Stereotyping Of Student Athletes Throughout Popular Culture

Never judge a book by its cover, simply means do not form an opinion about a person based solely by appearance.  Have you ever stereotyped a certain group of people? Everyone has probably subconsciously stereotyped someone at some point in their lifetime.  Stereotyping happens every day, everywhere no matter how hard we try not to do it. The definition of stereotype is, “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”   I have been a student athlete my entire life and have noticed in pop culture there are many different stereotypes associated with student athletes.   Many stereotypes are not necessarily true, but perception is everything.  Student athletes in popular culture are usually perceived as “God like hero’s”, “the Popular Kids,” or the “Dumb Jocks”.  Many people believe student athletes are given special treatment or perceived as students who receive special treatment. There are different stories and scandals about student athletes every day. The media especially likes to focus on the negative stories about student athletes rather than the good ones.  Feel good stories are nice but scandal stories increase revenue.  Student athletes are either loved by many when they win, or hated by many when they lose a game.  Athletes are judged by their performance, they are either a success or a failure depending on the win/loss column, their character is secondary.  Student athletes are portrayed by pop culture as being dumb, super human,  spoiled students who do not appreciate the preferential treatment they receive.  Nothing could be further from the truth as 99% of student athletes are smart, work hard in their sport and receive no special treatment.

High School and college sports have been around for decades and there has always been controversy whether athletes receive special treatment.  Special treatment falls under many different categories.  A few athletes have received special treatment, ranging from small violations like getting free food from a restaurant, to more severe infractions, as in accepting money or expensive gifts from agents, or pressuring a professor into changing a grade so the athlete remains academically eligible.  I found a lot of great examples showing that indeed there are cases of student athletes receiving special treatment. I also found key examples on how student athletes are portrayed throughout media. In the article, Education; Bending The Rules For Student Athletes written by William E Schmidt, he discusses the scandal University of Georgia faced when they were caught for giving special treatment to their athletes. At a testimony in court, University of Georgia’s faculty members were charged with changing the grades of their student athletes in remedial classes in order to stay eligible. A certain professor was told to change the grade of one of his football students because “he scored the winning touchdown against their rival Georgia Tech.” It is no secret that there are special treatment scandals everywhere.  I am a student athlete and I can testify for my fellow team mates stating we do not receive special treatment or fall under that stereotype.  I believe most people do not realize being a student athlete is like working a full-time job, which includes travel, and going to school.  We are on a strict schedule which includes practice, conditioning, study hall, and volunteering in the community.  Being a student athlete is not only physically taxing but also mentally taxing.  Athletes place high expectations on themselves, and when we do not perform as well as we would like it can be very difficult mentally.  There is not a lot written about the stressful life of a student athlete, most writings are about the games.  Nor are the benefits of being a student athlete discussed much in the media.   One of the best gifts an athlete receives through their college career are the friendships formed with team mates.

Another stereotype I always see about student athletes is the “popular kid,” and “God like hero” appearance constantly shown on different T.V shows and movies. Throughout popular culture TV jocks are always played by big handsome men.  They always try and find the most attractive looking people to play the different athletes, and give the appearance these athletes are perfect, they are Godly hero’s.  A perfect example would be the T.V. show Awkward and the movie High School Musical. In the show, Awkward, there is this very handsome character, his name is Matty McKibben. Matty was very beloved for his athletic skills and his handsome face in the T.V show. Matty was a star athlete making him a very popular man in his high school. In the movie, High School Musical, the athletes are also the most popular kids in their school. The athletes were the most attractive and most liked in their high school. The famous character Troy Bolton, from High School Musical, was the star basketball player every guy wanted to be and every girl wanted to have. When you think about some of your favorite movies and T.V shows it is very easy to find that stereotypical popular, attractive, athlete.


