Popular Culture and How Collegiate Student Athletes are Portrayed

Popular culture puts collegiate student athletes in a negative spotlight as the student athletes get portrayed with the misconceptions that popular culture displays to the mass audience.  Popular culture as a whole gives two examples for student athletes, either an athlete did something wrong so they bring it to everyone’s attention or an athlete excelled and everyone else is falling behind because they are not like this individual. Even when popular culture is giving an athlete recognition for something positive they still bring up that most athletes are not doing the same thing, which again is putting a negative light on student athletes all together.  Popular culture focuses on the mistakes made in college athletics and most of the time doesn’t get the behind the scenes story before publishing a story which leads the mass audience to a misconception. When the audience only hears of the negative aspects that go on they don’t get the full story of what these athletes do every day.  The student athletes are not given credit for the overall picture of what the put into the program and team but known for being a “stupid, privileged” athlete just for identifying themselves as a college athlete.


Left: Hruby, Patrick. 2011, April 6. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/04/should-college-athletes-get-paid-ending-the-debate-once-and-for-all/236809/

Right: Sorenson, Adam. 2008, August 22. Retrieved from: http://blog.classesandcareers.com/education/2008/08/22/easy-a-for-college-athletes/


Looking through primary sources about the way student athletes are portrayed in popular culture, there were three trends that showed up in every artifact that identified student athletes in a negative light.  First, all sources said that student athletes take easier classes or are majoring in easier degrees. Second, football is the most popular sport in college athletics and this sport get the most negative light as it gets the most media coverage. Third, popular culture believes that all student athletes get privileges or advantages and that student athletes are not concerned about academics at all.

Blue Mountain State: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_iOoiL2Eow

Through Blue Mountain State the media is trying to get your attention through a TV show that is fun to watch but also comical. It is to the extreme of what the football stereotypes are and show all different kinds of personalities that could be on the team. Although this show is to get the viewers’ attention in a comical way now the consequences for the student athletes is they get known for the actions being portrayed in the show. Just like in every aspect of life there are a few mess ups and they set the name for the whole body of student athletes. Since this TV show is directed at a younger audience when older adults or parents see it they look down on college athletics as they would not want to see their kid doing the inappropriate actions produced in the show.  Football gets a lot of negative light from this show because they do produce a lot of stupid things that student athletes should not be doing.

Why Student Athletes Continue to Fail:  http://time.com/3827196/why-student-athletes-fail/

“Why Student Athletes Continue to Fail” has the purpose of getting the creators point of view across by drawing in a good situation then degrading others for not doing the same. He describes Jones at the beginning of the article and how he “did the right thing” but then is disappointed that more football players aren’t staying the full four years and graduating if they have the chance to go professional. He wants the audience to believe that there should be something more than football in a student athletes life and that isn’t true when the tweet about not wanting to go to school as he puts it. This is another way that football players are described in a negative light as they not only say that they take easier majors and classes but also that teammates influence them because they don’t want to be considered smart. Now some are smarter than others but that goes with everything, so to conclude and group all athletes together that they all just slide by, don’t try in academics, and are just stupid is not a fair conclusion for the audience.

The Myth of Being a Student Athlete: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/the-myth-of-the-student-athlete/?_r=0

“A Myth of Being a Student Athlete” was a little bit better about how media portrays student athletes because they did say that many of the concerns around student athletes are regarding football and men’s basketball. These are to two most popular college sports and the two sports that have the most opportunity to go professional. Almost all other sports don’t have this option so the life after college is very important to them. With that being said for football and men’s basketball, this is their career and people are degrading them for choosing that path. For the athletes that are continuing on with their sport after college popular culture like this article sends the audience a negative influence and portraying that they should be setting their priorities as something different.


When looking more into this topic and at secondary sources there were some very interesting findings. In the journal article, “The Image Of Paul Robeson: Role Model For The Student And Athlete” it is about a former student athlete, Paul Robeson, who was a black football player who continued on to be a professional football player as well as a law student.  It explains what he went through and between school, football, and stereotypes of doing both. This article also talks a lot about the references made towards Paul as a scholar athlete with in popular culture. Some people thought that Paul got extreme benefits because he was an athlete and didn’t have to put in the work for school and just breezed by to go professional.  Paul showed that he could balance academics and athletics while also being a good person, he is now looked at as “black athletic hero” for his accomplishments.  It also explains that this type of person is not represented on media as the focus on the negative aspect that has gone on through student athletes and especially black football players.

