There’s something about Lamar Odom’s situation that truly struck a chord with me in the context of Columbia football.
We only realized the humanity of Odom, a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year and two-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, after being found unconscious at a brothel in Nevada. Clearly, his hospitalization—and later, time spent in a coma—has forced us to look past his athletic aura. The accomplishments, which demanded respect on their own, have only grown in impressiveness since Odom’s personal struggles have come to bear.
Odom is a multimillionaire married to Khloe Kardashian. But he’s had a tragic life: Odom also lost his mother to colon cancer when he was 12, buried his sixth-month-old son after SIDS took his life, and, until recently, had no relationship with his father, who battled a heroin addiction.
Now that the public understands the weight Odom carried onto the court with him, we’ve come to judge him differently.
It’s an endless cycle within the context of sports.
As fans, it’s easy for us to distill the lives of the players we watch into stat lines and performances, to argue about whether one player is more deserving of a specific accolade than another. But we rarely seek—let alone discuss—the actual human wearing the jersey. With remarkable ease, we look down on athletes struggling with issues on and off the court as those simply unable to handle the pressure, and are often unable to find any pity for these millionaire ball carriers.
The same phenomenon exists at Columbia. Students, alumni, teachers—the whole school—are obscured from the human element within the world of college athletics.
We spend an inordinate amount of time denouncing amateurism and the model of college athletics, all of which is warranted. Simultaneously, we forget that maybe the only saving grace of the term ‘student-athlete’ is this literal expression of an athlete’s world beyond the court or field.
We forget that our football players want to win as much as the players they line up against week in and week out. They train as hard, prepare as thoroughly, and compete as fully as they are able. However, the average Columbia student isn’t there in the classroom, weight room, or practice field to see the full picture. Instead, the average Columbia student can only judge an athlete’s effort by the final score.
Some may say that the Light Blue of the last two years—of the last 10 even—were disappointments, that they could never achieve what actually mattered. That what actually mattered was winning.
What we haven’t seen is Columbia’s team beyond just three hours on a Saturday afternoon. Not only do our players struggle to manage an intensive practice regimen and the Columbian workload, they also carry the weight of decades of losing seasons.
So the next time you are about to complain about the ineptitude of Columbia football, think about the people you are calling inept.
Think about the blood and sweat they shed and the personal problems they all face before you lambast them for the years of losses before them.