Two weeks ago, The University News published an article entitled “On the being and essence of a student-athlete.” Now, as you might imagine, the student-athletes of the University of Dallas, myself included, were very interested in what the author had to say about being a student-athlete here at UD. What could he possibly tell me about my being and essence?
But alas, upon reading the article it seemed to me that Joseph was not so much trying to offer for us an account of the being and essence of a student-athlete, but rather was trying to begin a dialogue about this important question, which is an effort I welcome enthusiastically. I don’t know if I can definitively say what the being and essence of a student-athlete is, but I will try to offer some thoughts.
Fundamentally, in his article, I think the author is asking the question, “is there a place for student-athletes at UD?” Though I don’t think the author intended any such response, some athletes were rather offended that the question was even asked. But nonetheless, we will try to put any sensitivity behind us and seriously consider the question.
To offer an answer, I think we must first look at the purpose of a UD education and then determine whether NCAA Division III athletics further that end.
To me, the nature of education at UD does not seem too difficult to ascertain. I did not clearly understand the noble ideals of UD when I began my time here, and yet they are the reason I came to this school. But as time went on, and I became immersed in these ideals — through Phil and Eth, through Am Civs and Lit Trads, through my Rome semester, through the whole culture of UD — I came to cherish that famous motto: Love truth and justice. I believe it is truly lived at UD.
We begin here at UD with Phil and Eth in our freshman year. We study Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas, and we do not do so simply as objective observers of antiquity, nor do we approach their wisdom as fascinating but ultimately obsolete. Truth is everlasting, and we take these truths to heart as important to our very own lives.
We do not take Phil and Eth simply to get a taste of philosophy, think about some abstract concepts, and move on. We read The Republic and Nichomachean Ethics so that we might be encouraged to think about how we ought to live our lives.
Love truth and justice. It is a love that demands the practice of virtue, a growing self-knowledge, and a seeking of higher things. And it is always a work in progress.
Everyone here at UD already knows what UD is about, or at least is learning. But what about the athlete?
This weekend, we traveled to Colorado for our first conference games. We drove 13 hours on a bus, missing Thursday afternoon classes and all of Friday classes. We didn’t have a great weekend.
At one point, our coach told us that we couldn’t blame our loss on tough travel, that everyone had to travel, and that we had to be able to overcome adversity. Furthermore, she said, that’s what athletics are about.
Playing sports teaches you to overcome adversity, whether adversity is 13 hours on a bus or trying to be a student and an athlete. It may be missing an important class, getting an injury which requires surgery, a concussion which makes it difficult to do homework, or missing out on social events and sleep. And yet, we learn anyway. We learn what we missed in class, study hard on our 13-hour bus ride, and also find the time to just enjoy each other’s company, not to mention overcoming losses and leaving our hearts on the court in every match we play.
As student-athletes we have to do this — we have to learn to overcome adversity and always strive to do better.
And this task — to strive to be better — is also, in fact, the human task. We strive, after truth and justice and virtue and friendship, to be better and to perfect ourselves, and not just as athletes, but as students, and most importantly as people.
Athletics, at least here at UD, are ordered toward our development as human beings, toward virtue, toward truth and justice. After this weekend, because of our loss in the conference, we have quite a bit of adversity to overcome. But we will continue to pursue our goal. Let’s pray we become better humans for it.