Since the time of the gladiator, athletes have been revered and celebrated within society. Even today fans gather in masses in sporting arenas and sport bars to route for their favorite teams.
The 2016 Rio Olympics provided an opportunity for fans to cheer on their country and the various institutions represented by the athletes. The University of Texas at Austin was represented by 20 current and former student athletes at the olympic games and tied for the seventh place spot with the country of France with the number of gold medals won.
The lives of athletes are often glamorized but the reality for collegiate athletes is far from the glitz and glam experienced by professional athletes. Collegiate athletes not only have to maintain rigorous training and conditioning schedules but have to maintain minimum academic requirements in their rigorous academic pursuits.
The current average GPA of all student athletes at the University of Texas at Austin is 3.04 with 62 percent of student athletes maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, according to reports published by the university. The university does not publicize undergraduate GPAs for non-student athletes.
UT Athletics Director and former member of the Kentucky State University basketball team, Chris Plonsky, acknowledges the unique personality required to balance college-level athletics and academic pursuits.
“I think that individuals that play sports have clearly a physical gift and a passion for what they do,” Plonsky said. “They love to compete, they love to be a part of a team, and they love to get better.”
Plonsky said the qualities that collegiate athletes possess translate to the individual’s ability to be successful in a rigorous academic environment. Even so, the expectations of a student athlete at the university are exceedingly elevated in comparison to those of students not participating in college-level athletic programs.
“Generally, we have classes in the morning from 8 a.m, to 12 p.m., practice from 1:30-4:30 p.m., we lift twice a week from 5-6:30 p.m.,” Chloe Collins, a senior communications studies major and volleyball player at UT, said. “You’re home by 7 p.m. and still have homework to do.”
“When you get back home, you’re physically tired and you still have all the work to do that your other classmates have probably already done,” senior mechanical engineering major and UT track athlete Carlton Anumnu said.
In order to participate in athletic programs at UT, students must be enrolled as a full-time student, meet a minimum GPA requirement, attend mandatory study hall hours, complete community service hours, and attend team practices and individual conditioning sessions.
Despite theses demanding requirements student athletes must meet, stereotypes and misconceptions about them run rapid.
“I think some common stereotypes and perceptions of student athletes are that they’re kind of crazy, they party a lot, they’re entitled, they’re more into the sport than school and their education,” Victoria Recer, a senior english major at UT, said.
Another stereotype about collegiate athletes, according to senior mechanical engineering major and UT track athlete Charles Anumnu, is that student athletes are “not as smart [as non-student athletes]; that we wouldn’t be here if not for athletics.”
“I know a lot of athletes, I’m friends with a lot of athletes, and they’re usually the most academically driven,” senior journalism major Katie Sampson said.
According to Plonsky, the truth of the matter is that student athletes and non-student athletes work equally as hard for their “highly coveted” position at UT.
“Everyone works hard to get here, nobody was given a position at this university,” said Charles Anumnu.
And while Carlton Anumnu, Charles Anumnu and Chloe Collins are grateful for the opportunity to represent UT with their athletic abilities, the trio cannot help but wonder what it would be like to be a normal college student.
“I get to go to my dream school playing the sport that I love,” Collins said. “But I think throughout all my four years here, I’ve always wanted to be a normal student in certain ways; I think there are just moments where you wish you knew what it was like.”
For some student athletes, balancing their time between academics and athletics can become a challenge, which causes some of them to leave the program. Plonsky said that the number of students that leave the athletic program at UT is low, but that it does happen.
One such student, Rachel Thomas, a senior public health major, ran track her first year at UT.
“I felt like I owed myself the opportunity to participate in collegiate sports,” Thomas said. “I was good enough to.”
Thomas realized the difficulty of her major and made the decision to resign from the track team toward the end of the season her freshman year. “I felt I was a stronger student,” Thomas said.
“I have a lot more time [since leaving the athletic program] to devote to my studies,” said Thomas. “I have more time to socialize and to participate in organizations.”
For the strong-willed students who do choose to pursue collegiate athletics and academic pursuits simultaneously, collegiate athletics often serve as a way for the athletes to access and finance their collegiate studies.
According to the NCAA, only about 3.5 percent of collegiate athletes turn pro and many student athletes understand that their competitive athletic careers will come to an end after graduation.
“The grinding part is never the fun part but you have to think of your goals at the end of it,” Charles Anumnu said. “Athletics has really helped us with that [our professional pursuits], I’m not worried.”
Courtesy photos shot by Jordan Larkins and screen-grabs provided by Chloe Collins.