The "Athlete Issue"

7:41 PM Marcellino DAmbrosio 31 Comments

            As we climbed the unending steps in front of the cafeteria, the tension began to mount.
            “So since this is a big Catholic school and all, am I allowed to have sex with my boyfriend?”
The girl who had just asked me this question was just now taking a break from chewing her gum to turn one side of her mouth up in a coy grin. The boyfriend she was referring to was a beefy young linebacker smirking obnoxiously as he gripped her fingers in one fleshy hand. He had just signed on to play football next year, and I was the fortunate Ambassador who had lucked into giving them a tour. She was trying to get a rise out of me. I smiled: “would you like to rephrase that question?” The rest of the tour went similarly. When I give tours to athletes, most notably football players, I get a lot of the same sorts of questions. “How are the parties here?” “How hot are the women at Ave?” “Do people smoke [pot] here?” These are far more common than you’d like to think.
            Today in the cafeteria I was asked to fill out a random student survey by two students on the budgetary committee founded by our new CEO. That student survey asked “Is there a divide between the Athletes and Non-Athletes? If so, please define.” I filled up what was left of the page. The Athlete vs Ave “problem”—and there is a problem—has been debated on for the last three years. It has been the subject of much pained contention and boisterous debate. It’s infiltrated our dinnertime time conversations, its found its way into the school newspaper, and has virtually taken over the forums. So what is the debate? The epicenter of this storm of controversy is the heart of the University itself. As a growing University, like it or not, each and every student that steps into the “one shop stop” at orientation has an impact on the school’s direction, whether they stay for two weeks or for four years. Who comes here is, therefore, vitally important. 
            We “Ave’s” don’t want to be “intolerant,” or “judgmental,” so we are very careful to predicate our concerns with such statements as “It’s probably just a couple bad apples that ruin it for the rest of you,” or  “I know all athletes aren’t like this.” I will not predicate my statements with any thing of the sort –it ought to simply be understood. I will say, however, that sport can be good. My experience with the rugby team has changed my life positively in many more ways than one. The question is not whether or not sports are good. The issue is one that looms far larger than Ave Maria University, but extends deeply into American culture as a whole. We are all familiar with the aged movie trope in which the chiseled sandy haired jock stuffs the pimply nerd into a locker while all other onlookers laugh at his misfortune. We may even remember that one quarterback friend back in high school who somehow made it through history class despite his adamant insistence that George Washington Carver was the first president of the United States. These are stereotypes. As we all know, stereotypes don't always hold water. I’m writing this to tell you that this one in particular, however, does.
            I’ll start this out by telling you about one of those embarrassing moments that defined my childhood. When I turned six, my father got a job teaching graduate theology at the University of Dallas, so my family up and moved to Texas. I spent the next eight years home schooling and in small private schools, but then, when I was fourteen, my family enrolled me in the local public middle school. I wanted very much to fit in, and so I quickly found out what drove the social scene: football. If you wanted to have any shot at not sitting at the lunch table between to Pimples McGee and Nerdstky McNerdskerson,




(These guys^)

you had to play football. Now, like I said, my dad was a theology professor. We weren’t exactly the kind of family that watched ESPN highlights together. Regardless, I chose the “Men’s Athletics” track instead of taking P.E, and quickly found myself in the locker room, facing a locker full of weird looking pads and a helmet that weighed more than my entire body. Much to my chagrin (and my teammates glee) my football career began with my eighth grade football coach chasing me out of the locker room with my pads all stuck in backwards, cleats totally unlaced, and my helmet jiggling rhythmically with each step. I still haven’t completely lived that one down.
            Anyway, for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I had such a hard time catching on to the game. I could run faster, jump higher, and lift more than many of my teem mates, but when it came to the playbook, I just didn’t get it. What I found later was that while I had been reading Lord of the Rings and playing make believe in my back yard for the last eight years, my classmates had been playing football. The Texan thought process goes something like this: there is nothing that can make you more proud than your kid playing football at your alma mater, UT. But if he wants to play in college, he’s got to start in high school, and if he wants to start in high school, he has to start in middle school, and the best way to give him a fighting chance to play in middle school, he should get his hands on a ball as soon as his fingers are strong enough to hold it. Basketball and Baseball are much the same way.


Perfect!

To say that college recruitment is competitive is like saying the Palestinians and Israelites don’t get along too well. Recently, a thirteen year old signed on to play for USC in 2015. Most kids start learning the alphabet at age five. This website advises parents to get their toddler signed up for a flag football league to increase their chances of an illustrious high school football career.
            So many kids start on a particular track very early. Some kids start playing chess, taking part in science projects, and competing in spelling competitions, while others learn to play a particular sport. What seems to happen is that each track forms itself into a sort of subculture, and very early on these subcultures develop into hierarchy. Anyone that has ever been to a public school can attest to the fact that there is a social hierarchy in place. It sets athletes, particularly football, basketball, baseball players and cheerleaders at the top, and the “sexually active band geeks” one step up from the down syndrome kids. Popularity for the high schooler is everything, and the social rules that govern interaction between these groups are expansive. To put it succinctly: there are rules about who can be popular, and who can’t. This is public knowledge. If you take issue with that, just watch Mean Girls. Let’s just take a look at one of the scenes in that movie. At one point, “Regina George,” the Queen Bee preeminent social queen points out all of the tiers of the social hierarchy according to each table they sit at in the cafeteria.


