Chris Heath (2017)

On Brains Versus Brawn

To me, Mark Cotharn's essay "Brains versus Brawn" was a very interesting read. The perspective of student athletes, especially his personal experience of both positive and negative discrimination, is not often told by those student athletes themselves. Mark tells his story and makes his points by contrasting a few main points about his experience at two schools. As I read through the essay I was able to clearly understand his perspective and felt that he understood why he was being treated differently. He did himself a great service, I would assume due to his parents' influence, to see his special treatment from the start and not take advantage of it knowing that it would only cripple him in the long run. While he resented the special treatment at his first school he initially felt discouraged by the expressed non-special treatment at his second school. He states, "In the long run, far from discouraging me, their treatment motivated me, and I decided to work as hard in the classroom as I did on the football field."

Mark's essay was interesting to me because I too was a student athlete in high school. My situation was different though, of course, from Mark's. While we were both student athletes, I was the stereotypical nerd to his stereotypical jock. I also didn't change high schools, but I did have to deal with people who had preconceived notions and ideas about the kind of person I was and what I was capable of achieving. While I played soccer, basketball, and ran track it would probably be my basketball high school campaign that draws the most similarities to Mark's situation.

On the soccer field I was a fairly dominant force. While it was mostly symbolic, I was the only freshman pulled up to the varsity soccer team for the playoffs when the junior varsity team's season was over. On the basketball court, however, I had much less experience and skill. I had been playing soccer since elementary school, but only started to shoot hoops in 7th grade. Admittedly, my skills on the court during those first years playing basketball were almost laughable.

The only thing making those first years not totally laughable was my athletic abilities and conditioning from playing soccer in the fall before basketball season in the winter. I knew that I had to apply myself to basketballs on the court (and in practice) just like I did in the classroom with my academics. I would push myself so hard during the conditioning drills on the court that I would (at least once each pre-season) get so light-headed recovering between sets that I would see stars and black out for a few seconds. I would always try and play in as many pick-up games as I could and constantly worked on my free throws even staying after practice many times until I could hit 10 out of 10.

While most of my preconception discrimination was from my peers and not from teachers and coaches Mark and I both learned valuable life lessons due to those experiences. Mark learned that positive and negative discrimination aren't substitutes for fairness. He also was driven to self-improvement in the classroom the same way that I was driven to self-improvement on the court. I think that when we encounter prejudice, discrimination, and preconceptions there is a strong urge to prove those people wrong, and that is what was driving both Mark and myself to strive to become the best versions of ourselves that we knew we could achieve.