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College Athletes

College athletes have been the focus of much attention to preserve and promote campus health and safety. In fact, research has suggested that athletes have higher rates of high-risk alcohol use than the general student population, in addition to higher rates of spit tobacco and steroid use. Additionally, several studies have found athletes to be more likely to commit sexual assault than other college students. Meanwhile, college athletes are often revered –some would say exalted – on college campuses, as there has seemingly been placed an increased importance upon athletics in college life. Yet while athletes are highly visible members of the campus community and their behavior can place themselves and others at increased risk, many point out the “pass” athletes are given if this behavior is punished or even recognized by administrators. For all these reasons, it is particularly important to focus attention on preventing high-risk behaviors among athletes.

Athletics directors can be a valuable ally in reaching student athletes with prevention messages. Of course, use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs is antithetical to peak athletic performance. Athletics directors can help shape the culture of college athletics that can either support or curb high-risk and unsafe behavior. Additionally, in the wake of highly visible incidents at major universities involving alcohol, sexual assault, and college athletes, athletics directors are at pains to address these problems in a concerted manner.

Several approaches have been attempted to reach college student athletes specifically, with varying degrees of success. Increasingly on campuses, prevention professionals are employing social norms messaging techniques in small group settings such as an athletics team. Examining norms of smaller peer groups can be more influential for a student to examine his or her behavior than compared with the norms of the student body as a whole. The examination and discussion of small group norms can serve multiple purposes, not only addressing alcohol and other substance use, but also the extent to which group members support or would intervene in cases of sexual harassment and assault.

Other approaches targeting athletes have included values-based messaging, drawing from the sports psychology literature. These messages have athletes develop a “game plan” when they go out and party, envisioning what “success” looks like and creating plans to avoid high-risk situations and consequences.

Forging relationships with athletics directors can have the additional benefit of assisting prevention efforts to target rowdy game day behavior on the part of fans, which can often be fueled by alcohol with serious consequences. Athletics directors can support policies to address high-risk alcohol consumption at and around athletic events, raising voice to the concerns of public safety, responsible behavior, and upholding a campuses reputation.


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