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A Message to Student-Athletes: Learning from Off the Court Mistakes (By Anonymous Student-Athlete)

It was my junior year of Division 1 college athletics when I truly learned what it meant to step up as an upperclassman and be a leader of the team. With three incoming freshmen and four sophomores, I knew there were a lot of people looking at me to set a good example. Unfortunately, being a junior meant almost being 21, and the legal drinking age was so close I could taste it. I let myself slip not thinking of how it could potentially affect my life if something were to go wrong.

And go wrong it did! As college students tend to do, I found myself caught up in some underage drinking which led to an unfortunate event involving the police. I texted my coach the next morning, who was very understanding. She told me it happens and to be more careful. She reminded me that I was an upperclassman now and needed to keep myself in check for the purpose of the team.

At that moment, I should have cleaned up my act. I should have realized how I was affecting the team and not just myself. I took her advice, but not to the extent I should have. The following weekend, I found myself in another underage drinking situation in which another cop was involved. This time, I tried to keep the matter out of the hands of the coach. I thought I could get away with it without her finding out. I confided in a couple of my teammates, many of which were not pleased with my decisions.

Ultimately, the coach found out about the second incident, in which I received a temporary suspension from the team after a very emotional meeting. She explained to me again that I was not only representing myself when I got in trouble, but the entire team. My actions reflected those of my teammates and who they were, not only me.

I refused to listen to her at first and instead blamed my teammates who had told on me. I stubbornly did not want to succumb to the fact that I was wrong or listen to what she was telling me. I held a grudge for the length of my suspension and dreaded going back when it was over. I was more embarrassed than mad at that point, but the second I came back, my teammates were welcoming and comforting. Nobody brought up the incident. They acted just as they had before everything had gone down. I was grateful to them for handling it so maturely and all my feelings of uneasiness were over by the end of practice.

However, the incident prolonged far past that first practice back. There were court dates in which I had to miss practices and classes, court ordered service hours that cut into my own time, and plenty of fines I had to pay. Had I been chosen to go on Spring Break with the team, I would have had to decline, seeing as though I was not permitted to leave the state according to my probation at the time. The incident affected me negatively in many aspects of my life. Though manageable, the situation could have been avoided entirely.

Though it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way, it was a lesson I will never forget. If you’re on a team—any kind of team, be it a sports team, academic team, or something different—you’ve chosen to represent more than just yourself; you’re representing a whole group of people. It’s an organization bigger than yourself. Your actions no longer reflect you as a person, but your team. Part of a college student’s identity is often largely defined by their team, and a team is defined by its members. It’s important to hold yourself responsible and hold your teammates responsible in order to maintain pride and bring a good name to your teammates.

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