“bzzzzzzzzz.”

            If you ask most high school boys about this issue, they would probably tell you that where you sit in the cafeteria determines if you get invited to parties or not, if you have sex at those parties, and how hot the girls are that you get to have sex with. That’s what moves the social scene in high school. Alcohol and Sex. Drugs get thrown in there too somewhere, but let us continue.
            Now, lets just take a look at a recent development in our own cafeteria at Ave Maria. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if you go into the cafeteria you will see the beginnings of the same high school breakdown. Many of the athletes gravitate to the left side of the cafeteria by the TV, which is perpetually playing ESPN highlights. The other set group is the “overly pretentious lit crowed.” They sit outside under on the patio. “The Ave Kids that Win Intramurals,” “That Freshman Group,” “The Angelus Leaders,” and “The Partiers,” sit at different tables all the time. What doesn’t change is who they sit with.
            When I got to Ave Maria, there were cliques and there were groups. There was some division. However, until this year, there was not a social hierarchy. I could sit at any table in the cafeteria and welcome anyone else to sit with me. Now, it is no longer a common experience for many Ave Students to sit down at an unusual table. Awkward looks and uncomfortable silence await the brave soul who tries it.
            To a certain extent, social hierarchy is an unavoidable fact of human nature. It is possible that it could a good thing. It really depends on what the culture values. In Ancient Greece it was Kleos or Glory, in Japan, honor. In medieval Europe, faith was the highest virtue. American high schools however, do not seem to have much good positive peer pressure. If you are popular, you get invited to parties and have sex with hot (guys/girls). If you aren’t, you stay home and play World of Warcraft/ Read Jane Austin.
That is why there is an athlete problem. It’s not a personal issue, it’s a cultural one.
 So, Ave Maria, let me ask you a question. Do you want another four years of high school when you come to this University? Because that’s what’s in store for Ave if things keep moving in the same direction. Here’s what’s practically going to happen, and has already happened.
            Being cool, in the high school social hierarchy, and in general, involves not caring. You don’t personally invest yourself in anything, especially not school function related. We saw this during this year’s freshman orientation. Every year previous, we’ve had absolutely no trouble creating an atmosphere of excitement. This year, whenever we tried to pump up the freshman class, the entire front section (the football team) refused to get up and cheer. Why? It would involve them investing themselves in a school function. Only losers do that.
            When people tell me that I need to go “reach out” to the athletes, I chuckle to myself. The entire nature of this social hierarchy makes such “out reach” extreemly difficult. What is socially encouraged becomes cutting down Ave Maria and anyone else who values her mission. This year has been a difficult year for the men’s households. Where as my freshman year, a great majority of my class pledged for a household, this year, they pulled in one or two each. Why? One reason is because households have become stigmatized. Social hierarchy says that it is not cool to be in a household, be involved with the school, or even go to school planned events. Only “Ave’s” do that. And if you are an “Ave,” you don’t get to sit with the cool kids at the cool tables or go to the cool kid’s parties, or have sex with the cool cool girls.
That is the athlete problem. But what is the solution? Cutting the football team would be good, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Barring that, we need to spread them out. Give athletes non athlete room mates, put them in different dorms. Make all efforts to establish the seniors as the leaders of campus, above the freshman athletes. Remove the TV from the cafeteria. I think getting some Focus Missionaries in the dorms would help a lot as well. De-stigmatizing the households would be the best move. Whatever you chose to do, orientation is the starting point. Like my bro Monty said, “Just tell them what the school is at orientation, and it will be that.” Go on a rosary walk with them every night, be loud, be crazy, be emphatic and unwavering. These really aren’t even close to being solutions, but if we are aware of what is going on beneath the social vale, we’ll be one step closer to unity.

This is not judgment. This is observation.
                                                                                               
                        Yours,
Marcellino D’Ambrosio

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31 comments:

  1. Spot on. This is worse than a high school.

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  2. Awesome job of summarizing the biggest problem among the students at Ave, Lino. I just have one question....

    "If a particular person doesn’t now how to dress themselves or seems like they just walked out of “Little House on the Prairie,” they aren’t the type of person you want to “reach out.”"

    Why?

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  3. The Lit crowd is where it's at! =D

    Besides that, everything has a rise and fall and right along with its forced, speedy, and unnatural growth, Ave has quickly hit a high point and then begun crashing into a low. But there's no reason it can't and won't go up again. Steubie, as we all know, had a very decadent period, but was able to recover, largely through the Households. Their Households didn't have to do all the work themselves though -- Fr. Scanlan, the University's President, initiated the Households and REQUIRED that everyone join one. You didn't have a choice, other than to leave school. And it worked.

