Co-written by Amber Amortegui and Rebekah Hay

College athletes are often seen as being a part of the hierarchy of “who’s-who” on a campus, and they are typically placed into a category all of their own. In many cases, this is evident in a situation as simple as entering the school cafeteria and noticing the separation of athletes and non-athletes.

Athletes sometimes struggle with the balance between spending time with  teammates and feeling like they are part of the larger campus community. To answer this, it is crucial to realize how instrumental sports teams are to a college or university.

In an interview with Dr. Brad Zarges, the Athletic Director at ENC, he explained how important the overall sports community is to the campus. One of the roles of the sports community on campus is to foster a sense of pride centered around the teams that represent us.

By competing with other schools, ENC students come together to support the institution that they all have in common. It gives students who may be very different from one another a chance to stand together and represent their college.

Additionally, ENC ‘sports’ are not something that can only be experienced by athletes, and this is clear on our own campus through abundant support that students show in attendance at their peers’ matches or games. A supportive atmosphere can been seen through the student-led Lion’s Den at basketball games.

Taking the benefits into account, the athletic communities on ENC’s campus still present a divide on campus. Through practices such as team church, team meals, and only placing incoming recruits in rooming arrangements with members from their own team, an intentional separation from other students occurs. It is understandable that a team needs to build strong personal relationships with each other, but the question remains as to where the line falls between isolation and community.

As far as the negative aspects of seclusion of sports teams from non-athletes, Dr. Zarges was quick to discuss this two-sided problem using a term frequently associated with this dilemma: affinity groups. An affinity group is a group of people with whom a person might always associate with or hang out with. These groups typically have similar interests and schedules, and Dr. Zarges connected this concept with athletic teams.

Dr. Zarges elaborated, “I do think that sometimes athletes create a separation…from some sense of entitlement [because] they possess something that others don’t in terms of athletic ability. Sometimes, I do think [an] affinity group goes overboard to where they don’t associate outside of the group…I just want to make sure that athletes don’t exclude others [from interacting with them on campus],” says Dr. Zarges.

The temptation of solely spending time with one’s affinity group applies to all students. It is easy to stick with the people whom one knows well and feels comfortable around. At ENC, there is a focus on identifying as being part of a larger, “Beloved Community,” but a major challenge to this is the tendency to stay in the security of a specific group of friends.

Shelby Holmes, a basketball player for ENC’s women’s team, said, “I think that people usually hang out with people they are most like. I think that can cause some disconnect between athletes and non-athletes, but overall I think that non-athletes are involved in a lot of things on campus as well and that causes athletes and non-athletes to connect.”

Dr. Zarges brought up the issues with stereotypes that can follow athletes when he stated that sometimes non-athletes “definitely project a certain expectation of how athletes act a certain way based off of, many times, some negative interaction they have with an individual.”

Victor Mendoza, a soccer player for ENC’s Men’s team, stated that, “The students who are not athletes have this illusion that athletes are better than everyone else.” He countered this illusion when he said, “There is no real pride to have other than having pride in the school, but no ego should exist for playing sports here.”

Dr. Zarges offers a solution to this issue. “We need to let every person that we interact with tell their own narrative. When those athletes have that affinity group of a team step out, and they make sure that they’re also with other affinity groups…[that’s] the most healthy [athlete and non-athlete relationship]. Where they’re still tight as a team…but it’s not their exclusive group that they’re a part of.”

Athletes play an important role at ENC, but they are as equally important as every other student. In order to fight the natural divisions that occur in the social life on campus, there needs to be balanced support and encouragement for all students.