While I’ve always felt that it is important to ask the question, because it happens a lot in American culture these days, I don’t live vicariously through my children, but I am always willing to take a stand next to them if I have seen them show up in full force for themselves. Maybe it’s easier for me separate my dreams from theirs because with four of them with various interests and abilities, there wasn’t always time to sink deep into their experience, it was more a matter of making sure the parental things were done, like signing permission slips, making reservations, driving, and of course paying for things. But as we go through these quickly passing days as parents, we get attached, not to their success, but to the people that they are becoming in front of our eyes as we sit in the stands, watch them perform, or drive them to practice, because as they pursue what interests them, they learn how to take ownership of who they are, and from there, learn how to lead themselves and others, and, no matter how many games they win, there is no greater feeling than watching leadership and grace under fire develop. For Luke, since he was 12 years old, that place has been on the volleyball court and being asked to pivot on that commitment isn’t ok, not for him or any of the other athletes involved in this terrible decision by the university.
Back in July, Stanford broke the hearts of 240 student athletes that had honed their craft and built their leadership skills through thousands of collective hours on the mat, in the pool, on the fields, the water, and in the gym by cutting 11 Olympic sports, citing finances as a reason. The hours that these athletes have dedicated to their craft have helped shape the young adults they have become and they were recruited by Stanford without any indication that their program was under fire. Each of these athletes have unfinished goals and they were all of a sudden left wondering how to accomplish them. It’s not about the scholarship that they say will be honored, it’s about the experience of being a full fledged Division 1 college athlete in the sport that they have spent so much of their life training and falling in love with and that helped shape their identity ( and let’s not forget, in most cases they are 18-21, not 40) To be a Stanford athlete is an opportunity that each of them earned, and had the ability to take to other universities to continue their training and grow their skills as leaders, something that will not only benefit themselves but the world at large, once their days on the court are finished. I’m sure the majority of them would have made a different school choice if they had been alerted to the danger that was lurking for their program. The dedication that it took for them to get to this level required greater sacrifice and focus to achieve their goal of not just becoming a college athlete, but becoming a Stanford athlete. For Luke, that was the dream since attending his first Stanford football game when he was 8 years old, watching Andrew Luck and playing catch with Coach Harbaugh’s wife at the pregame tailgate. And although he is a die hard Stanford, Fantasy Football, and Colt’s fan to this day, his dream of wearing a Stanford jersey didn’t come with pads and cleats, and as mom, I’m thankful that his body and mind will be better off because of that. Sports, as an athletic experience or as a spectator, has the ability to shape and change our lives, and an institution like Stanford, with the breadth of knowledge it has on campus and in the world can do better.
Olympic memories go back in my mind to 1984, to Mary Lou Retton’s perfect 10 in the all around at the Los Angeles Games and continue through Janet Evans in 1992, Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps crushing the medal stands, Dara Torres defying age in her fifth Olympics in 2008 and Kerri & Misty’s runs in 2004, 2008 & 2012. Although each of these athletes have made money through their sports, mostly through endorsements, there are hundreds more unsung heroes who despite great financial hardship, have the dedication to make it to the Olympics and provide us as the public with memories that inspire us through our own lives (think Cool Runnings and the Jamaican bobsled team). None of these sports are money makers for collegiate athletics. If the focus of college sports becomes solely about making a profit, or capitalizing on the athletes that have the potential to sign multi million dollar deals after their collegiate careers, we all lose.
After months of being stonewalled by Stanford, even with an impressive list of alumni working hard to raise funds to endow their own programs, the University has been unwilling to budge. The fight isn’t over yet, because as alumni, parents, and athletes, we will fight for the what is best for these athletes, the public at large, and what Stanford can’t see clearly for itself right now. It’s time to put the passion back into college sports and take the price tag off the commitment that Stanford made to these 240 athletes, because something that life has taught me thus far, is that nothing that is done for the almighty dollar alone, ever, in the end is worth it.
Here is some more information to keep up with the fight by United 11 (the parent group that was started to seek reinstatement) and 36 Strong (the alumni group helping to seek alternative funding solutions). There will be more to come in the next few months, I have no doubt. Honor their dreams and the commitment you made to them Stanford, these athletes deserve better.
With love & so much optimism,