    I don't know how much communication you guys have with the new President, but if it worked for Steubie I don't see a reason why we shouldn't try their solution. If every incoming frosh was required to join an existing Household, it would make the whole "reaching out" thing actually possible.

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  4. Because not only will they not take you seriously, but they won't take me seriously ether. I'm not proposing that we cut ourselves off from athletes, or from anyone else. I’m proposing that we do a better job of engaging them, and in order for us to do that, we have to break out of our own stereotypes. St. Paul told the Jews to stop making the gentiles circumcise themselves. The last thing we want to do is to make men think that in order to be Christian that they have to tuck in their shirts, hike up their pants and comb their hair over. We aren’t a cloistered religious order, we’re laity. We live in the world, and we have to engage from within.

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  5. I misunderstood the wording of the original question. Thank you for clarifying. For some reason, I read it as "reach out to" instead of "reach out." However, I don't think these people should be prevented from reaching out even though they aren't necessarily the ones who will make the most difference.

    I disagree with Ani's statement about requiring everyone to join a household. It may have worked for FUS, but at Ave I have always been told that a household was a calling that you discerned, not something you joined because you had to.

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  6. It seems like the big problem with the university’s administration in the past has been patience, and these problems seem to be products of the university’s lack of it. One of the reasons why I transferred to Ave was because I was drawn to the university’s goal of having a 5000 student body on a huge, beautiful campus with a full-fledged town to accompany it. Having already graduated from Ave and never seeing this goal met, I surprisingly have no regrets in never seeing Ave reach that 5000 mark in addition to the 5000 student goal, because I found a fantastic community there that I lamentably have not found again.

    But this community that was built at Ave didn’t grow from bigness, but from smallness. When I entered Ave, there were supposedly 405 students there, but I’m pretty sure most of them got kicked out the semester before I came, so that number was probably closer to around 350. I seriously remember knowing everyone’s name my freshman year. I felt very comfortable sitting at whatever table. I also trusted almost everyone, even the people I rarely talked to. This was a beautiful thing.

    Regrettably, capitalism took over. By my junior and senior year, enrollment was the focus. The old admissions team was tossed because they weren’t meeting their quotas. How could Ave get a football team and an accompanying band singing “Cheer, Cheer for Old A-A-ve”? Recruitment became more of a priority for the university. What was the result? The community was killed. What we were left with was something like Scottsdale, Arizona. Nice to look at, but completely artificial and of no substance other than the money that was going into it. Everyone goes there to get what they want out of it, and nobody bothers to put anything into it.

    It’s in our American blood to build things as fast as possible. We need to turn that off. Let Ave grow slow, as only then will anything organic come out of it. Until then, the problems you have described will inevitably get worse.

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  7. ... instead of letting you hide behind this blog come sit with us sometime we'd love to reach out and get to know you. Sorry you have such a such a horrible misconception about us "jocks" but lets get everything out in the open because apparently^^^^ you have some issues you'd like to address :) we usually sit by the tv and watch sports center so i guess we'll be seeing you there.

    DJN

    P.S. and "cutting" (the football team) out of your life is kind of a harsh observation... but if your not able to handle a problem as small as this you got a whole other world waiting for you out there. AND as i think scripture says,"the gates of hell are wide and found by many but the gates of heaven are narrow and found by few" (correct me if im wrong) point being if this school is able just to change the life of ONE just ONE of these supposedly pot smoking, sex having, crazy partying football idiots isn't that worth it? i was for sure your theologian father might have taught you that. Just and observation

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  8. “The Athlete Problem”

    I was very disappointed with the ignorant “observations” made in this article. First off, athletes are human to, and deserve the same respect as anyone else. The way you describe the “typical athlete” in this article is not only degrading, but also very subjective. It sounds like you had the athletic ability to play football as a kid, but did not have what it took to get it done on the field. Thus, you acquired negative feelings towards athletes and more specifically football players. “What is the solution? Cutting the football team would be good, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Why just the football team? That still leaves fifteen varsity sports, not to mention the nine club and intramural teams on campus. This appears to be much more of a personal problem, why else would you bring the focus of the article from athletes in general to just football players? I have been an athlete ever since I learned to walk. My family lives and breathes sports, so I guess that would make me part of the so called “problem”. However, unlike the athletes you describe, my life does not revolve around drugs, sex, alcohol, and partying. I also do not isolate myself from non-athletes or from school activites. Do I spend most of my time in the gym, at practices, at games, and at other sporting events? Yes, but that is what it takes to be a college athlete. What you are describing as athletes cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, is really them doing what it takes to still compete at this level. I am currently playing volleyball for a college in Illinois and am about to sign on to play for Ave Maria next year. I visited Ave about three weeks ago and did not see anything that you describe in this article. I met numerous athletes, even some of the football team, and they do not match the description you give them. Every single person I met was very welcoming and kind, there were none of the awkward stares or silences you talk about when trying to reach out to people you normally don’t associate yourself with. In fact, everyone I talked to assured me that the exact opposite of this article is true. I was told that there are no cliques or drama, and that is what I saw on my tour. It sounds to me like you are struggling to fit in....I really don’t think that this article is going to get you anywhere or solve your imaginary “athlete problem”. Why don’t you try reaching out and meeting new people, maybe even some athletes, and see what they are all about, I’m sure you will be surprised.

