The Jambar can be a little hard on college athletics.
Not that anything is necessarily undeserved. It’s good to be critical of high profile coach hires, of university priorities when it comes to budget allocation and — as was recently in the news — student athletes allegedly involved in criminal acts.
However, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. A recent Gallup report — “Understanding Life Outcomes of Former NCAA Student-Athletes” — revealed that former student athletes are more likely to thrive in their adult lives than their non-student athlete counterparts.
The report surveyed nearly 30,000 U.S. adults with at least a bachelor’s degree in five areas of “well-being”; purpose, social, community, physical and financial. In each of the five categories, former student athletes scored higher than non-student athletes.
The highest disparity in scores was in social well being, with 54 percent of former student athletes thriving against a 45 percent showing among non-student athletes. The lowest disparity was reported in financial well being, with 38 percent of former student athletes thriving versus 37 percent of non-student athletes.
Before everyone curses their slovenly high-school selves for not being more active in sports, it’s important to remember two things. First, numbers are sticky, mischievous things, and even in well-respected reports like Gallup and Pew often produce, there is often more going on in the numbers than is present on the surface. Second, outside of the physical well-being score — which may be dubious, more on that in a moment — the increase in well being is not because of the actual physical participation in sports, but because of all the advantages and opportunities participating in collegiate sports provides to student athletes. Many of which, students can replicate by seeking out those opportunities off the playing field.
Take the community and social well being scores. Student athletes spend a ton of time with each other. Many end up at schools outside their hometowns. They practice together, they compete together, they travel together and many live together. Student athletes are essentially forced to figure out how to make complex relationships work; while under heavy physical and mental stress with friends they didn’t get to choose. That’s a strong life-skill, and it’s one that isn’t out of reach of non-student athletes.
We at The Jambar are lucky to have a lot of the same benefits socially. We work with each other on a near daily basis, travel with each other and many of us are in the same classes. Nursing students are likely in the same boat. It is the same with members of the Student Government Association.
For those not in a situation where they have to work in a tight community, they should look for those opportunities. Join a student organization or one of the many sports teams on campus outside of the NCAA programs. Not only will it look good on a resume, but it’ll provide that team experience that student athletes benefit from.
As for physical well being, Gallup reports a 7 percent difference between former student athletes and non-student athletes, however those numbers are a bit hard to believe without seeing the age of those surveyed.
In a University of Southern California study examining the long-term health of former student athletes, nearly 96 percent of former student athletes over the age of 43 reported seeking medical attention for joint related issues. That’s nearly 14 times higher than non-student athletes of a similar age.
To be fair, the USC report was significantly more narrow than the Gallup survey. However, of the 30,000 participants in the Gallup survey, less than 2,000 were student athletes.
Essentially, that means that no one should drastically alter their lives based on this information. However, it does provide a general framework for examining and understanding the added value that participation in sports programs add to the life of student athletes.
College administrators would be wise to examine these factors as well and devise ways of funneling more students into programs providing the same benefits, even if they aren’t star athletes.
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