Photo by John Nakano

I want to open this column by coming clean on some stereotypes I’ve harbored for a while. They certainly aren’t unique to me; chances are good that you have held them at some point or another, if not now. And, perhaps ironically, those stereotypes are misconceptions about the subject of this very section: student-athletes.

All of us have heard the comments before. “They don’t care about studying.” “They’re only here because they can catch a pass or dunk a basketball.” “I bet they aren’t actually majoring in a real   subject like I am.”

And like most stereotypes, these have a grain of truth. There are many college athletes who would rather avoid intellectual stimulation altogether. Scandals at schools as renowned as the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill prove that not even typically prestigious institutions are immune to this mindset.

But for the most part, student-athletes are just like the rest of us. They sit next to us in lectures, take the same exams, spend hours fretting over the same fundamental problems we face and in a few years, the vast majority will walk across the same graduation stage.

Oh, and they also spend days at a time honing their athletic craft so they can travel across the country, represent Tech and do us all proud. It’s about time that we offer student-athletes the same respect we readily extent to the rest of our classmates.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview former Tech offensive lineman and business major Chase Roberts. Injuries forced Roberts to end his college football career prematurely, but he remains an active presence in Tech athletics.

The fourth year native of Duluth, Ga., works with the Georgia Tech Athletic Association’s Alexander-Tharpe Fund. His rousing speech in front of a crowd donors was the subject of my article, and I met Roberts for a photo and a bit of context.

Our conversation was brief. After all, Chase had classes and meetings to attend, and I had a sports section to edit. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I had watched Roberts’ speech and was immediately impressed by his eloquence and comfort before the audience. Nonetheless, there was a small, stubborn part of me that reminded me of academic scandals at Chapel Hill, Athens and Tallahassee alike.

Within a minute, though, I realized that the only characteristic that distinguished Roberts from the harried  Industrial Design majors sitting by the window and the queue gathering outside of the Starbucks was his gangly 6’3” frame, unshackled from an offensive lineman’s obligation to maintain a high playing weight.

He had completed two internships at major national corporations and was in the middle of a third with the Georgia Tech Athletic Association. Football wasn’t his identity, nor did he show a longing for the athletic career he left behind when his head hit the turf for the last time
against Clemson.

Roberts isn’t the exception; he’s the rule. Statistics dictate that a highly select minority of college athletes, even at a FBS school like Tech, ever come within sniffing distance of a  professional career.

So it’s heartening to know that once the last pass is caught, the last basketball is dunked and the last final is taken, our student-athletes will be at least as prepared for the world as we are. Sure, not all of them are going to be computer engineers or make the next groundbreaking scientific discovery, but that can be said for the rest of us, too. They’re trying to make it through the same Institute as we are.

So when we watch Lance Austin streak down the sideline with Seminoles players drifting in his wake or cheer as Marcus Georges-Hunt elevates above hapless defenders or roar as Justin Thomas outruns the defense for a touchdown, let’s celebrate our student-athletes. In both senses of that word.