Why are student-athletes more important than every other student?

Opinion by Rachel D'Agui
Jan. 20, 2021, 9:19 p.m.

I’m so f***ing sick of this shit. That was my immediate reaction upon hearing that Stanford intends to bring back all student-athletes in the winter. Those of you who are not on campus may be unaware that tensions here have been high, but they are, and very much so. R&DE has made a number of highly unpopular decisions, including forcing almost every student currently in undergraduate housing to move to a new residence after winter break and removing ovens from undergraduate apartments in order to force them onto a wildly expensive and inadequate meal plan. Meanwhile, there are many students still stuck at home, with abusive parents, lack of internet and technology access, crowded houses and otherwise poor learning situations who would greatly benefit from coming back to campus. But Stanford is making that incredibly difficult.

Do athletes have to deal with any of this? Of course not. Athletes might as well be descended from Leland Stanford himself, for how well the University treats them. During COVID-19, athletes get to live in special “athlete-only” housing with their teammates, including apartments in Mirrielees, where many undergraduates resided over the summer and where many wanted to remain for the fall. But Stanford kicked out all of the “regular” students from Mirrielees. 

The living space of the athletes reveals one sinister result of University favor: signs of affluence that separate athletes into a clearly distinct and superior class, causing rifts within the student community. The situation at Mirrielees was ridiculous, even before the pandemic. Walking through the halls, one would see one giant, expensive electric bike after another. Why? Well, because all of the football players are able to get into Mirrielees via med draw (because, according to the historical draw data, Mirrielees has been inaccessible via the traditional draw for two years and barely accessible before that. This means every resident must have pre-assigned [substance-free] or gone through the disability draw). How do football players get med draw? Certainly not because they have access to doctors that will advocate for them to get the most desirable housing on campus, I’m sure.

And furthermore, why does every football player seem to have a $2,000 Sondors bike? That’s a hefty expense for most students. Why do these student-athletes need $2,000 electric bikes? Aren’t they supposed to be specimens of peak athletic performance? But somehow they can’t manage to walk to class like us “regular folk?” Maybe I sound bitter. Maybe it’s because a football player, riding an electric bike with the biggest wheels I’ve ever seen (a motorcycle, honestly), nearly plowed into me on a sidewalk. Who knows. These are the kinds of social interactions and impressions that occur when one group of students receives ostensible privilege over other groups.

Further, athletes at Stanford seem impervious to punishment. Over the summer, regular students were constantly threatened with eviction if they dared to, for example, go inside a friend’s apartment. Conversely, student-athletes, according to FoHo, were caught throwing a party at Theta Chi (a co-op space that is very dear to its residents, and generally not occupied by athletes). They received no official punishment for this COVID-19 policy violation. They couldn’t be evicted, of course, because they weren’t living on campus. Rather, Stanford was putting up the football team, men and women’s soccer teams, and women’s volleyball team at the Palo Alto Sheraton. I’m sure Stanford gets a good rate, but how good could a discount be when at a hotel that charges customers $129/night? That may not sound like much (it’s a pandemic, rates are low) but the football team alone counts 102 athletes. Altogether, those teams account for 167 athletes. If you can put two in a room, that’s more than $10,000 every single night. For the whole summer. In one of the nicest hotels in Silicon Valley. What can I say about this, other than groaning out “why?” Why, when I had to fight to stay on campus for reasons related to finances and disability accommodations and be constantly threatened with eviction, were student-athletes put up in a hotel where they could do whatever they wanted, including throwing parties and traveling around the state? The thing is: I know why. Stanford doesn’t care about me. Daddy Stanford puts athletes first; the rest of us are condemned to be the least favorite of his children.

At the time of writing, Stanford said it would bringing back all athletes for winter quarter, despite their disrespect for COVID-19 policy, demonstrated by the fact that nine athletes had tested positive for COVID-19 when the decision was announced, resulting in the exposure to who knows how many other people and despite the impossibility of social distancing in most sports, highlighted here in a recent op-ed by an alum. This Daily article discusses possible explanations for the fact that athlete residences represent such a large percentage of campus COVID-19 cases. Additionally, as if this could get worse, Stanford was moving the football team back and forth to the PNW constantly so that they could continue to practice and play, despite Santa Clara County officials deeming the full-contact sport too unsafe for the current COVID-19 situation.

None of this is helped by students who perpetuate athlete worship. A story about two random Stanford football players receiving scholarships gets  front page coverage in The Stanford Daily, along with a big, glorious thumbnail image. I received a new Stanford scholarship last year, where’s my article? Why are the financial situations of individual athletes newsworthy affairs? They’re just students. Meanwhile, an important news piece about current delays in treatment for cancer patients at Stanford was shoved into the sidebar without a thumbnail.

I’m not “anti-athlete.” Athletes are fine. I have friends who are athletes. However, the way that the university prioritizes these athletes over the rest of us, is simply bullshit. We all know why Stanford does it: the big bucks.

But it would make significantly more sense (and be significantly less offensive to both athletes and students) to simply consider participation on an athletic team to be a “campus job” and to compensate athletes accordingly, otherwise treating them exactly like every other student, on their own to find the resources they need, just like the rest of us. The NCAA, of course, expressly forbids this. So what should Stanford do? Stop prioritizing athletes, because it’s disrespectful to the existence of every other student who attends Stanford. I’m so tired; just quit it already. 

Contact Rachel D’Agui at rdagui ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

A previous version of this article incorrectly claimed that student-athletes in Mirrielees were not required to be on meal plans, wondered if the Athletics Department purchased Sondors bikes for their student-athletes, and suggested that athletes received 5 free meal swipes per week during the pandemic. It has also been updated to clarify that scholarship coverage, football training and COVID-19 cases mentioned in the article happened a few months ago. The Daily regrets these errors. 

Rachel D'Agui is a member of the editorial board and a contributing writer in the Arts & Life section. Contact her at rdagui 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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