Written by Erica Siddle.
Athletic favoritism has affected sporting teams from the preschool level to the professional leagues for as long as there have been athletics. With favoritism so embedded into the world of sports, the issue is easily brushed back under the rug when a conflict rears its ugly head. Being an athlete myself, I have witnessed a wide variety of favoritism over the years. But like many others, when I notice a conflict arising due to the preference of a coach, I immediately brush the issue aside and practice avoidance until the problem resolves. Unfortunately, the problems that typically arise from favoritism do not disappear, but often manifest as larger ones over time. When I began participating in sports at the college level, I had several preconceived notions: 1) favoritism would never be on a Christian college campus and 2) if it was, it would be based on how “Godly” you are instead of on athletic ability. As I have continued my participation in sports through the first three years of college, I have noticed that my preconceived notions of being an athlete at Greenville were not only wrong, but appallingly so.
During my first semester at Greenville, I quickly discovered how false my presumptions were. Where I expected to find a harmonious, utopian team atmosphere, I found instead one plagued by many of the same problems as any other sporting team I had been part of. But much to my encouragement, the issue really seemed to be held in check. Things, however, are not always as they seem. Because of my variety of interests as a child, I was never involved with the same sports teams for more than a season or two, maximum. In addition to being constantly on the move, I never really shone at any particular event. I was part of the realm of sports because I was a wild child who needed to release energy on a daily basis, not because I would ever continue my career beyond the confines of the local park. Because of my continual bouncing from event to event, I was never really affected by the favoritism that sent many of my equally average friends home crying at the end of practice. And thank the Lord, too, because I am a terror when in tears! Needless to say, over the years I turned a blind eye to favoritism among my sporting teams, choosing to remain ignorant of the problems that would continually rise around me.
It wasn’t until last year that I really started to notice the negative impact athletic favoritism has on a team. I admit I had been aware of the personal effects. As a continually average performer, I never let this aspect bother me like it had many of my peers. I had accepted my spot within the middle of the squad, and I wasn’t much of a fan of recognition anyway. But when I came to Greenville, my spot in the middle of the squad didn’t matter. I became a teammate to everyone, regardless of their athletic ability in comparison to mine. And I learned that even those who do not necessarily have the skills to be an outstanding athlete have other strengths that benefit the team outside of competition. After experiencing such a bond with a team, I turned a blind eye once again when I noticed traces of favoritism and resolved that the connections I had formed would outlast preference. How wrong I was.
It may have taken a few years to get my attention, but athletic favoritism can no longer be overlooked. Those preference issues I continually pushed under the rug did in fact outlast the bonds I had formed with my teammates. The favoritism that was continually exhibited slowly destroyed cohesion among the team, and when I now look at my teammates, I see a group of athletes trying to outdo each other instead of lifting each other up. There is a clear division among social groups within the actual team itself as well. Those who are under the banner of favoritism have banded together, while those who have not gotten quite as much attention form the greater majority. While this may seem as though I am merely complaining about not being part of the elite few, I urge you not to rush to such a petty generalization.
Today, my position within my sporting team is vastly different than it was two years ago. When I get to practice, all I can think about is leaving. I wonder how the team I once felt so close to could feel so alien, even though I see them on a daily basis. While I can blame myself for struggling to bridge the gap, the favoritism that tore the group apart in the first place makes the bridge a wobbly one to walk across. I read an article not very long ago about a college athlete with insane ability in the realm of football, but not quite as much ability in the classroom. When he was caught plagiarizing a writing assignment, he was brought to a judicial hearing to decide his punishment. The case was heard, and voted on by a board of four faculty and three students. His peers voted for expulsion, while the faculty, knowing of his place among the football team, voted in the student’s favor. Due to the four to three vote in the athlete’s favor, the charges were dropped and he was released with a mild punishment. Today, he continues to perform at a collegiate level with no consequences for his classroom behavior.
There is a clear division among social groups within the actual team itself as well. Those who are under the banner of favoritism have banded together, while those who have not gotten quite as much attention form the greater majority.
When I reflect on this situation, I first of all realize that this is an extreme case, one that I have thankfully not experienced during my time at Greenville. But as I think deeper, I think of the students who voted for the athlete’s expulsion. How do you think they feel knowing that this student was going to return to practice later in the afternoon, for an offense that generally comes with grave consequences? I also think on the way his teammates would view him, after he had been let off the hook so easily. Some, I’m sure, would praise him for his ability to dodge the bullet, but others would not be so gracious. Finally, I reflect on the athlete. Due to the outcome of the situation, he just learned that being an exceptional athlete gives you a different set of rules than your peers. Even if a policy seems set in stone, it is up for negotiation. He walked away from that hearing learning all of the wrong lessons regarding his behavior.
The realm of favoritism among athletes affects even those who are not involved with athletics. From the favorite to the least of these, there will always be effects from this seemingly innocent presence among athletics. I hope that the sports teams and their athletes stop turning a blind eye to favoritism; that instead of pushing the problem under the rug, we directly face the consequences of preference. As Christian athletes, I believe we are held at a higher standard. This standard requires us to cross the wobbly bridge of favoritism and exit our ignorant state. Because as long as we let favoritism define who we are as athletes, whether it is because we are the favorite or we are not, we will continue to find division where we should instead find unity.
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