Favorite child

In my junior year of high school, I wrote a scathing essay criticizing the preferential treatment received by athletes in the college application process. I was frustrated that the swimmers and lacrosse players were being recruited by schools that I wanted to attend. In my mind, I deserved it more because I had better grades in harder classes, better test scores and better extracurriculars outside of sports. They were taking my spot, and it wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t until senior year, right after I quit cross country, that I realized maybe I was a little too harsh. I obviously quit for a reason — running hill repeats or seven-plus miles a day was really damn hard. The dedication and ardor it takes to be a college or professional athlete is almost unfathomable to me — I couldn’t even handle the high school workouts.

At my high school, I perceived all of the athletes to be arrogant and entitled, not really thinking about the work that they put into their sport. After interviewing athletes for this paper, however, I now observe not only their humility but their dedication.

I have become one of the most guilty of glorifying athletes. Everytime I spot someone with the symbolic blue Nike backpack, I think, “Wow, that person accomplished something remarkable.” In order to be on a Cal sports team, an athlete must be one of the top recruits in the country in their respective sport.

Through writing for The Daily Californian, I have had the opportunity to interview members of the Cal women’s tennis team, men’s water polo team and a few members of the cross country team. Most of these people aren’t as arrogant and entitled as I once thought them to be.

Sure, they supposedly are able to get into the Haas School of Business with a lower GPA, but isn’t that somewhat justified? They spend early mornings and afternoons at practice, while other students can use those extra couple of hours to study or meet with their clubs.

Once again, here I am rationalizing why athletes deserve to receive preferential treatment. I can’t seem to help it though. I grew up in a family that valued being a well-rounded student. My parents were big proponents of my siblings and I always participating in athletics, in which we were always expected to give 100 percent, along with working hard in school. And now, I attend a school that upholds the importance of similar ideals. This emphasis on being an all-around person is not only seen at Cal, but also at schools and cities across the country.

Athletes are people that can do what no “regular” person can do. The classic mantra is that no matter what, there will always be someone better than you. But for professional athletes, they are the absolute best at what they do. LeBron James can confidently say he is the best basketball player in the world. Tom Brady has every right to brag that he is the best quarterback in the NFL. And Michael Phelps sure as hell knows he is not just the greatest swimmer, but the greatest Olympian of all time.

Are they justified in getting paid $20-plus million a year? While it might be a little excessive, sports teams bring in so much money that they can afford to give their players such large paychecks. Athletes bring popularity to their respective sports. They help bring a city to life. They entertain. They somehow find a way to worm themselves in our hearts, making us feel as if the bond we share with them is much more than just that of athlete and spectator. And they solidify their place in our minds as heroes.

The fact that athletes perform incredible feats, however, doesn’t mean that they should abuse their status to be above the law. Athletes have been receiving more lenient punishment than the general population for crimes ranging from sexual assault to murder. This ridiculous thought that they deserve special treatment is harmful when it encompasses the legal system, but its presence in other realms of life is actually warranted.

No ordinary person can throw a football into the endzone with two defensive ends and a linebacker in his face like Joe Montana. No ordinary person can run a 5k in 13 minutes and 21 seconds like Steve Prefontaine. No ordinary person can perform a complete game shutout like Madison Bumgarner. No ordinary person can win 17 grand slam titles like Roger Federer. The list goes on.

Athletes have an almost inhuman ability to commit themselves completely to one thing for so many years, pushing themselves mentally and physically to a point beyond what any normal person can imagine. And maybe that is the reason why we glorify them — because they are the closest thing we have to superhuman.

Contact Taylor Choe at [email protected]