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Sarkisova: Stop Vitriol Toward Northwestern Players

Guest writer Dayana Sarkisova is a former four-time All-American fencer for Northwestern. She currently works for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter at @dsarkisova.

As a former Northwestern student-athlete, I felt the need to offer up a different perspective than the one that has been given a voice in the press, and has predominantly infiltrated my social media accounts.

When news broke of Northwestern football players aiming to unionize, my initial reaction was one that I believe many Northwestern alumni shared — pride. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single person outside the NCAA itself that believes the current landscape for student-athletes is an appropriate one. To have Wildcats at the forefront of a long overdue revolution made me prouder than ever of my alma mater, and I saw the same sense of pride reflected in fellow alumni and current students alike.

However, once the details were digested, it became clear to everyone the battle would turn ugly, quickly. What initially burst into national news as a Northwestern vs. the NCAA battle quickly revealed itself as a Northwestern vs. Northwestern civil war. My fellow student-athletes and I sat back in horror and disappointment to watch the very institution that we owed much of our lives and successes to get dragged through the mud — as undeserving a punishment as it gets.

Here is where we reach the very irony of the situation. A movement like this takes individuals with a deep motivation, a commitment to hard work, and levels of passion that few are courageous enough to epitomize. And sadly -- ironically -- these are exactly the kind of exemplary individuals Northwestern produces. Fellow Northwestern alum Darren Rovell tweeted on Wednesday: "Thought Northwestern was a bad choice to prove employee argument. Now that NLRB has sided with players, it's a brilliant choice." Touché.

While Northwestern is easily the least deserving program to be made into this revolution's sacrificial lamb, I have a hard time believing student-athletes at most other schools could rally together and spearhead a movement the way Kain and his teammates have.

I'm not here to share my personal opinions on unionization, an athlete’s amateur status, or how the NCAA should be modified. Not even my thoughts on the manner in which Kain has carried out his undertaking. If you want to hear them, I'm happy to engage in a conversation.

What I am here to do is say this: Fellow Northwestern alumni, stop posting status updates such as "I'm embarrassed to be a Northwestern student-athlete alum!" (I’ve now seen this numerous times.) If you've established an opposing viewpoint to Kain’s testimonies, which many former student-athletes have, this presents itself as an extremely hypocritical statement to make, and no one is let looking more foolish than you. Enough with petty denunciation of our football team — comments such as "Maybe you should win a few games first!" — as if you have any earthly idea of what goes into winning a Division I football game.

Solidarity in our community does not equate to completely agreeing with Kain's vision and tactics — solidarity means understanding that if you have no practical solutions to offer, do not vilify those who have the courage to take action with theirs.

If you have yet to read The Atlantic's "The Shame of College Sports," I encourage you to do so. It is a 10,000-or-so-word essay detailing the history of corruption within the NCAA. When it was published in 2011, the article's main criticism was that it presented an outstanding account of the struggle, yet offered no solution. Three years after its publication — and nearly 109 years after its first cited example of corruption within college sports — one of the most monumental courses of action in the history of student-athletes has been taken, and it was taken by Wildcats.

The bottom line is the situation is a mess, no matter which way one looks at it. Everyone wants change, yet the problems are intrinsically so deep-rooted and intricate that there is no feasible solution in sight. It is easy to proclaim "we need change, but not in this way, and not in that way." It takes real courage to present a solution, flawed as it may be. So while everyone sits back and offers their own, perhaps very valid, criticism from the sidelines, let's not forget to also respect those who choose to take action.