Refuting the student athlete oxymoron
The first question one asks after looking over the three-page resume of Sam Silverlieb, an offensive lineman on the football team at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, is: Does he operate on a different time system from regular folks? Sports (he lettered in baseball, basketball, and football at Montville High School), student government, music performance, internships, communal activities . The list goes on and on.
Silverlieb visited NJ Jewish News during his winter break to talk about the joys and difficulties of playing football for a small liberal arts school.
Silverlieb achieved statewide recognition from several publications, including The Star-Ledger and Gannett publications, for his football accomplishments. Moving up to the next level, however, hasnt been so easy. Despite a proud tradition alumni Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) and Eric Mangini (New York Jets) are NFL head coaches the Wesleyan team had a dismal season in 2005, losing all of its eight games.
While Silverlieb is optimistic about next season, he realizes his time as a competitive athlete is finite. At six-foot, two-inches and 220 pounds, Silverlieb is small by football standards, and as much as he loves the sport hes played for half of his 20 years, a career past the college level is probably not in the cards. The problem, he said, is being perceived as undersized. Its not that I dont think I can play at another level, because I know that all it takes is a few weeks playing against players and all of a sudden, youre at that same level.
Considering the type of student one might expect a small liberal arts college like Wesleyan to attract, Silverlieb believes there are people who still stereotype especially Jews and a lot of them are football players, even though we have about 10 Jewish kids on the team. Hes made it his mission to refute such canards as Jews are inherently unathletic. Jews make up 2.2 percent of the U.S. population, he said, In the NFL Hall of Fame, Jews make up 2.2 percent. Similar observations prompted him to do a research paper, From the Ghetto to the Gridiron: American Football and the Jewish Experience, in which he sought to prove the integral role Jews have played in the development of the game.
The Silverlieb family used to attend Pine Brook Jewish Center, but in recent years has become involved with Chabad of Montville. Hes planning to go on a birthright israel trip next year.
He missed his first collegiate game as a freshman because the contest was held on Rosh Hashana. He was astonished that a school with so many Jewish kids would make such a scheduling blunder. But the philosophy is: Were liberal we dont recognize any [religious] holidays. As a sophomore this year, he declined to attend a practice which was also held during the High Holy Days.
There is another stereotype Silverlieb feels he has to confront.
The term student athlete has come to be regarded as something of an oxymoron, he said. Elite athletes are recruited for their physical skills, not their grades, and are lauded in the media. Such is not the case at Wesleyan, said Silverlieb, who carries a 3.72 GPA. I feel that we are getting almost worse treatment as football players. We have a rich tradition, [but] the football players are almost looked down upon [by the student body].
Still, he wouldnt think of giving up the game.
Silverlieb is already looking to life beyond graduation. This summer he said he hopes to get an internship with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R- Dist. 11), a possible stepping-stone to a career in politics. He said his father, Richard, an attorney, hopes he will go into law. Its one of the reasons I havent retired yet, said Richard Silverlieb, who accompanied his son to the interview.
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