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  9. “The Athlete Problem”

    I was very disappointed with the ignorant “observations” made in this article. First off, athletes are human to, and deserve the same respect as anyone else. The way you describe the “typical athlete” in this article is not only degrading, but also very subjective. It sounds like you had the athletic ability to play football as a kid, but did not have what it took to get it done on the field. Thus, you acquired negative feelings towards athletes and more specifically football players. “What is the solution? Cutting the football team would be good, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Why just the football team? That still leaves fifteen varsity sports, not to mention the nine club and intramural teams on campus. This appears to be much more of a personal problem, why else would you bring the focus of the article from athletes in general to just football players? I have been an athlete ever since I learned to walk. My family lives and breathes sports, so I guess that would make me part of the so called “problem”. However, unlike the athletes you describe, my life does not revolve around drugs, sex, alcohol, and partying. I also do not isolate myself from non-athletes or from school activites. Do I spend most of my time in the gym, at practices, at games, and at other sporting events? Yes, but that is what it takes to be a college athlete. What you are describing as athletes cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, is really them doing what it takes to still compete at this level......

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  10. .........I am currently playing volleyball for a college in Illinois and am about to sign on to play for Ave Maria next year. I visited Ave about three weeks ago and did not see anything that you describe in this article. I met numerous athletes, even some of the football team, and they do not match the description you give them. Every single person I met was very welcoming and kind, there were none of the awkward stares or silences you talk about when trying to reach out to people you normally don’t associate yourself with. In fact, everyone I talked to assured me that the exact opposite of this article is true. I was told that there are no cliques or drama, and that is what I saw on my tour. It sounds to me like you are struggling to fit in....I really don’t think that this article is going to get you anywhere or solve your imaginary “athlete problem”. Why don’t you try reaching out and meeting new people, maybe even some athletes, and see what they are all about, I’m sure you will be surprised.

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  11. ...........I am currently playing volleyball for a college in Illinois and am about to sign on to play for Ave Maria next year. I visited Ave about three weeks ago and did not see anything that you describe in this article. I met numerous athletes, even some of the football team, and they do not match the description you give them. Every single person I met was very welcoming and kind, there were none of the awkward stares or silences you talk about when trying to reach out to people you normally don’t associate yourself with. In fact, everyone I talked to assured me that the exact opposite of this article is true. I was told that there are no cliques or drama, and that is what I saw on my tour. It sounds to me like you are struggling to fit in....I really don’t think that this article is going to get you anywhere or solve your imaginary “athlete problem”. Why don’t you try reaching out and meeting new people, maybe even some athletes, and see what they are all about, I’m sure you will be surprised.

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  12. An outsiders perspective.

    Dominic and Ashley,
    You both have made yourselves vulnerable to more athletic stereotyping by not engaging him on a rational level. Both of your arguments prominently feature the bulverism fallacy by reaching into Marcellino's past and explaining away his arguments by pointing to some psychological wound which may or may not have caused him to make such statements.
    Yours are the equivalents to the: "You are just jealous" argument, and it is incredibly immature. For instance, one might just as easily say, "Oh, funny that you two automatically bring the subject back to the realm of athletic ability. It just confirms that as athletes you are insecure with actual intellectual dialogue: you must in the end just accuse Marcellino of being a victim of his inability to "get it done on the field," thus asserting your superiority in the only realm that you feel dominant in."
    Obviously, this would just be casting stones, and such an argument doesn't hold water. Deal with him on a rational level and might get somewhere.

    Dominic, I especially take issue with your little not so subtle attack on Marcellino's father there at the end. Very inappropriate, very pase.

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  13. Marcellino, you were just a tad bit much-- okay? can we all agree on that? You got everyone so ticked off that no one can see through the fluff and deal with your real argument. Probably not the best strategy, but it looks like you have people reading your post (and I use reading in the loosest of senses here). Here is what I can make of your actual argument. Correct me if I have misunderstood you, but I believe that these are the main points.
    1) There is a problem (social division & moral corrosion)
    2) The problem seemed to come to your school with the Athletes (most significantly with the football players)

    Then you seek to diagnose the problem and conclude:
    3) The problem is not with the Athletes at Ave, it is with the American culture.

