Oct 30, 2020 | SPORTS | By Abigail Russell | Photo courtesy of The Catalyst Archives

Consider the idea of athletics as part of the core curriculum. Not in a fifth grade physical education class way, but in a real, integrative way that captures all the intellectual, inspirational, and instructional aspects of sport and applies them to the hallmarks of the liberal arts education: expanding one’s ability to think critically, to analyze and to question and ultimately to arrive at creative solutions to novel problems.

Drew Hyland, a professor of philosophy and classical scholar at Trinity College, has proposed this idea in a lecture he calls “The Sweatiest of the Liberal Arts: Athletics and Education.”

Hyland, a former collegiate student-athlete himself, was struck in his young life by the lack of integration between sports and academics. “What a shame it was that I had spent all that energy and time playing basketball, how meaningful and significant it had been for me, and yet I had never been encouraged to think much about it,” said Hyland.

The basic idea underlying Hyland’s lecture, therefore, is a solution to this problem. “The Sweatiest of the Liberal Arts: Athletics and Education” argues that the most fundamental values and lessons of elite athletic competition are the same as those of scholarship.

Hyland also notes in his lecture that the further integration of athletic departments and the academic core of a university would not only be beneficial to student-athletes but is in a sense owed to them. Hyland brings up how athletics bring in huge money for many colleges and universities while these institutions simultaneously remind their athletes that athletics are only and always second to academics.

Hyland, as a classical scholar, also sees these ideas as a rejuvenation of Greek culture. “We risk taking back the very insight embodied in our joining athletic experience to educational experience by disastrously labeling athletics ‘extracurricular’ . . . and so implying that we do not, after all, seriously believe that athletics is a significant component in our education to full humanity. We forget the wisdom of the ancient Greeks,” said Hyland.

And Hyland is not alone in these sentiments.

Gary Walters, athletic director at Princeton from 1994-2014, former chair of the NCAA’s men’s basketball committee and college athlete himself, highlights the likeness between coaches and teachers. “The fact is there are many, many professors who would benefit from going to a practice and watching coaches in action perform their responsibilities,” Walters said. “It would enhance their pedagogy.”

Beyond Walters, there exists a whole group dedicated to this idea. Forty years ago, a group from the American Philosophic Association formed the Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport, which Hyland quickly joined.

Although people have been working on turning these beliefs into concrete changes at higher level educational institutions for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent athletic program cuts and cancelled seasons have brought these conversations to the forefront of academia, meaning real change could be coming soon.

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