Tina Stewart had figured it out. She understood at a time when many highly educated men and women couldn’t seem to grasp the concept.
The culture of college athletics is different.
At a time when many institutions are working to better integrate their student-athletes into the general population, to expose them to a more “typical” college experience, the tragedy of Stewart — a women’s basketball player at Middle Tennessee State who was fatally stabbed nearly two weeks ago — ought to serve as a case study in the fact that those on athletics scholarships and the realities of their circumstances are decidedly atypical.
It was Stewart’s roommate — a non-athlete — who allegedly wielded the knife that prematurely ended a life that showed so much promise.
Tina Stewart’s life had its rough spots. According to those who knew her, she came from a part of Memphis that doesn’t show up on any chamber of commerce tours. Her adjustment to university life in a suburban setting was not always smooth, but with the support of coaches, teammates and others at the athletic department, she’d evolved into a model student and team leader.
At the time of her death, Stewart was near the end of her junior year and on track to graduate — not to mention she was a valuable and productive member of her team.
This should have ended up as exactly the type of story that validates the notion of athletics scholarships. A young woman is rewarded for her physical gifts and takes advantage of the opportunities they created for her to craft a better reality for herself. That sort of thing happens at least as often — if not more often — with student-athletes as it does with members of the general student population.
Keep in mind, after all, the culture of athletics is different.
Stewart’s boyfriend told of a disagreement between the two central characters in this tragedy: Stewart found her roommate engaged in unacceptable behavior, confronted her and was promised it would not happen again. When it did, Stewart alerted security personnel — and ended up dead for it.
To some, Stewart’s reaction might seem rash. There were, of course, other options. More dialogue, or perhaps a live-and-let-live attitude. That might work for some, but Stewart was an athlete on scholarship, and — in case you’ve forgotten — the culture of college athletics is different.
Stewart knew that if her roommate’s actions attracted law enforcement, the headlines would detail the activities of an “MTSU women’s basketball player” and not “two female MTSU students.”
Athletes are held to a higher standard, these days more than ever. As such, Stewart apparently, and rightfully, had zero tolerance for anything that would reflect badly on her and her team. While the idea of the “typical” college experience sounds nice in theory, athletes keep different schedules. They have additional demands and challenges in terms of time and commitments. Yes, they get benefits that others don’t — but they also generate publicity and notoriety that others cannot.
And they should be treated differently. There should be athletics dorms and cafeterias. Athletes should spend more time with those who share their experiences because they are the ones who can relate rather than retaliate when different sets of circumstances collide, as they allegedly did with Stewart and her roommate.
Tina Stewart should be alive. She’d figured it out. She acted appropriately. Yet things turned out so wrong.