The stereotype of athletes: Dumb Jock Syndrome

Student-athletes and professor put the ‘dumb’ athlete stereotype to rest

Everyone has seen it on TV and in movies: that jock in the back of the classroom with the lettered jacket who is not paying attention to the lecture, but practicing extra for the big game once they get out.

KSC Associate Professor of Physical Education Dr. Fitni Destani, who teaches classes such as psycho-social aspects of sport, said that the stereotype of the “dumb jock syndrome” has been around since the ancient times of greek and roman civilizations.

The dumb jock syndrome, Destani explained, is a stigma surrounding athletes that says they focus the large majority of their time on physical pursuits as opposed to intellectual pursuits.

According to some KSC student-athletes, that stereotype is unfair and inaccurate.

Photo illustration by Tim Smith / Photo Editor

Photo illustration by Tim Smith / Photo Editor

“It’s honestly just not 100 percent true. A lot of guys really take school seriously, especially as they get older. Obviously, you come in freshman year and try to figure it out and get your bearings under you and figure out what’s going on in college, but I mean once they do that, they usually do fine,” KSC senior and two-sport athlete Jeff Lunn said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s a fair assumption to make.”

KSC senior and volleyball player Brooke Hatanaka said that life as a student-athlete brings about challenges regarding time management, as they must participate in required activities for their sports, and while some may struggle to balance their time between sports and academics, many benefit from it.

“…I feel like student-athletes often have to work two times as hard because they have that much less time than people who don’t play sports, and while there are people who struggle to manage their time that are athletes and don’t do as well, there are a lot of athletes that do perform on and off the field very well and their sport helps them a lot,” Hatanaka said.

Destani added that athletes may feel more inclined to put more effort into their respective sports because of things like feeling the need to participate in voluntary team activities, like some off-season workouts and others, to help them be looked at in a favorable way by coaches.

Nonetheless, according to the Keene Owls website, 34 KSC varsity student-athletes earned fall 2016 Little East Conference All-Academic honors by achieving at least a 3.3 GPA through the 2016 spring semester.

KSC senior and member of the Owls’ baseball team Michael Crimi said that the unfair stereotyping and expectations of athletes extends to Division I programs.

“They essentially get free education, but they also miss classes due to their sport; they’re traveling weeks and weeks on end and then they’re asked to do that and complete their school work. So there, I think that’s pretty unfair to those athletes because they’re asked to do basically what professional athletes do and do school work and, yet, are expected to complete it at all the same level. So I think that’s where there’s a separation between Division I and other divisions,” Crimi said.

In the case of Division I and II athletes, the stakes are even higher for those who have athletic scholarships on the line and rely on their athletics to keep them in school. There are also academic checkpoints that Division I, II and III athletes need to reach in order to be eligible to take part in athletics.

“In fact,  there are more safeguards in place, but there’s stressors for the student-athlete as well based on fatigue, workload and travel, and not all faculty are as amicable to their workload,” Destani said.

Destani said there are disadvantages to being a Division III student-athlete as well because of lack of resources that could provide things like tutors that travel with teams and dedicated learning centers for the athletes that other schools may be able to provide.

“So in some ways, the Division III athletes are disadvantaged because of the lack of resources to support their education with that student-athlete model,” Destani said.

Still, he said that there is research which shows that student-athletes on average are graduating at a higher level than non-student-athletes. He said that the higher average GPA and on-time graduation rate of female athletes are driving factors as to why.

Males athletes are slightly underperforming compared to non-student-athletes on average, according to Destani.

Destani said the difference can partially be attributed in part to athletes striving for professional sports careers and declaring for professional drafts prior to graduating.  He said changing the way student-athlete graduation is looked at may be an improve ment to help with considerations like scheduling conflicts and other things.

“What most of the research is saying is that a realistic model for student-athlete graduation rates actually should be a six-year model, not a four-year model,” Destani said.

Statistics from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) show that Division I student-athletes recieving athletic financial aid had a six-year graduation success rate (GSR) of 86 percent, a 12 percent jump since 2002. In addition, research by the NCAA shows that Division I student-athletes recieving athletic financial aid had the same 66 percent six-year federal graduation rate (FGR) when comparing their numbers to those of all students at Division I schools in 2016.

FGR and GSR differ in that GSR includes student-athletes who transfer institutions in good academic standing during their collegiate career and go on to graduate into their new college’s data without penalizing the old college.  FGR counts transfers as non-graduates toward the rate of an athlete’s old and new colleges, according to information provided on the NCAA website.

Furthermore, Destani said athletics doesn’t just build physical skill.

“One of the things we always talk about in physical education is that it’s not just skill-related.  There’s knowledge, skills and attitudes, professional dispositions and leadership development that takes place in athletics. So it’s not just physical skill,” Destani said.

Lunn agreed that intelligence is an important attribute to have in order to do well in athletics.

“Once I came in here, it was a completely different level of learning through the game. You learn a bunch of new stuff through basketball and baseball, a bunch of new concepts. You have to really adapt to that,” Lunn said.

Destani said that debunking and ridding the athletic community of the stereotype will be a difficult task and first starts with awareness and distribution of information regarding the education of student-athletes.

Jacob Barrett can be contacted at

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