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The Untold Side to Athletics

With thirty full-sized sports teams on a campus of around twenty-two hundred students, over one third of the College’s student body is on a varsity athletics team. This means athlete culture is highly prevalent in every corner of campus life, from the classroom to the nightlife. While sports can provide people, especially at a young age, with the opportunity to enjoy exercise and develop team-building skills, as the level of competition grows, so does the risk of toxic body image and elitist culture. These dynamics are especially prevalent on a college campus with a percentage of student-athletes as high as the College’s. The emphasis on winning and the importance of titles to a coach’s career leads to the institution of unhealthy behaviors and toxic mental and physical environments. 

Caitlin Kincaid `24, a former Colby Volleyball player, spoke to The Colby Echo about her experience within a toxic team environment. 

“I was recruited by a person who was promptly fired… it [was later] revealed to me that she had driven people to their physical and mental breaking points,” she said. “It takes so much to undo a mindset like that, because when people at the top are broken, they want you to be broken just like them.”

Kincaid experienced a toxic mental culture cultivated by her coaches. One of the previous assistant coaches encouraged unhealthy eating habits on the team, triggering or re-triggering eating disorders among the players.

“She was outright racist and misogynistic,” Kincaid said. “I came to her once about being upset about something that somebody said to me, and she asked me if I was on my period. And then I said no, and she said, ‘Oh, stop acting like it.’”   

Although the College is NCAA Division III, the lowest division in terms of competition, for all sports except for squash and skiing, students find it extremely difficult to balance academics, sports, and other extracurriculars as was advertised to them. 

“It was advertised to me that Colby was going to be the volleyball for non-volleyball girls… it was going to be for people that put their academics first and had a larger world view… but none of that was true,” Kincaid said.

Volleyball is not the only team with an atmosphere that differs from what one would expect for a DIII sport. 

“When I considered coming [to Colby] I was told I would be able to be in clubs… and that’s why it was so great that it was DIII,” Julia Hopely `23 said. “A lot of people felt pressure to not be in clubs, or not go abroad, or not do things they wanted to do that should have been the perks of being DIII.” 

Hopely was recruited to the College for cross country and track and field but unfortunately was injured right before her freshman season.

“I think there’s definitely a bit of conflict within the team because our coach is the coach for the men’s and women’s teams,” she said. “There’s certainly controversy on whether he’s equipped to coach women because a lot of the women end up with stress fractures and other injuries that aren’t as common amongst the men.” 

Hopely says that while these injuries are common in runners, the College’s sports medicine staff are highly equipped to help athletes recover. Her teammates were also really supportive during her recovery. 

“I think injury can separate people on the team … but everyone on the team was so welcoming and [despite that] I ended up with really close bonds on the team,” she said. 

However, the culture within teams when it comes to injury management varies drastically.

“I got a concussion in September, and [my team] was supposed to be my support system, and they promised to take me to the hospital for an MRI, and then they all left for a game when one of them was supposed to stay behind to drive me,” Kincaid said. “It really drove home the message that none of them really gave a fuck about me.” 

Despite spending most of her time on campus with her teammates due to long, daily practices, Kincaid never got the opportunity to get close to her teammates. 

“Because everything was [based] around partying, we had very specific kinds of interactions… I couldn’t meet them while we were drinking,” she said. “The social life was around drinking… it wasn’t good drinking practices. There was a lot of pressure not only to drink but also to have sex.”

In addition, the drinking atmosphere led to bullying and harassment by Kincaid’s intoxicated team members. She experienced what she described as cartoon-like bullying, with people tripping her, pushing her into walls, and locking her in random rooms. But still, the pressure to participate in team social activities is high because it was the only opportunity to bond with the team. 

“You spent every waking moment with [your teammates], but you only ever talked about volleyball or sex. The only conversation that was brought up was what happened on the weekend. But if you didn’t participate in the weekend activities, you didn’t get to participate in the conversation,” she said. 

While Kincaid’s experience mirrors that of many former athletes, not all athletes experience the same level of toxicity within their teams. Hopely expressed having had a good experience on the cross country and track and field teams. 

“It was a great experience that I definitely wouldn’t want to change,” she said. “I think that I got really lucky with the crew I came in with and the people on the team.” 

The competition and expectations of perfection can create a toxic, hierarchical atmosphere within the team environment, which contributes to the exclusive drinking and promiscuous social environment that dominates the College’s social scene. The accounts of athletes and former athletes on the mental and physical toll of college athletics, whether their experience lines up more with Kincaid’s or Hopely’s, need to be taken more seriously before the social climate as a whole at the College can be addressed. 


~ Mahika Gupta `23

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