Illustration by Maya Williamson

Former athletes reflect on struggles faced within teams

While some Lewis & Clark students cease to be college athletes when they graduate, others choose to leave their sports. This transition to becoming a former athlete can be emotionally intense.

Alum Sam Helms ’21 knows this all too well. With a final pair of wins against Whitworth University last semester, Helms hung up his baseball cleats for good. 

“That ended and I hadn’t even fully processed my career (in baseball) ending,” Helms said. “Then the next day I went and graduated. It took a few weeks to set in.”

Helms has played baseball since he was three years old— this will be the first season in almost two decades that he has not. Baseball had been a positive and crucial part of Helms’ LC experience. For Helms, the transition to being a former athlete was odd and left him feeling a little numb. 

“I don’t know if I ever considered leaving, at least I never considered leaving Lewis & Clark,” Helms said. “Some days, definitely. I don’t know if I could have done it, like actually left baseball. But there were some days that were very mentally draining.”

Sam Taylor, head coach of the LC crew team, understands that not all athletes stick with their sport throughout their college careers, some make the choice to leave. 

Taylor said via email. “College is a natural time of change for most students. While we see some move away from our sport we also see plenty find Rowing for the first time, many who walk on and stay involved all four years. Most important for us is that our student-athletes find their best path to success, with the team or away from it.”

Quinn Tonelli ’23 was a rower on the crew team for three full semesters and quit the team a few weeks ago. Their favorite memories came from the camaraderie and relationships they had with their teammates. Tonelli described the social bond between rowers as strong, and the culture as inviting. 

“I stuck with the sport at first out of a genuine commitment to the sport and the enjoyment I got rowing on the river, but eventually felt like I was only staying on the team for my teammates,” Tonelli said. “I wasn’t enjoying going to practices very much, but was worried that if I quit I would be abandoning my teammates and damaging the bonds that I had built.”

Tonelli finally left the team when they felt like their time could be better spent elsewhere. Their decision to leave was also influenced by the sport’s organization and low morale. 

For Tonelli, the transition from athletics has been smooth and they feel much less stressed. The bonds between them and their teammates have not been damaged and their relationship with them has managed to remain mostly the same. 

Daniel Pang ’24 joined football their first year as a walk-on. Having only played rugby before, they experienced football culture for the first time at LC.

Pang said that his decision to leave the football team was in part due to the time commitment, the culture and microaggressions he received. According to Pang, the atmosphere was at times combative and it was hard to build a community. Pang reports having heard slurs against Asian and gay people from his teammates that made him uncomfortable. 

“A lot of the stereotypes of football I found to be true even on the team,” Pang said. “Even at a liberal arts college like this, there is some toxic masculinity going on. There’s not exactly welcoming behavior from people. People would get my name wrong. It’s spelled P-A-N-G, but it’s pronounced ‘P-O-N-G.’ There was one coach in particular who just couldn’t get my name right.” 

Other former athletes who were asked for interviews declined to make a statement on their choice, claiming that they did not want to talk about the choice to leave their sport for fear of retribution from their former teammates. Pang feels that his perspective and experiences are important, but also values personal connections with teammates, stating, “I don’t want the football team to think that I dislike them.”

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