Athletic Achievement

November 30, 2011
 
July/August 2011 Cover
 
 
Athletic Achievement

I do wonder on what studies Ms. Hogshead-Makar based her odd pronouncement that "we've known for a long time that athletes, particularly in high school, do much better in school [than non-athletes]; they get better grades, better standardized test scores, and they're more likely to go to college" ["College Sports: A Duke Magazine Forum," July-August 2011].

I suspect this is purely anecdotal speculation—advocacy statistics, as it were— and certainly not borne out by my own observations, which are admittedly personal and anecdotal, that jocks are by no means smarter than anyone else. If anything, they are less so.

Worse, considering the venue—she then dragged in the "ancillary problems" of big-time athletics—"not the least of which is the risk of sexual assault by athletes."

With the scandal that destroyed the lives of those young Duke athletes who were falsely accused of rape still fresh in many minds, I would have thought she would have left that broad brush at home.

Marshall De Bruhl '58
Asheville, North Carolina

Nancy Hogshead-Makar '86 responds:

In support of my assertion that athletes performed better academically: In December 2009, the Women's Sports Foundation released a comprehensive review of 2,000 empirical studies examining women's athletics and health. The compendium demonstrates, among other things, that girls and women who participate in sports and physical activity are more likely to have better physical and emotional health, more likely to earn better grades and standardized test scores, and less likely to get pregnant.

In addition, research by professor Betsey Stevenson from Wharton found that Title IX was responsible for one-fifth of the rise of female educational attainment for the generation that followed Title IX. While this research focused on girls, there is no reason to think that these benefits wouldn't be just as applicable for boys. In short, sports make both boys and girls more productive members of society and are a wise investment of our tax dollars.

As for my assertion that male athletes on all-male teams pose a heightened risk of harm to women, I was referring to research broadly on the point, and not to any one case. For example, researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts studied reported sexual assaults occurring over a two-year period at ten universities and found that student-athletes "comprised only 3.3 percent of the male student body, but were involved in 19 percent of the reported sexual assaults." A National Institute of Mental Health study by Dr. Mary P. Koss found that athletes were involved in approximately one-third of assault cases examined.

I would be remiss as an academic and an advocate for women not to mention the problems of sexual assault in athletics.

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