Student athletes should pursue majors because of interest, not social pressure

Jasmine C. Johnson

Since joining UT in early January, head football coach Charlie Strong has made the headlines many times over, and rightfully so. He is the University’s first black men’s head coach. He is guaranteed a minimum of $5 million annually for a five-season term, with $100,000 increases per year starting in 2015. He has brought many new faces to the coaching staff. But aside from all of that, he has brought a refreshing sense of discipline and expectation. What remains to be asked is whether these expectations will foster a fervent effort to ensure success for athletes both on and off the field. 

Shawn Izadi, a pre-med senior linebacker from Coppell, defined the term “student-athlete” as “athlete being in bold, all caps, 50 size font while student is written in small, lowercase italicized font.” 

“It should be the reverse,” Izadi said. “But the problem is a degree doesn’t generate $150 million. Football does. But what a degree will do is place an individual in society to make a meaningful impact.”

The degrees that football players earn at Texas are limited by more than financial concerns: More than one-third of UT’s football team studies physical culture and sports, applied learning and development or youth and community studies. While these areas of study may truly suit their interests, it’s important to consider the other factors that may contribute to the players’ choice of major, as a critical part of academic success is pursuing a major in a field of interest.

Grant Sirgo, a senior mechanical engineering major and kicker for the UT football team, said this pattern may exist because of the support system already in place for those majors.

“With many of the upperclassmen [football players] majoring in these degree plans it can seem like a comfortable choice with a solid support system already in place,” Sirgo said. “Some enter school already having a passion to teach and coach. For these individuals, the decision is no different than mine to enter engineering.” 

But Izadi also offered a different reason for the skew towards physical culture and sports in the player’s academic lives.

“They come here to play football and their priority is not to get an education or they may not have been introduced to what they like yet,” Izadi said. 

Perhaps there’s social pressure to pursue these particular majors, given that the H.J Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, where most classes in the physical culture and sports major are taught, is conveniently located in the north end of the football stadium. 

Whatever the case may be, it’s important that athletes acquire the best education possible especially since their degrees are all that they’ll have to show for countless hours of dedication to the sport. And by best education, I mean a major that really suits their interests and not what’s socially convenient and easily accessible. 

Strong may not directly address the importance of choosing a major that will provide future opportunities, but his insistence that his team members excel as students first, and then as athletes suggests that the players have free reign when choosing a major. After all, there’s a reason “student” comes before “athlete” in the term “student-athlete.” 

If these athletes are genuinely drawn to their particular majors, their athletic services are being compensated through a free education. But if they are choosing these majors because of social pressures or lack of time to pursue their real interests, the trade-off between their services and their education is heavily lopsided. Though football may be what attracts and binds these football players to UT, it should not be the only thing of value they have once they leave.

Johnson is a journalism junior from DeSoto.