In another journal article, “The American Dream Goes To College: The Cinematic Student Athletes Of College Football” it is a review on a movies and films regarding the “Athletic American Dream”. It talks about how it is seen in America and the way it influences universities.  There is a positive aspect about student athletes in this article as it describes how they impact not only the school itself but also the student body. It talks about how these football teams brings in money for the university but it also brings in attention for the school as many Americans are interested in sports especially football. As for the student body it is something for them to do and get away from all the books, it encompasses school pride and a great way to be involved.  These movies and films throughout the years allowed America to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes as well as get the negative spotlight off and see what really goes on between the players and the community around them.

This article is a review on the movie “Schooled: The Price of College Sports” which talks about individuals that have played and the controversies that go on between outsiders and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In this article it describes both sides about the controversies and why these issues have been around for a long time but now just becoming a bigger problem so more people are discussing them. Former Tennessee football player Arian Foster thinks that college athletes should be payed because he believes this is a job, he also has admitted getting paid by the university itself. The article demonstrates both sides of this argument as one believes that they are amateurs that shouldn’t be paid and the other side of it is that amateurs in other fields get paid for their work.  Another question that pops up during the article is if athletes are really there for the education or just for the sport?  One teacher says that they believe that athletes get special privileges from some professors just because they are athletes and some say they would never treat them differently than any other normal student. They go back and forth in this movie which gives you a good perspective and information on both sides.

Conclusion and Reflection  

Looking at secondary sources and comparing them to the primary sources, they backed up the finding from how popular culture portrays them.  Most of the secondary sources were former athletes describing their experience and how they got put in the negative wrap when the media doesn’t know what they had done to get to that point in their life. Athletes want to highlight the positives and the strides they have made to improve their representation but also all the hard work that goes in that seems to never be brought up.  It seems that a lot of the media that is presented to the public is written by people that what to put a story out and get the attention of those that don’t know how much effort and time is put in. But the one chance that they get to bash student athletes or the one mistake that is made, the whole world knows very quickly. My findings seem to be two sided and either you lean towards one side or the other and there is no in the middle. These draws people against and with student athletes instead of finding a compromise in the middle of things that can be improved and things that are done well.

Learning Moments

Throughout this term I learned a lot about popular culture, not only the way it identifies student athletes but also many other topics. One topic that I found really interesting was advertising and how it basically manipulates the viewers.  From week 3’s blog post Daneen Bergland wrote, “You can’t escape it. It has become the background noise of our culture, seeping into our consciousness by its ubiquity and repetition, its jingles and slogans bouncing around in a corner of our minds as we wait for the bus or kiss our children good night.” Thinking more about it, this is true as everywhere you look there is an advertisement for something. Marketers and advertisers want to be in everyone’s eyes all the time. So this means that they will be along the streets, on the internet, on TV, and even on the apps on our phones.  The big question is, businesses are competing to promote their product and they need theirs to stand out from the others but to what point are they manipulating the viewers? Advertising is interesting when you look at what goes on behind the scenes and looking at how they get to the customer really intrigues me because I know I fall into some of the scams.

Another thing that I found particularly interesting in this course was how people defined and described online communities versus in person communities and the strengths and weaknesses of both.   One of the questions asked in week 2’s discussion was “How are online communities different than other communities?” I found it interesting on how most people said the biggest difference between these two was that you don’t have the face to face interaction. Some people thought that this was very important within a community and others didn’t seem to think that it wasn’t such a big deal without that component. I think that an online community is a different type of interaction and to create a community through online communication means that everyone has to put in effort to have the community.  The groups made for discussions really helped me as I got feedback on things that were good and things I could improve but I got the most satisfaction from learning about everyone else’s identities and their research.

Work Cited

Gutting, Gary. “The Myth of the ‘Student-Athlete'” Opinionator The Myth of the StudentAthlete Comments. The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

Harrison, C. Keith, and Brian Lampman. “The Image Of Paul Robeson: Role Model For The Student And Athlete.” Rethinking History 5.1 (2001): 117-130. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 May 2016.

Miller, Andrew C. “The American Dream Goes To College: The Cinematic Student Athletes Of College Football.” Journal Of Popular Culture 43.6 (2010): 1222-1241 Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 May 2016.

Oppenheimer, Daniel “Why Student Athletes Continue to Fail.” TIME 20 Apr. 2015: n. pag. WEB.

Romano, Chris, and Eric Falconer. “Midterms.” Blue Mountain State. Lionsgate Television. Quebec, Canada, 2 Mar. 2010. Television.

Solomon, Jon. “‘Schooled: The Price of College Sports’ Is a Movie worth the NCAA History Lesson (review).” AL.com. N.p., 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 05 May 2016.