While the image of student athletes on TV shows as being gorgeous, super athletic, charming, perfect kids, makes for great TV, the reality is most student athletes are average looking with pimples and other personality flaws just like everyone else.  The problem with portraying athletes as super human is it can give kids with little athletic ability an inferiority complex.  How can they possible compete with these perfect people? Another issue which could arise with the perception of student athletes being “God Like” is some athletes will believe the hype written about them and become complete jerks. The sad part about athletes believing they are above other people is less than 2% of college athletes turn pro in their sport.  Meaning college athletes best serve themselves and the community when they try to display exemplary behavior in representing their college.

Another perception of student athletes in pop culture is that they are dumb.  The only reason they got into college is because they play a sport.  Nothing could be further from the truth because student athletes are admitted into college needing to fulfill the same requirements as any student applying to the same college.  Meaning if a school requires a 3.0 GPA and a 1600 on the SAT’s for admittance into their college, then a student athlete must pass the same requirements.  Are their cases of students not having the minimal requirements to get into college, of course, but the number is quite low.  Colleges do not want to give scholarships to athletes if they think the kid is going to struggle academically. Meaning they do not want to lose money.  A student on academic probation is of no use to the team.  Athletes take the same required courses as anyone for their major, yet the perception of the dumb athlete still persists.  A student athlete must not only study, they practice every day, and travel to many games, leaving on Thursdays and returning late Sunday night or early Monday morning.  Student athletes basically have a full-time job with their sport, and go to school full time, yet the dumb jock image is as prevalent as ever.  Student athletes are also required to devote time to charities in the community which benefits them and the community.  I wish pop culture would show the athlete as smart, hardworking, and charitable because they are.

In pop culture student athletes, have been perceived as given charitable treatment when it comes to their academic admissions.  They are given free food, given better grades than deserved, they do not even have to show up to class.  Of course this is not true.  Very few student athletes are given any preferential treatment.  There are just too many rules and regulations a college must abide by, and they cannot give preferential treatment.  Another myth of the student athlete is that they are dumb.  Student athletes go to school full time and put in full time hours with their sport.  Student athletes are smart and hard working for the most part.  It is important the image of the student athletes change so little kids do not think they do not have to study because they are going to be jocks. Young kids need to see both male and female athletes as smart, hardworking community minded young adults because everyone benefits from the positive image.

Learning Moments:

One major thing that I have learned throughout the year was how to analyze media artifacts. Throughout the different blog post throughout this term, we got to dive into different articles and different advertisements. I learned how to really search for the hidden meaning behind certain advertisements as well. In week 4, Analyzing Primary Sources, we had to watch an Adidas advertisement and we then had to figure out things such as, why was it made, who was it made for? What patterns or repetitions did you notice in the ad? Being asked questions like that challenged me to really think about what certain articles and advertisements, etc, are trying to tell us, or what they are trying to get us to take notice, or what they want us to think about a certain thing/idea. I now look at media artifacts with a different perception, and I try to analyze everything the best I can.

Another major learning moment I had was when we were discussing diversity issues in popular culture. I believe it was in week 5, Reflections on Hollywood film. I did not realize how much the entertainment industry is lacking with diversity! I can’t seem to find the link, but we were provided with a link to a website that had different videos of the diverse characters. These videos included all of the lines the character had in the film. Most of them were very short lines and had very few lines all together. It was terrible! I was expecting the videos to be somewhat long, you know including every spoken line from a movie, but no, some were only 30 seconds! That really stuck out to me in my brain showing how much we lack in providing everyone with diverse characters or providing everyone with different cultures to view.

Works Cited:

WILLIAM E. SCHMIDT., EDUCATION; BENDING THE RULES FOR STUDENT ATHLETES, Special to the New York Times. Published: January 14, 1986

Awkward, directed by Millicent Shelton (2011, MTV), TV

High School Musical, directed by Kenny Ortega (2006, Disney), TV


9 thoughts on “Stereotyping Of Student Athletes Throughout Popular Culture

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post because you used a lot of your personal experience and I can relate to some of them. I was a student athlete from middle school throughout high school. There definitely were some athletes who took on the “dumb jock” stereotype, but then there were some who were three sport athletes taking all AP classes while being involved in music (like myself, but those days are over for me). It was really interesting how you brought up the “super athletic” and “charming” athletes portrayed on screens, and how it would affect kids, making them feel inferior. Overall, great post. Good luck with your softball seasons and Go Viks!

