to improve his fantasy football points.
Hall of Fame centerfielder Mickey Mantle confessed on television that he wet the bed until the age of 16 because of the pressure he felt by his father to become a professional athlete.
Though sports in their nature are just games, the athletes participating in them don’t always experience that same leisure. Pressure on athletes results from multiple sources: parents, fans, collegiate and professional recruiters, coaches, and high-profile games like the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry. Professional sports carry the added burden of financial pressure, because the success of the multi-billion dollar industry rests on the performance of the athletes playing in those leagues.
For college athletes, sometimes the pressure is more than they can handle. Students who are granted athletic scholarships face the decision of losing their funding or managing the demands of collegiate sports. Should they transfer schools, allowing them to maintain a scholarship while mitigating the pressure?
CNBC reported that in 2012-2013 school year, 14.5 percent of men’s basketball NCAA Division 1 players transferred from two-year colleges and 13.3 percent transferred from four-year schools. For female basketball players, 7.5 percent transferred from two-year schools and 8.6 percent came from four-year colleges.
Despite the fact that sporting events are competitive, athletes should enjoy what they play. Although performing well is part of a professional athlete’s career or a college student’s duty to maintain their scholarship, the burden to perform well can become overwhelming from fans.
Pressure to perform during games is high as it is, but that pressure exists outside of the stadium as well. Athletes, like celebrities or other figures of power, are held to a higher standard than the average person. Even Lehigh’s athletes are expected to behave in a certain way – whether in person or on social media – when they’re not wearing their number on their back.
As social media has gained popularity, stories emerged about student athletes being punished for their posts or messages on social networks. In 2012, Bradley Patterson, a football player at the University of North Alabama, was removed from the team after he posted a tweet that used a racial slur in reference to President Barack Obama. Patterson responded to the incident insisting, “I ain’t racist,” the Daily Dot reported, but the damage had already been done.
Regardless of intent, athletes should be held to their words and actions. No one wants to watch their star player sit on the sidelines because of an allegedly innocent tweet, but part of being in the spotlight means high expectations.
Athletes are direct representations of the schools they attend. Though young adults and students like the rest of us, they have a responsibility to portray their alma maters in a positive way. It can be frustrating as an athlete to have to censor what you say, but it’s a trade-off for being given the opportunity to play a sport at the collegiate level, and maybe even on a scholarship. It’s an opportunity that should be treated with respect.
Athletes are also held to a different standard because they set expectations for others. Their notoriety means that they are looked up to, regardless of whether the player is at Lehigh or in the NFL.
Though they may not ask for the attention, they often receive a degree of fame that comes with the territory. Just like any celebrity — whether actor, model or politician — athletes, too, are in the spotlight and hyperanalyzed.
This puts college athletes in a tough position. As students, we make mistakes and sometimes post carelessly on social media, only to regret it later. College is meant to serve as a stepping stone for learning how to act in the professional world once we graduate.
Yet, our student athletes are ambassadors of our institution.
This means that as fans and peers, it is important to realize that athletes face pressures on and off the field. But it’s equally as vital to understanding just how influential these Lehigh representatives are. If we hope to portray ourselves positively through our athletes, the expectations may very well have to be set high.