    This conclusion is drawn from what seems to be the following premises (this is where it gets really fuzzy):

    i. Such high social significance is placed on children to perform in football, basket ball, and baseball, that by high-school, these activities quickly become subconsciously valued by children as higher than the others.

    ii. Because social value is everything for highschoolers, and the constant pressure and repetition has lead to a full scale hierarchy by social grouping, with football and baseball and basketball at the top.

    iii. Often high schoolers cash in their social value for invites to exclusive parties where alchohal and sexual adventure are to be had in plenty, and therefore those with the most social value are most enabled to pursue these forbidden fruits.

    iv. By bringing the top of the highschool social pyramid to Ave, the administration of your school has perhaps instated the entire social dynamic that we see and hear about so often in highschools (and most colleges, might I add).

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  14. Basil: I see where you are coming from with the father comment but it was merely used to point out that not all kids are blessed to have parents that have such faith and that most of them have come from broken homes. i.e. most of ANY football team in America, even here. Not making excuses for them, but just opening his mind to something different if he indeed really wants to reach out to us.

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  15. Basil, thank you for that concise summary. I believe you’ve very accurately recapitulated my argument. I do think that the third premise needs a bit of revision though. You wrote:

    iii. “Often high schoolers cash in their social value for invites to exclusive parties where alchohal and sexual adventure are to be had in plenty, and therefore those with the most social value are most enabled to pursue these forbidden fruits”

    I would say:
    iii. “The high schoolers with enough social value are invited into the exclusive party scene where alcohol and sexual adventure are to be had in plenty. For these reasons, alcohol and sexual adventure become the “rewards” for those who reach the top of the social hierarchy.”

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  16. Ashley. I’m sorry that you feel that I’ve fit all athletes into a mould. That was not my intention. This article’s method is a sociological one and therefore its modus operandi is appropriate.
    You touched on something I’d like to elaborate on when you said:
    "What you are describing as athletes cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, is really them doing what it takes to still compete at this level......" That is definitely part of what has caused the divide in the student body, and it is another unhealthy consequence of our sports crazed culture. Many athletes' growth intellectually and creatively is stunted by life consuming nature of sports in America. In order to succeed as an athlete in America, you must dedicate yourself to your sport wholly; to the detriment of all else. As to my lack of ability to “get it done on the field,” you’ve only given further evidence to my point above. When it is necessary to start playing your sport at age five in order to succeed in college, it’s almost impossible to jump into a sport at age fourteen and compete with the other kids who’ve been at it for the last eleven years. The competition, the drive to win, to be a “winner,” to get recruited; the sports culture is hyper focused on empty victory. In the end, football is a game, no different than kickball or freez tag. Games are valuable in teaching character building, how do deal with disappointment, how to work with a team, how to be honorable in victory. These do not characterize most professional athletes, nor do they characterize most collegiate, high school, or even middle school athletic programs. Virtues are unimportant when cast in the shadow of the all important scoreboard.

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  17. Ummm I hang out with everyone and I am an athlete. I love ave maria with all my heart so your previous points points about athletes are invalided.

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  18. Dude, Pimpin Monkey, I'm sorry man, but you've got to look at the argument a little more closely. I know this is a really touchy issue for you and it's emotionally charged, but we all need to put our gut reactions aside here.
    Basil's comment sums up my argument pretty well. Which premise do you take issue with?

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  19. First of all I disagree entirely, for I personally can sit at any table and not feel unwelcome or awkward (except for at the freshman table). I think that the athletes are apart from the rest of the student body because of shit like this blog. You and your "lost boys" singled out the athletes as soon as they arrived on campus, you never tried to welcome them or even say hi to them, you judged them without getting to know them, thus you know nothing about them and just don't like them because they act like an athlete. I think that the athlete problem is not a problem at all, people like you, who were not athletic and in result never good at sports like to single the people out who are. thus this blog is seemingly done out of jealousy and as a student athlete I take offence to it. I think that athletes bring a lot to this school and deserve to be given a chance, by the way the only kid in the freshman class with a 4.0 is a student athlete, thus athletes are not limited to sports, many of them are also very smart. I think that in the end you choose to hate athletes because you lack self-confidence and putting people down is the only way that you can feel good about yourself, thus I think that the athlete problem starts with you.

