Jock is a term that originated during the nineteen-sixties derived from the use of a jock strap in contact sports, and is used to describe the persona of a student athlete. Depending on your background, this name can mean many things. Student athletes specifically, often fall into the category of Jock, in the eyes of their peers. From a very young age, Americans are subjected to the negative generalizations about student athletes inspired by the media, especially television. Television producers and writers use many strategies in attempts to appeal to a specific and/or general audience. One of these strategies is the character identity. Character identities, especially in the context of comedy entertainment, are often dramatized to an extreme, making the role more captivating, comical, and entertaining. There are other more blatant synonyms for jock such as meathead and muscle-head. The role of the dumb jock is commonly portrayed in American and Canadian cinema, television, and even cartoons. The general premise of this stereotype contains a few different elements. These include the idea that student athletes, especially males, are generally brutish and less intellectual and that student-athletes are treated with favoritism due to popularity and fame. It is also often assumed that student athletes are aggressive and are often bullies. Generalizations are far from accurate, especially when dramatized in media. Although, when one is subjected to the same stereotypes repeatedly, at a subconscious level they are accepted as reality.
I still remember the first time I recognized the portrayal of the dumb jock. When I was in elementary school I was, like many others my age, a cartoon addict. I remember noticing the dumb jocks in the cartoon series “Fairly Odd Parents,” which I watched every morning before school. The show depicted a group of football players that were aggressive, violent, and hopelessly unintelligent. These jocks were featured in many of the episodes, wearing their letterman jackets uniformly and using their brawn to bully others, and they were outsmarted or tricked by the main character Timmy Turner in an effort to escape. It struck me in an uncomfortable way, because at that age I was very much looking forward to playing football in middle school. Soon after recognizing this stereotype, I began to see it everywhere. The best analogy for my discovery is when one learns a word that they had never heard before and then hear it many times in a short period of time afterward. I remember many different shows and movies with the portrayal of one or more athlete(s) that represented what it means to be a meathead such as: American Pie (movie), Family guy (television), The Blind Side (movie), Blue Mountain State (television), and Friday Night Lights (movie). All of these movies and shows, in their own way, had major roles of student athletes and basically all of them provided some kind of negative connotation. The most blatant use of the dumb jock stereotype is in the show Blue Mountain State, which happens to be my favorite out of all of them. Although very prevalent throughout the entire show, the portrayal of dumb jocks is so comical that I find it difficult to become upset over.
The generalizations made about student athletes shift and evolve as quickly as our society does. Recently, a rising topic of interest in the world of student athletes is the accusation of unfair treatment. Many believe that college athletes are valued much higher than normal students by the institution. Because the world of college and professional sports has exploded over the last few decades, criticism of athletes is inevitable. High school students that are recruited heavily and offered full ride scholarship to college programs will face the criticism of those who pay for their education. With all of the hype and promotion of standout athletes by national media, the resulting fame has proved to be a stigma among peers. This resentment is even present at the professional level, with the enormous salaries that professional athletes have. The importance of professional sports in the United States is possibly a bit high, but it is also a huge part of American culture and does positively affect millions of people.
The National Collegiate Athlete Association has made an attempt to educate and inform Americans about the reality of the role of student athletes. They have come out with a couple of different commercials that are called “Going pro in something else.” As a former collegiate athlete, I find these commercials inspiring and very helpful in disbanding these stereotypes. Their latest commercial, which can be viewed on Youtube.com, features several clips in sequence of men and women training and practicing for their sport. The commercial appeals to the senses with a catchy drum beat, a diversity of fit and attractive athletes, a deep voiced narrator, and scripts read by the athletes with passion. During the commercial, the narrator begins by stating several facts about the academic merits of student athletes. A female African American basketball player then asks, “Still think we’re just a bunch of dumb jocks?” A Caucasian male weightlifting adds, “You need to do your homework.” The narrator then finishes by stating “There are over 400,000 NCAA athletes, and almost all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.” Although short, this commercial has enough substance and dramatic presentation to get people thinking. The first time I saw this commercial, I remember feeling a sense of pride because of the boldness of each statement and my ability to relate to these athletes. The commercial, as well as other attempts to dismantle the accepted perception of the dumb jock are effective, but unless television and cinema writers make a conscious decision to discontinue the negative portrayal of athletes, the stereotype will live on. Collegiate athletes are aware of this perception more than anyone else, and many work hard and succeed in academics and their professional careers. Unfortunately, some college athletes respond differently.
I recently stumbled across a link posted on Facebook by one of my college football teammates, titled “5 Reasons Student Athletes Deserve Our Upmost Respect.” Because this particular teammate had already acquired a reputation for being obnoxious and argumentative, I deduced that his post could only contain something irritating. Simply reading the title made me very aggravated. After a moment filled with a feeling of embarrassment and disappointment, I chose to follow the link. Monica Truong wrote this article on February 7th, 2014, and to my further disappointment, I quickly scanned an article written exactly as advertised. The 5 reasons include: college athletes go to school and play a sport which is like a full time job, the difficulty of keeping up when going on away game trips, they’re pursuing their passion, they were just as (if not more) clever than normal students are about getting into college, and they’re sometimes exploited, yet continue without any loss of focus towards their sport. Each of the 5 reasons is supported by a paragraph attempting to explain and sway opinion. This article should be embarrassing to any student athlete with the slightest hint of humility. The title itself is only strengthening whatever negative perception others have about athletes. Although cliché, the phrase ‘respect is not given, it is earned’ is a dose of reality that everyone should face. Posting an offensive article about athletes, by an athlete only increases resentment. I believe that the stereotypes and generalizations like the dumb jock are the motivation behind this post, and even though the 5 reasons are good examples of the hardships faced by student athletes, the approach is majorly flawed. The article itself is written in an aggressive style of writing, that begins with the accusation of non-athlete students making dumb jock jokes. Truong then continues on with the 5 reasons, highlighted with poor grammar, and unintelligible content. This misguided comeback to non-students and attempts to extinguish stupidity, with stupidity. After developing an understanding of the misinterpretations of college athletes, where they originated, and how they are often accepted, it was clear that the only true solution is for student athletes to continue disproving with their actions and not their words.
The dumb jock is not a falsity. There are student athletes that portray many of the traits that fall in line with negative stereotypes, but this does not prove reality for the majority of athlete students in America. It has been ingrained into our society, over several decades now, that athletes are less intelligent and brutish. For individuals with a background of athletics, it is insulting and demeaning. There are so many different stereotypes that warp the perception of Americans on a conscious and subconscious level, and they will never be completely abandoned. As a former student athlete, I feel a certain level of responsibility in disproving the mislabeling of college players. That being said, it all begins with approach and the methods you choose in helping your cause. As shown, venting in the form of a public article demanding respect does not support the cause. The sure fire way to decrease the use of this specific stereotype is to continue to disprove it with actions, by outperforming, exceeding goals, and being successful. Let the organizations like NCAA brag about it.
YouTube. Retrieved February 22, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXeDUFTaU1Y
Thought Catalog. Retrieved February 23, 2014, from http://thoughtcatalog.com/monica-truong/2014/02/5-reasons-student-athletes-deserve-our-utmost-respect/