Opinion: UI student-athletes abused privilege standing with Trump

Trump shakes hands with members of the Hawkeyes football team. -- video still via YouTube
Trump shakes hands with members of the Hawkeye football team. — video still via YouTube

I wanted to be proud of the University of Iowa.

When I heard that Donald Trump would be coming to Iowa City, I hoped to see a united front. I hoped to see students, faculty and community members come together to stand up against this candidate’s hateful rhetoric. I hoped to see peaceful protestors accorded the respect they deserve, to hear the voices of professors and leaders questioning the planks of Trump’s platform. I wanted to see the city that I came to love as an undergraduate displayed to the rest of the nation.

Instead, I saw an official endorsement of Trump’s bile.

As a university alumni, I was shocked and disgusted to see the Iowa football and wrestling teams stand behind a political candidate on stage. I fully recognize that each of the players are entitled to their own private political beliefs, but these young men joined Trump under the banner of two of the most powerful university organizations on campus.

These sportsmen have power equal to any public figure. They may not make administrative decisions, but they help make the university around 24 million dollars a year, according to the official athletics operating budget. During football season, the Hawkeyes made the regional cover of Sports Illustrated. We as a nation don’t even refer to them as students; anyone who’s ever watched a collegiate game on TV knows that a commentator’s favorite label for players is “student-athletes.”

These boys are afforded an ability that many adults don’t possess in their lifetime: the capacity to speak for an institution. But last night, the student-athletes abused that privilege. While the NCAA has ruled that the teams’ actions didn’t violate any of their rules, they still greatly misused their public influence. While protestors outside the venue, groups of their fellow classmates and neighbors, were harassed with discriminatory slurs by Trump supporters, they stood in silence. While Trump advocated once again to build a wall in Mexico to keep migrants out, they stood in silence.

When Trump introduced the group as “my football team,” they followed his commands, silently trotting up on stage, smiling for the cameras and shaking his hand. “They endorsed Trump,” the candidate crowed. “They like Trump, and I like them.”

Trump does not speak for the entirety of Iowa City. I know this for a fact: many of my friends, alumni and current students alike, are vehemently opposed to his proposed policies. But he can publicly claim that he has the support of Iowa’s most celebrated student-athletes. He can say he has famous representatives of an entire department behind him.

How long will it be before Trump refers to the University of Iowa as his school, too? How long will it be until I hope to be proud of my alma mater again?