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  20. Good to see that this debate so far has been based (for the most part) on logical arguments, especially with such a controversial issue that could easily devolve into senseless name-bashing. In order to prevent future ad hominem attacks, Marcellino is not just a senior at Ave Maria (and consequently brings a perspective of the changing environment at Ave Maria that many others here do not have), but is also one of the most well-respected, vocal leaders that we have on campus. He has been instrumental in the founding of many traditions and events here at Ave, and regardless of what you think of his personality or his motives, at the end of the day, he is always willing to put himself and his views out there for criticism. He’s got an invested interest in the school and wants to see it doing well in the future, which is an example many seniors could borrow. Don’t rag on him.
    Lino, you’ve touched on a problem that many of us have observed, while perhaps articulating it in a way that most of us would deem extreme. The school has become more segmented, and it has coincided with a year in which the incoming class of students were largely athletes. Let me preface this by saying that I am all for having athletics and athletes here. I am a daily reader of ESPN, an ardent sports devotee, and if I could make a career out of professional athletics I probably would. Having said that, we need also acknowledge a few basic facts:
    1) Ave Maria University is a small liberal arts Catholic university. The goal is to eventually expand Ave into a larger university with not so much of a focus on liberal arts. The only department that has expanded to the relative magnitude it will possess by the time this institutional evolution is complete has been the athletics department. For those of us who have grown to love Ave as it is, it remains to be seen whether the evolution to a larger institution will also kill all the charm of the “traditional” Ave experience.
    2) Historically, the retention rate of freshmen at Ave has not been the greatest, hovering at somewhere around 60%. It was even worse for the athletes, where entire programs were virtually gutted after a semester due to academic inadequacy. This year, the retention rate is around 80%, and as noted this is during a year where the majority of the freshmen class were student athletes. This increase is due to a combination of factors, perhaps a better job of recruiting, perhaps a greater emphasis on student success, or perhaps due to concessions made to keep the athletes in the university. None of these contributory factors can be dismissed, although some aspects may shoulder a greater share of responsibility than others.
    3) There is nothing more exciting than playing athletics, and the intensity and enthusiasm that college athletics generates is also, contrary to the opinion expressed here, one of the most unifying attitudes to have on a college campus. Perhaps it’s just a silly game, but the contest involves lessons and memories that change lives; ask any champion ballplayer and they will usually rank their championship experience behind only the birth of their child. The effect of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team on the country, of the 2009 Super Bowl Champion Saints on the city of New Orleans, the loss of the Supersonics felt so keenly by Seattle residents all go to prove that the effect of competitive athletics on a community is more than imaginary; it is palpable.
    To put it briefly, the problem as I see it is as follows.

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  21. First, there is undoubtedly a problem with general athletics in America that makes sports the end-all be-all and leads to such problems as the recruiting of David Sills by USC (I thought it was crazy too when I first heard about it). This has an undeniable effect on a person’s character, and the fact that being a part of a truly good sports team is a full-time job should speak volumes of the difficulty it is for a college athlete, trying to prove their athletic ability is on par with the professionals, to balance athletics and academics. More often than not, it doesn’t work out. The result can be a mentality that embraces one’s sport as one’s identity, and the way that one deals the rest of society is, quite simply, as a sports player (hence the artificial mold that Lino mentioned)
    But we’re not speaking of college athletics in general. This is Ave Maria University, where we’re supposed to live differently than a typical state school by developing the entire person. We can’t just say that without trying to implement it; the Ave effect doesn’t just “happen,” it’s promoted by people who embraced it before us. That means that the other part of the problem is an upperclassman issue. They say that, in order to bring in the type of students that you want, you should represent the university the way you want it to be. That applies not just for the recruiting process, but for the day-to-day living as well. Those athletes who do not find this environment appealing will have no choice but to leave, rooting out the “problem” athletes and leaving those who want to grow as people; I know dozens of athletes who are not only first-class athletes and students, but first-class human beings. But this only comes about when there is interaction among the classes and upperclassmen take the lead in shaping their university. If you don’t like cliques at the cafeteria, crash them. If spirituality is important to you, talk about it; promote your household in public, and do things with your brothers in public that shape the university. Be sincere, honest, and live your life without regrets. Is this foolproof? No. Nor is it to say that there will not always be a certain segment of the population that will resent the Ave culture while living alongside it. But this minority will be an undercurrent, one that cannot live in gross opposition to the Ave culture without being forced to consider the fragility and the lack of supporters for their position.
    To be clear, the problem is not athletes. It is not the mentality held by athletes. It is not the mentality of society or of recruiters towards athletes. It is the stereotypical mentality that a Christian society like Ave Maria can fall into, where we choose to live in the world and of the world rather than choosing to be audacious enough to supersede the silly cliques and factions that form in societies run according to the all-powerful god of Peer Pressure. If we can’t be friendly to people within this school, of all places, we really do have no hope to change the world.
    So, without being blind to the problem, I think the solution may be more theological than such a nitty-gritty debate will usually care to admit. I like the solutions in your last paragraph Lino, and I think if we all carry out our Christian duty to be all things to all men, we can mitigate the development of this problem as much as may be reasonably expected. Athletics are here to stay, and I believe that’s for the best. Whether we all do our part in response to that “crisis” will determine whether we continue to speak of such a thing as “The Athlete Problem.”

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  22. Zach, you've written a good response. As a good lit major, I would never say that the proper response to any issue is a theological one, but I do see where you are coming from there. I have a couple things I'd like to point out, which I will do once get over the plague round two and can think strait again.

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  23. The American culture is a huge problematic. Don't see that being solved by Ave. Ave seems to have exacerbated the problem by making an alliance with the culture to get better National recognition and prestige; the problems resulting from the cultus footballorum you are now noticing.

