Northwestern Athletes are Students, too

By Ari Levin

There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in my time at Northwestern that I believe is fairly unique to student sports media.

Following a Northwestern sports team, we learn a lot of about student-athletes, and far more than they know about us. When we watch their incredible feats on the field, cheer for them, and write about them, it’s easy to forget that they’re not just normal people, but Northwestern students, too.

So, when we walk past them on campus, walking by on Sheridan Road, in the hallways of Kresge, in the dining hall, a strange thing happens. We recognize them pretty quickly, if not by face then by the clothing that normally has the team name plastered across or the backpack with their number sewn on. We immediately know their name, year, hometown, most recent performance, a fun fact. And they have absolutely no idea who we are. Maybe they recognize our face from an availability? But, most likely, we’re not even noticed.

Northwestern is the perfect storm for this. It’s a small walking campus, but not so small that everybody knows everyone else. The competitive academics match the elite athletic programs, so student-athletes are a full combination of academically invested off the field and incredible performers on it.

Of course, they’re all great people. I’ve never had a negative interaction with an athlete. Plenty of times they’ve been the smartest person in one of my classes. Tommy Doles knew everything in PoliSci 376, and I was so lost, and now he has an NFL contract. We all struggle with four classes alone. How could anyone do that and play a sport full time as well?

Then there’s traveling with the team, as we’re incredibly fortunate to often do at WNUR Sports, which is a whole different (and slightly awkward) experience. Now, it’s that same interaction times 20 (or 100 with the football team.) Being so close the entire time, on the same bus, at the same restaurant, but never really intermingling.

Not that they aren’t friendly; everyone, between student-athletes, coaches, support staff, and administrators treats you amazingly. Lydia Rohde invited us into her family’s home along with the rest of the women’s basketball team for lunch on the way to Madison.

But we just occupy different spaces. We prepare for the broadcast while they’re watching film, working out, and eating together. So, you go to a press conference and that’s usually the most you’ll talk to anyone. It’s strange sitting five feet from someone at breakfast but going through a PR person to actually talk to them. Or being next to them in class then asking questions while they’re at a podium.

With graduation around the corner, each of these exchanges could be my last. And as I look back, this strangely delightful interaction feels like an oddly important part of my college experience. The student-journalist has the unique experience of reporting on their peers, who also happen to be world-class athletes, in such a way. So, treasure these student-athletes, who are so good at everything they do, and treasure the fact that we share a campus with them.

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