Web Letters | The Nation

Penn State's Patriarchal Pastimes

Not all athletes are dumb rapists

This past June, I graduated with honors from one of the world’s best universities. I held a 3.7 GPA, and various university awards for my academic accomplishments.

I also had, beneath my gown, and my dress painstakingly selected for the occasion, five small scars etched in each of hips; bruises dotting my legs.

This is a story about a kid who worked hard. I am not special because of this; I would be special, for some time, until I was corralled among all the other especially gifted children: a uniquely special set, but a set nonetheless. I was (and remain) focused, and goal-oriented. I wanted, in choosing my school, to be around others like myself—for the challenge, and, conversely, the nurturing. The sense of belonging.

I wanted a community that would make me better, in every way: a better person, a better student—more curious, more confident, hungrier.

I wanted, too, to become the best athlete I could be. Our bodies break down, eventually; most of us get one shot at this thing (whatever our thing might be). It is for very few of us about a free education or professional pursuits. It is about the chance to have our hobby—that is, our love, our passion, our identity—verified; the chance to play for a purpose, for just a little while. We make a commitment to play; someone has recruited us, and that person’s job is partially relying on our effort, our skill. The talent, the hours, the runs and weights, the missed school dances and football games and late nights with friends the likes of whom you’ll never have again—those tender high school years, hours and days and months of which were spent in a gym, on a field, in cleats or sneakers or spikes… it was because you loved it, but this scholarship, this signature, means it was all for something, too.

And so this past June I graduated from a school after playing for a top-twenty program at one of the nation’s best athletic programs, an opportunity I was only partially afforded by my athletic ability (40 percent, to be exact, as programs like lacrosse are not “fully funded,” and thus a certain number of full scholarships must be divided among players). I walked across the small stage at my tiny major’s departmental graduation (of which my undeniably brilliant Harvard- and Oxford- and Yale-trained professors are quite proud) with ten scars on my hips, relics of an injuries suffered at the hands of something that has defined me as much as my degree. The hands that reached for that diploma are the same hands that could once (could they still?) dazzle with behind-the-back shots and no-look passes. They are the same hands that mixed protein shakes and callused against weights. The same hands that drank coffee and Muscle Milk in equal, copious amounts. (Because yes, it takes over forty hours a week to play a top-level sport; it also takes well over forty hours a week to be a top-level student. They are not mutually exclusive, as one discovers in that way of life. We multi-task, and sleep less.)

They are the same hands that penned a novel in my senior year; the same hands responsible for award-winning writing; the same hands that turned pages of reading through long nights after long practices after longer days after long morning runs. They are the hands controlled by a brain that can think and question Fitzgerald as it can a field; powered by a heart and lungs that can deliver speeches as well as they can amaze in V02 Max testing.

In June, I graduated from one of the world’s best academic institutions as a former athlete. My stick gathers dust under my bed; the dirt across my cleats is cracked, a dry film. I run, now, because there will always be a part of me that craves that unique kind of freedom. I will always have this identity as an athlete, as much as I am a daughter or a sister or a woman.

As much as I have my mind.

Emily Layden

New York, NY

Nov 17 2011 - 7:19pm

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.