    Moreover, sports should be about preparing men to defend the fatherland. Unfortunately for us, American sports is mostly a bourgeois frivolity and a poor replacement for true religious devotion.

    Definitely drawn in by your thoughtful criticisms. Thanks for that.

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  24. Marcellino, thank you for your blog and the dialogue that it has fostered. I hope you don’t mind if I take a swing on your swingset.

    Ave Maria!
    These words ring out at Ave Maria University every day.
    We see them on t-shirts, street signs, coffee mugs, athletic jerseys, and notebooks.
    From just about anywhere on campus we can gaze on the extraordinary sculpture which graces the façade of the Oratory. It reminds us of the first time the name of our university was pronounced: “Ave Maria!” It was the moment the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to the virgin who was to become a mother.
    That was the first time she became a mother.
    The second time was from the cross when, still a virgin, she became the mother of each of us.

    Every day, as children of this Mother, we stand in the cafeteria and pray the Angelus.
    We may be caught off guard, caught with our mouths full, interrupted from fascinating conversations or even from watching Sports Center.
    But together, we stand as a family.
    We recall that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
    That was the first time she became a mother.
    But together in the cafeteria, we are facing the cross of her Son.
    From that cross, she became the mother of each of us.

    Yes, we have a Mother!
    We are a family.
    Are we different? Yes, thank God!
    Have divisions surfaced in our family. Yes, unfortunately.
    But that can happen in the best of families.
    Nor is there anything new about this. Paul dealt with it in the first Christian communities and I believe that his advice to them is timely for us. I suggest we all reread I Corinthians, chapter 12. For example: “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The whole chapter is beautiful as is the next one in which Paul gives us the answer to building up and healing our family: love.

    Do I want to see a robust athletics program at Ave Maria University? I do.
    But I also want to see a renowned academics program with notable graduates taking their places in their respective fields. And I want to see the Performing Arts Center built and students enriching the Church, culture, and the world with their gifts. And I want to see students excelling in every way and putting their gifts at the service of Christ, his Church and the world for the glory of God the Father.
    And we will do this under the watchful care of our Mother and, yes, we will make her smile.

    I think this discussion has opened an opportunity for us. I believe that the Holy Spirit is speaking to us. I believe that our Mother is extending her maternal hands toward us in fulfillment of Christ’s command, “Woman, behold your son!” She beholds each and every one of us as her children whether intellectuals, musicians, artists, scientists, athletes, or budding theologians.

    Let us celebrate our brothers and sisters at Ave Maria University whether we applaud our choir or a doctoral defense, whether we celebrate our women’s crew team winning gold at their first regatta or the creativity of our film makers. Let us support one another whether we’re seated next to each other in the cafeteria, or kneeling side by side in our chapels, or walking together down the streets of Naples in a parade, or cheering for “Ave” in the stands at a basketball game.

    We have the same Mother.
    We are family.
    Ave Maria!

    - Fr Michael

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  25. You’ve got quite a few people upset with what you wrote. I can understand some of their anger…I can also understand some of your points. You start off the article by recounting a story about a girlfriend of a football recruit asking inappropriate unchaste questions. You continue your article noting that all the “cool” kids are athletes and get to sin and be unchaste and ignore the Catholic mission of the school. What’s your issue, are you a want-a-be sinner? Some of the blog sounds like you are lamenting the fact that you aren’t an athlete, thus according to you, you aren’t “cool” thus you can’t get invited to parties where sin is prominent, why would you want to go to those parties anyways? Shouldn’t you have a high enough self-esteem and still feel “cool” even though you aren’t an athlete and even though you aren’t going to be unchaste and attend immoral parties?

    There is a huge difference between students simply failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our authentically Catholic mission while being remorseful for their transgression; and quite a different situation of students failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission by scoffing, ridiculing, and disdaining our Catholic mission. Failure born out of weakness and concupiscence we can and must endure; failure born out of disdain for our Catholic mission we cannot afford to tolerate without losing the whole reason Ave Maria was founded: to be an authentically Catholic university, in the classrooms, in the dorms, in the Student Union building and yes, even on the athletic fields!

    The issue then that we need to address is understanding which students are failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and Catholic mission and why they are failing to do so, not to label “Athletes” vs “Ave’s,” where “athletes” means failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission and where “Ave’s” means living in accordance with our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission.

    If we were to use that criteria we would certainly see that some student-athletes are “ave’s” and some non-athletes certainly aren’t “Ave’s.” There are a number of great mission fits for Ave Maria who play on our athletic teams; conversely there are a number of poor mission fits who don’t play on our athletic teams. We need to address conduct, not see people as part of a group…if there are student-athletes failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission, then that needs to be addressed. If there are regular students, non-athletes, failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission then that needs to be addressed. If there is a larger percentage of student-athletes failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission in comparison to the general student body, then that needs to be addressed.