  2. Hey! First off your topic caught my eye immediately being a student athlete here at PSU myself. What I liked about your topic is that I think people are aware of the tv shows and movies that are doing stereotypes with athletes but don’t really notice unless you are specifically paying attention to ti. I always find it funny on how they portray athletes like they make a lot of athletes dumb and call them dumb jocks but in reality athletes are very smart. In your blog I was surprised there were situations where teachers gave students athletes special treatment. It makes me wonder if that happens here at PSU and if they do it for our athletes. You had a great post and I really enjoyed it!

  3. This post related greatly with me personally as I also am a Student-Athlete at PSU, and I know how it feels to be one, and am very familiar with the stereotypes related to being a student athlete. The thing that I appreciated the most was that you know how it is to be a student athlete, and how demanding it really is. Something I’d like to mention is that there certainly were many athletes that I knew personally who choose to play the “dumb jock” stereotype even though I know for a fact that they were smart people. That makes me think weather the depiction of certain people in the media puts pressure on different demographics to act a certain way?

    Really appreciate you sharing!

  4. Hi there!
    I was really able to relate to this post because I am also a student athlete here at Portland State University. I think a lot of us are typically stereotyped, (Id say even more so in my sport of football due to consistent media portrayals of us fitting that role) into being less intelligent than our fellow students simply because we partake in athletics. Even when a majority of our athletes maintain a 3.0+ GPA even with the insane amount of time athletics takes up.
    Great post!

  5. I really enjoyed reading your post! I felt that is was very thoughtful and well written. I as a student-athlete related to this post, and it was very useful especially in today world. With the portrayal as mean jocks who try and be alpha male at all costs is not the reality i had. I was just another kid who could run and catch a ball that was thrown at me, but the main focus was school and being a good person. This is very fun topic, and its great that you explored it. I can’t think of the countless movies which portray athletes as mean people or dumb, for lack of a better term.
    Great post!

  6. Hey!
    I really enjoyed this post because I grew up being a student-athlete. One point that I liked that you pointed is that in popular culture they like to have student-athletes to be the most popular kids in school. Just like you pointed out there are a lot of kids who are not the most popular but still are playing sports and going to school at the same time. The one thing I noticed while growing up is that the more sports a person played the more friends/people this person knows. I am not to sure this is why popular culture makes the main character so popular.

  7. Hello,
    Your post was very interesting to me. I felt like I could relate to the stereotypes that in my personal experience in high school. Athletes are also known to have special treatment. This is portrayed a lot in movies and TV shows. I also agree with you when you said they are known to be dumb. I know this is definitely not true because many athletes have to maintain a certain GPA in order to be involved in the sport. I don’t think that athletes get special treatment. Athletes are always being watched making sure they are setting a good example for the school. Although I haven’t personally seen any athletes receive special treatment, I wonder if this actually happens at some schools. Thank you for such an interesting post!


  8. Hello!

    What stood out to me the most was your comment, “It is important the image of the student athletes change so little kids do not think they do not have to study because they are going to be jocks.” This was something that did not cross my mind, but I am glad you pointed out because that is extremely important. As a non-student athlete, I was thinking along that lines of the “other kids” who might be intimidated by the god-like skills of the jock or judge the athlete based on a single story, such as Awkward. Do you think that this is just as damaging to young kids? Or perhaps the combination of both contribution to perpetuate these ideals?

    It was great to hear another point!

  9. Hey, I really enjoyed your post. Especially about the stereotype that all jocks are dumb. I think this is such a played out stereotype. In high school all of the student athletes were very smart and maintained high GPA’s. It was necessary for them to maintain such good grades to be eligible to play throughout the year!

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