Forget High School: Being an Athlete Doesn’t Mean You’re a Jock

Superman Nerd with Dumbells

High school sucks. Or at least, it sucked for me. I was an overweight, non-athletic, videogame-playing, good grade-making, drama geek. I got picked on for everything under the sun by everyone under the sun–just try being named B.J. in high school. Go ahead. Try it. I dare you.

And in keeping with stereotypes, lots of the bullying came from the jocks. And again, in stereotypical fashion, I bonded with others because of our shared hatred for those under-achieving, entitled, mean-spirited ball-bouncers.

It was immature. It was juvenile. And it was stupid. But it was high school. That’s how high school works.

But what about when high school is over? What happens then? I’ll tell you what: you get over it.

This anti-athlete, stupid-jock shtick…it has to stop. Right now.

But How?

Well, the first thing is to stop thinking of all athletes as jocks. Jock is a derogatory stereotype, while athlete is a title based on skills, talents, and/or hobbies.

In fact, throw the term jock right out of your vocabulary. It’s a dated stereotype that is neither useful nor accurate in telling who someone actually is.

I mean, think about it this way: do all nerds wear pocket protectors and horn-rimmed glasses? No, of course not. So why would everyone who exercises make poor grades or only be able to converse about sports stats and sexual conquests?

The whole idea is ridiculous.

So what makes an athlete?

Here, let me break it down for you.

If you run, you’re an athlete. If you lift, you’re an athlete. If you swim, you’re an athlete. If you cycle, pose, stretch, jump, flex, toss a ball, press, clean, jerk, swing, get-up, meditate or whatever else to better yourself, then you’re an athlete.

It doesn’t matter if it’s for 5 minutes at a time or if you work out 7 days a week. If you’re active and exercising, you’re an athlete. End. Of. Discussion.

Remember, though…

People are so much more than one thing. When we’re young, it’s hard to understand that people are as complicated as they are, but as we get older, everything becomes more complicated–including our personalities. People aren’t just one thing.

Being an athlete doesn’t make you a jock. Loving sci-fi doesn’t make you socially awkward. This isn’t high school anymore. Those old stereotypes weren’t even really true when we were teenagers, and they have even less of a place in adult life.

People can like more than one thing. People can care about kettlebells and Star Wars (and Star Trek at the same time!–gasp!). People can care about football and Lord of the Rings. People can be CrossFit maniacs and spend their workdays as electrical engineers. They can deadlift well over their body weight while wearing their Wonder Woman Chucks.

The idea that athletes and jocks and geeks and nerds have to be at odds with one another is juvenile and immature. It’s silly.

By perpetuating this myth, we discourage geeks and nerds who want to get fit and healthy by making them feel left out, unwelcome, and inadequate. And when that happens, they get frustrated and defensive, and they give up on their fitness goals before they have time to see real progress.

Grow Up and Forget High School

So here’s my challenge to you: grow up and forget high school.

I know how hard it is to get past the idea that geeks and jocks are polar opposites. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea that I’m an athlete. But now, I’m just as comfortable in a sporting goods store as I am in GameStop. And that’s awesome.

Remember: high school sucks. Let it and all of its emotionally damaging baggage go. Being any kind of athlete doesn’t mean you’re a jock. It means you’re trying to make sure you’re fit and healthy.

And those are two labels I don’t mind anyone applying to me.

Image Courtesy of Ali Bibbo


B.J. Keeton

B.J. Keeton

B.J. is a geek, gamer, podcaster, and livestreamer. He has been the co-host of the Geek to Geek podcast since 2016, and he helped start the Geek to Geek Media Network. His biggest pet peeve is when someone spells Wookiee with only one E. One time, he told his friends he liked vegetables maybe more than he did Star Wars, and they made him put a dollar in the jar. That should tell you everything you need to know about him. Find him on Twitter as @professorbeej or on Discord as @professorbeej#1337.

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  1. Jenn

    Hear, hear!

    (high school sucked for me, too)

  2. Kira

    I love this post!

    It definitely brought me back to a time in high school when I stopped paying attention to sports because according to high school kids, it just isn’t possible for a girl to love sci-fi, fantasy, anime, and sports all at once.

    I’m glad that I was able to separate myself from that as soon as I realized it was silly, but I do admit that I still feel awkward going into a gaming store in my running clothes sometimes.

    • B.J. Keeton

      I love heading into gaming and niche stores in my exercise clothes. I admit that I felt awkward the first few times, too, but I’ve embraced that part because it’s okay for me to do both of them and love ’em equally. 🙂

  3. Ocho

    Well said, man! In high school, I went from being on the freshman baseball team and running cross country to a sophomore being in choir, band, drama, and a crucial member of the Physics Olympics team the next. Bad shin splints kept me from returning to XC, and not being able to compete with nepotism kept me from going back to HS baseball.

    Now, I play Ultimate, play Pathfinder, watch Star Trek, play 18 holes of disc golf, enjoy a good beer, and play MMOs.

    For my current lifestlye, I’ve encountered flak from the oddest of places. Mostly, though, it’s other geeks thinking “I’m not geeky enough”. Wha?! A good friend of mine also gets angry that because he loves watching football, his label as a tech geek is somehow diminished. I have a friend who’s a huge Game of Thrones and craft beer fan, but is a Zumba instructor and would be on American Gladiators is she could.

    As you’ve described, the labels come from both sides, and derogatory names from both sides. It’s not black/white, it’s a scale. I’d like to think that society is getting better… but then I see stuff like how people at conventions treat female cosplayers, how hardcore raiders treat casual gamers, or how I’ll still get societal flak when I’m wearing my MST3K or Star Trek t-shirts, and see we still have a long way to go.

    … and I feel you about the name… my last name happens to rhyme with a very unflattering feminine release of air from the body… so I understand. 😛

    • B.J. Keeton

      Oh, man, your name really is just as bad as mine! I feel you, man! I really do.

      And I also know just what you mean about con-folk and raiders. That mentality of “stupid casuals” made me give up most MMOs because I couldn’t find enough like-minded friends to make my time worthwhile in most games. And regarding the women cosplayers, I agree. One of the best things I’ve seen in forever was a gender-bent Joker/Harley duo where the man was overly sexualized like Harley generally is. It was brilliant, but I expect the greatness was overshadowed by the number of “pfft, the Joker wasn’t a chick–she probably only thought Heath Ledger was hot” comments.


  4. Darlene

    Great read, B.J.! Thanks from yet another former sucky high school refugee.


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