Spelman—a small, historically black woman's college in Atlanta—is now America's most forward-thinking institute of higher education, when it comes to fitness and athletics. Spelman is not investing another dollar in its intercollegiate sports teams. In fact, it is giving up on competitive sports teams altogether, and using the money to promote fitness for every single Spelman student.
Why be NCAA Division III volleyball third runner-up—when you can be Fitness Role Model Champion of The Future for The Whole Wide World?
A few relevant facts: in 2005, 30% of college students were overweight or obese. The number is almost certainly higher today. By 2030, more than 50% of all Georgia residents are projected to be obese. Four out of five black women over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. Nationally, only about 2% of undergraduates are NCAA athletes, and the vast majority of college athletic programs do not generate profit. Spelman was spending $1 million per year on 80 competitive intercollegiate athletes; now, it will be spending that same money on "a campus-wide health and fitness program" for 2,100 students.
It does not take a motherfucking genius to connect all of these dots, into a likeness of Dr. Randall J. Strossen. This is nothing less than the wholesale reimagining of the place of fitness in our society. As it stands today, our universities are the single greatest contributor to the idea of a separate class of sports gods, standing above and apart from the rest of us, an object of worship. College athletes—especially at big schools, in big sports—are localized demigods. At the pinnacle of college sports, there are no "student athletes." There are big-time athletes who play for schools, in the same way that pro athletes play for cities. They are not role models to inspire their fellow students to get in shape. They are a strange, separate class of creature, separated from the commoners and coddled and cheered on. At great expense. Meanwhile, "college education" and "fitness" are considered two completely separate topics, unless you're one of those former high school jocks majoring in "Sports Management" or something equally farcical.
What Spelman is doing is acknowledging that fitness is not a competition. It is not something you do in order to prepare to compete in sports (and which can safely be ignored by those who aren't competitive athletes). It is not something that you do for a few weeks a year when you want a sexy Spring Break beach body. It is not something that requires fancy personal trainers or fancy fad workouts or fancy equipment. It is not something only for other people. And it is not an optional, unimportant elective.
Fitness is what you do so you can move your body and not have diabetes. Okay? Organized sports are completely beside the point. Look, I like watching sports too, but if a college has to make a financial choice between outfitting a tiny number of competitive athletic teams or teaching an entire at-risk student body how to move their bodies and not have diabetes, there is no choice at all. Many people are so scarred by the competitive and brutal nature of their middle school P.E. classes that they adopt a lifelong distaste for anything fitness-related. Understandable. But it need not be that way. Once we accept that you do not have to be an "athlete" in order to care about fitness, and once we accept that fitness is not a competition, and once we accept that fitness does not exist only to turn people into freakish muscle narcissists, then we can accept that fitness is simply another fundamental life skill. A life skill that is far more useful and practical than many other skills acquired in college, I might add. It is not too much to ask that every college graduate in America leave school with the knowledge of how to do basic exercises properly, how to design a basic personal fitness plan, and how to avoid eating themselves into an early grave. And if your university cannot find the money to teach these skills to everyone, well, disband the fucking football team and take the money from them. It's worth it.
Looking at you, Georgia. (Go Gators)