When it comes to what matters, college athletes simply can’t compete.
During college, Chris Davis was given a scholarship, preferential scheduling and was schmoozed at countless athletic receptions and speeches glorifying his contribution as a “university representative.” He was protected under the maternal wing of the NCAA.
Now a graduate of Ohio University, Davis is armed with a 3.6 GPA, a pre-medical degree and leadership experience as the head of his Division I cross country team. However, he has become increasingly horrified at the rate of return in his job hunt. He lacks connections, has no prior experience in his field and has noticed he is behind his non-athletic peers when it comes to the ultimate purpose of college: career preparation.
Indoctrinated to believe the hours of training, toning and teamwork is more beneficial than any internship or job experience on a résumé, thousands of student athletes devote more of their college career to their sport rather than prepare for the professional world, damaging their ability to compete in the job market post-graduation.
With the dream of going professional fueled by local celebrity status and a scholarship awarded for brawn rather than brains, the nitty-gritty details needed to enter the job hunt is far less exciting. And, on average, only one percent of college athletes go professional.
“Every kid has dreams to go pro,” Jon Gissinger, a former tight-end from the University of Missouri, said. “I can tell you I never thought about a job or anything until football was done.”
Gissinger graduated with an undergraduate degree in 2009 and began pursuing his master’s a year later. After deciding to leave his master’s program, he has been working temporary jobs.
“A football player is not going to get a job over someone who worked and had internships,” Gissinger said. “My résumé right now is football.”
The inability to spare time for an internship is crippling for student athletes. Coaches, earning on wins, emphasize the importance of team and commitment to the sport and discourage using off-season time to do anything but train.
Davis’ academic advisor encouraged him to not major in pre-med and run cross country at the same time, fearing he would not be able to volunteer to achieve patient contact hours.
“That’s one thing I’m suffering with now,” Davis said. “I didn’t do the volunteering because I didn’t have the time focusing on athletics. I didn’t do them and they’re essential to get a job or get into grad school.”
Davis said that some graduate schools or jobs claim to hire whichever applicant has the most patient contact hours, some requiring into the thousands.
Not only do student athletes lack the amount of professional experience their peers have coming out of college, they also have less knowledge about their chosen fields. Having no professional experience, Gissinger is still trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
“The kids [who did not play sports] can just do a summer internship and they can go see if they like it. Do I know if I’m going to like [the job I'm hired for]? No. I have no idea,” he said.
Adrian McBride, a former Mizzou Tiger turned Cleveland Brown wide receiver turned UPS man, recognized the need for a program to connect ex-athletes to employers. He started Life After Sports, designed to help college athletes make the transition from college to the professional world sans sport. The program functioned by lecturing coaches and athletes on the importance of thinking about life without sports, as well as connecting ex-athletes to “athlete-friendly companies” looking for employees in sales, marketing and customer service. Lacking a sufficient following, Life After Sports shut down only after a few short years.
Non-athletes, McBride said, did not understand why a program like Life After Sports was necessary, and the athletes, their heads in pigskin clouds, did not care to think about it while they were still playing.
“When you’re a freshman, [getting a job] seems like forever [away],” McBride said. “It doesn’t hit home with these guys until their life is directly in their eyes and they’re packing Twinkies,” McBride said.
Clearly talented and worthy in other venues, the potential of these athletes is stifled by blind faith to their sport and to their coach. In a new environment, it is understandable that the voice of authority more involved than an academic advisor becomes the most respected.
One would think, with the staggering statistics and the depressing lingering of past prestige of college athleticism that only remains on dusty shelves and Facebook photos, these former student athletes would regret it. However, as for the people interviewed, not one said they wish they would have had a college career without athletics.
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