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Life’s a Beach: Collegiate athletes are people, not stat lines

As a sports journalist, I am constantly immersed in the world of collegiate sports. Sometimes, it's almost to the point that I forget that the athletes aren’t relics — they’re people. 

For me, seeing an athlete I cover outside of their uniform feels like when an elementary student sees their teacher outside of school for the first time. It is hard to believe that they exist outside of a certain space, but they do. 

They’re filling the empty seats in lecture halls, snagging a granola bar from the local convenience store and trying to make a life for themselves just like every other college student. The only difference is that they have an added time commitment and a fancier title.

Think back to when you moved into your first dorm. The taste of freedom was nice, but it soon faded into deep confusion. The world was yours for the taking and you could explore it at your own pace. 

However, athletes don’t always get to move at their own pace. The minute they hit campus, they start training, even if it isn’t “actual” training. Even then, almost every bit of their day is perfectly scheduled out for them, and they often start before the sun hangs in the sky. Many collegiate athletes have shared their “day in a life” on YouTube, and they appear jam-packed. 

One thing that stands out as problematic: there’s little room for them to decompress. Sure, they signed up for that lifestyle, but everyone needs a little time to themselves that isn’t a quick 10 minutes sandwiched between events. Being a student-athlete is basically an unpaid nine to five job since very few athletes gain substantial income from NIL deals. 

As a non-athlete, I am incredibly guilty of not allowing myself time to kick off my shoes and relax. I want to spend every minute I can working, but that is not healthy. Oftentimes, I let the pressure of maintaining all aspects of my life — professional, social and educational — take all I can give.

Athletes struggle with that, too, and sometimes to a more extreme level. They’re facing the general anxiety brought on by college but with an added level of stress. Plus, burnout can hit harder when something that you used to do for enjoyment begins to feel like a chore.

Some colleges and universities have larger fan bases than others, some have more rigorous academics. However, they all need to consider the humanity of their athletes, no matter the extenuating factors. The transition to higher education can rattle anyone’s bones, now add new-found fame on top of that. That’s a lot.

Collegiate athletes need someone who will see them as a human, not as a stat line.

In 2020, the Washington Post reported that the NCAA does not regulate how programs approach mental health. The lack of regulation means that there could be one counselor for every 1,500 athletes or one for every 30. The lack of regulated resources is detrimental to student-athletes.

Collegiate athletes are not professional athletes. They don’t have the thick skin to handle constant online criticism if they make a mistake in a game. Honestly, they could have been more worried about passing an upcoming exam rather than making a play. 

I never have been, nor will I ever be a collegiate athlete, but I can empathize with them. They will have bad days, they will have exceptional days and they will have days where they need a little extra support just like any other college student. 

Struggling student-athletes, you are seen. It’s time you are heard.

Ashley Beach is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Ashley know by emailing her at ab026319@ohio.edu.

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