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Athletes and artists can find common ground


The idyllic “college experience” often involves attending athletic events, whether a homecoming football game, a swim meet or a Quidditch match. However, for some colleges, it is more the norm to head to a choir or orchestra performance instead. In this reversal of interests, where do athletes fit into the equation?

Rather than fitting the stereotype of famous champions who strut around campus, athletes at St. Olaf sometimes struggle for enough spectators to fill their stands. However, up against the performing arts, which are often overshadowed by athletics at other schools, whose grievances should be favored? How do we create balance?

When I was selecting colleges, I found the idea of a college where music trumps sports refreshing. Coming from a high school that had an 11-person jazz/concert/pep band and a 20-member theatre department, I found this switch satisfying. Upon my arrival here, the clarity of our campus preferences surprised me: People offhandedly remarked that “musicians are the real jocks here,” much to the ire of the athletes around them. My lack of knowledge about who Brahms was earned me a guided trip to the music library, but my confusion over sports figures or how football works gave me an empathetic pat on the back and a topic change.

Another way that this emphasis on the arts manifests itself is through event advertising and word-of-mouth hype. Students often hear about upcoming musical performances from their friends, professors and fellow musicians. In fact, in my own experience chances are high that I personally know someone, or even several people, involved. When it comes to sports, many students have to rely upon emails from the athletic department. I found this to be the case in the fall when I only sought out the cross country race dates so that I knew when I could explore the natural lands without fear of being run over.

Additionally, the annual Christmas Festival introduces a whole new contrast to the norms at other colleges. When Christmas Fest is coming, everyone on campus can feel it: Christmas songs are sung ad nauseum at all hours of the day, in every corner of campus. I say this partially because I know that I was guilty of this, continually humming “I Saw Three Ships” without meaning to. With the choir members of campus bustling around everywhere, you would swear we were preparing for the Vocal Olympics.

If the campus was preoccupied with Christmas Festival, what were the athletes up to? I have to admit, I had and still have no idea. Cross country set a record this year, and after that, the athletes fell out of the spotlight until the recent nordic skiing and basketball victories.

I understand that we are not a Division I school, so it is natural for the emphasis to shift to our other strengths. As someone who has played volleyball and soccer for years and experimented with cross country for a season, but has also danced and sung from the time she could walk, I can feel the frustration on both sides of the issue. At most colleges and high schools, the arts are the extracurriculars being pushed out and underfunded, or cut out altogether in the worst case scenarios. So perhaps it seems karmic for a sporting group to finally feel the heat. However, I do not think underappreciating athletes at St. Olaf is the way to make up for the exploitative behavior of athletic departments elsewhere.

When put side by side, athletes and performers are not all that different: They simply compete in different ways. Both spend hours conditioning and training themselves, whether that be with a hockey stick or a piano. Both make sacrifices with their time and bodies in order to continue practicing what they love. Should not competitors of equal talent receive equal attention? If we favor the performing arts over sports, are we not repeating the wrongs sports have perpetuated against the arts? As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”

Juilia Pilkington ’17 is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English and theater.