    What should be clear to all is that we definitely have a problem if students want to come to Ave Maria or are recruited, whether by admissions or athletics, and are encouraged to expect our campus culture to agree with their disdain for morality and academic pursuit within our Catholic mission. I always tell apps that “Ave Maria is not a party school, that we are the school for you if you are interested in becoming and being held accountable to strive to be the best that you can become: academically, spiritually, morally, professionally, socially, athletically, etc.; if you are not interested in that, then Ave Maria is not the school for you.”

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  26. We can’t, nor do we need to, recruit only kids who are already living a moral and Catholic life…but we can and must be careful to let all apps, student-athletes or not, know what is expected of them: that we want more for them than just unchastity, drunkedness and drugs and that such misconduct won’t be tolerated here…if they are looking for a university environment that accepts such immorality then there are hundreds of other schools for them. Ave Maria is one of the few universities in the entire country, even amongst the so called Catholic universities, that wouldn’t be for them. Ave Maria is a school where we want our students to strive for morality, knowledge, virtue, excellence, etc.…inside and outside of the classroom. I don’t think we are clear enough in our expectations nor in holding our students strictly accountable, this goes for regular students (non athletes) and for student-athletes.

    We have compromised in admitting students who weren’t intent even on trying to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission; we have likewise compromised in allowing students to continue at the university who repeatedly scoffed at, ridiculed and deliberately disdained our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission. We have done this for the sake of numbers in our incoming classes and for the sake of retention, I think it has been a costly mistake, but not one that we can’t fix.

    As said earlier, There is a huge difference between students simply failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our authentically Catholic mission while being remorseful for their transgression; and quite a different situation of students failing to live up to our expected moral conduct and our Catholic mission by scoffing, ridiculing, and disdaining our Catholic mission. Failure born out of weakness and concupiscence we can and must endure; failure born out of disdain for our Catholic mission we cannot afford to tolerate without losing the whole reason Ave Maria was founded: to be an authentically Catholic university, in the classrooms, in the dorms, in the Student Union building and yes, even on the athletic fields! We now see that accepting such deliberate disdain for our Catholic mission creates problems, issues, challenges, etc. for the entire university and we are in peril of losing our Catholic mission because of this acceptance.

    I’m hopeful that we will be more clear in outlining exactly what we expect of our students and still get the numbers of incoming students we need, but of course it won’t come easy, nothing good does. Likewise, I’m hopeful that we can do a better job of addressing misconduct, understand why it has happened, let the perpetrators know that it is unacceptable and then move forward, with or without them.

    Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

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  27. Hey Marcellino D'Ambrosio,

    It is Sean from CTK. Joe sent me your post. You are doing a great job. I remember many similar issues when AMU was AMC.

    You were a great roommate. Keep in touch and keep writing. If you ever frequent Dallas again, give me a ring.

    -Sean

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  28. Several problems i have here.
    First you are talking about getting rid of a program and a group of people who have done basically nothing to you. Not standing up at a pep rally does not count. I was there and it wasn’t that clear what you wanted everyone to do. Plus, even if they didn’t want to I feel it would be justified. Not everyone is made that way for a reason.
    Second they are held to the same standard you and I are here, both academically and morally. they get in the same kinds of trouble we do when they get caught, and they have more to lose, so I REALLY don’t see what you're complaining about. Worry about your identity before you worry about the schools. The schools identity will come more from what kind of things they enforced, what kind of teachers they higher, and what kind of things they teach. This has little to do with what kinds of people are accepted.
    third, it seems you're pushing for a Catholic bubble mentality. I understand a lot of people like to feel safe about the kinds of people they send their school with, but you have to ask, did the Jesuits only talk to Catholics? No they went out in the world and evangelized with their life at stake. Here I’m hearing complaints about people who have different beliefs than us. OH boo hoo. Here it seems almost as if people are caught embarrassed by what they believe because they can’t handle being around those that think different. This is neither Christian nor is it charitable. Theres something to say for treating others as you would like tyo be treated yourself. Expecting them to agree with you on sex and etc.. is like expecting Christians to know all the Islamic rules of fasting. They have a different background, and no, it does not make you a better person than them. You may be right about certain issues, but to separate yourself because they disagree is stupid and unnecessary. This is partially why people don’t know what their church teaches. No one in their church took the time to explain it to them, rather they wanted to keep to themselves. So really the problem just seems to come down to the fact that you don’t like them. It’s petty. I mean if the football players were constantly pulling knifes on you, then maybe I'd understand getting rid of them, but so far that hasn’t happened. A movie I would recommend viewing is Boys Town(starring Micky Rooney), It’s an old 30s movie where troublesome kids are put into a school run by this Priest. The film portrays the Catholic mission being exercised. What people are pushing for at Ave against the jocks is the exact opposite.
    Fourth, this whole pinning all the drinking and etc .. on the jock seems to be a cover for the act that a lot of these Ave students are doing plenty of drinking themselves. This pisses me off. While Yeah, I think jocks should get in trouble when they get caught drinking, I also think students who are here for the spiritual atmosphere should as well. SERIOUSLY!

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