Now more than ever, high-profile college athletes are being treated as university employees, not students. Their status as university brand-builders and revenue-makers separates them from the rest of the student population. At UM, the athletes of popular sports, particularly for flagship sports like football and basketball, are isolated from their non-athlete peers due in part to stringent rules established by not only the NCAA but also the athletic department and team coaching staffs.
These student-athletes receive heavy restrictions on what they can and cannot say to media publications. Players, especially the high-profile ones, are trained to give answers that evade truly answering certain questions. They answer the limited media questions with scripted non-answers – “We didn’t execute the way we wanted to,” or “We just want to come out here, practice hard and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
“Because of my era and all that stuff in the ‘80s, there’s an image issue,” said Dan Sileo, a defensive lineman for the Hurricanes football team from 1985-86. “At the end of the day, do you think if a kid gives a bad answer they’ll forgive him? Every time a kid makes a mistake he pays for it with a pound of flesh.”
Additionally, the athletic department restricts student journalists from asking questions and talking to athletes in class. While these rules are seemingly a reaction to the sanctions and bad press UM has had to deal with in the past decade, the restrictions end up hurting the athletes for the sake of protecting the athletic programs themselves.
The student-athletes are adults and should be able to choose for themselves what they say to the public. These stringent rules damage the quality of reporting, separate the student athletes from their peers and fail to prepare the athletes for potential professional careers after college.
These rules turn the athletes into premature celebrities, isolating them from the rest of the student body. Athletes are almost always walking, eating and hanging out with other athletes. While teammates should reasonably become close, some athletes seem to rarely interact with other students.
The athletic department is not helping this insulation with its regulations, and it is not good training because, in the real world, there is no written rule prohibiting someone from approaching pro athletes for questions.
High-profile student-athletes should not be hidden away by overprotective practices. Instead, they should be able to practice their own judgment and have the opportunity to candidly interact with peers as UM students.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.