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By Kristen Leigh Porter
“Still think we’re just a bunch of dumb jocks?” a basketball player asks the camera.
The words are spoken by Cynthia Dallas, a former All-Big Ten performer who is starring in an NCAA public service announcement countering the myth. The ‘Dumb Jocks’ spot debuts Saturday during coverage of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
Although the 31-year old actress/personal trainer can currently be seen in a Nike commercial, the NCAA PSA is different. Dallas is not just representing a shoe, but an ideal.
“A lot of people talk to me and just assume I’m dumb because of the way I look,” said Dallas, an Illinois alum who stands 6 feet tall with an athletic build. “A lot of people just assume that I can’t string a coherent sentence together because I played sports, and they’re very wrong. I hope this helps continue to dispel rumors about student-athletes.”
Four of the principle actors found during the casting process are former Division I student-athletes reprising their roles to spread a positive message about academic performance.
The NCAA is a nonprofit educational association. This year’s ‘Dumb Jocks’ public service announcement seeks to dispel that myth and reiterate the Association’s mission and values.
“NCAA student-athletes, particularly African-American males, are graduating at a higher percentage than their counterparts in the general student body in almost every category,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “In a 10-year timeframe that begins after high school, nearly 90 percent of student-athletes graduate. I am thrilled to share these facts with the world through our PSAs.”
“Through the ‘Dumb Jocks’ spot, we have an opportunity to present largely unknown facts about student-athlete academic performance while also depicting the athleticism and competitive drive of NCAA student-athletes,” said Bob Williams, NCAA vice president of communications.
That idea turned into a powerful piece of video according to Paul Hastings, the executive vice president and director of account management for Y&R San Francisco, the agency responsible for the NCAA’s commercials the past nine years. The piece was filmed in various locations in Southern California in October and November of 2010.
Because it was a fact-based spot, Hastings said his group wanted the ‘Dumb Jocks’ PSA to be direct, emotional and hard-hitting. The result was a realistic portrayal of the intensity and effort expended for athletes to be successful in their sport, juxtaposed with words.
“The facts for ‘Dumb Jocks’ speak for themselves, and we didn’t want any special effects or anything to get in the way of it,” Hastings said.
‘Dumb Jocks’ opens with a tight shot of former Northwestern defensive lineman Gladston Taylor, his face glistening with sweat as he performs a bench press set. Each lift and exhalation provides the cadence that carries through the spot, which strengthens the appreciation for the student-athlete experience.
The 6-5, 250-pound Taylor said he didn’t deal with the dumb jocks stigma much in college because of high academic standards on the Evanston campus. It’s been a different story in the corporate arena.
“If I meet people inside of my company who don’t know me, they’re like, ‘How did you get the job?’ ” said Taylor, 33, an environmental sciences major recently promoted to West regional manager of environmental compliance for an airline.
“Like if I just knew somebody and they were like, ‘Hey, we just got this environmental position open and we’re just going to toss you in here because I liked you when you played football.’ It didn’t work like that. I’m sure I’m not the only guy that gets that a lot, but that’s pretty much the only time I run into stuff like that.”
In the spot, hurdler Toyin Augustus is showcased performing a dynamic warm-up routine before outdistancing herself from mock competition. In reality, the Academic All-Big Ten and Verizon Academic All-District selection out of Penn State chased her dream of competing in the Olympics, representing her home country of Nigeria in 2008 in Beijing.
Augustus, a 31-year old substitute teacher and high school track and field coach in Long Beach, Calif., appreciates that she is helping to educate the public on student-athlete academic achievement.
“I loved the fact they were doing a spot like that, especially because I do coach high school track and field right now and I really try to instill in my young athletes that they need to take care of their business off the track in their classes academically as well as on the track,” she said.
That was a lesson learned by wrestler Casey Olson, who near the end of the spot tells viewers they better do their homework if they believe the stereotype. The Fresno State graduate and current mixed martial arts fighter admitted that he wasn’t a top student but stayed on the right track because he had to pass his classes in order to wrestle.
“My (older) sister and (younger) brother are only other two people in my family to graduate from college,” Olson, 30, said. “I don’t think I would have done it if I didn’t wrestle. (Getting a degree) is going to make everything so much easier in the future when my fighting is done.”
Dallas calls her athletics scholarship a precious gift she didn’t appreciate until she left school. After what she said was a “lazy” start to her academic career, Dallas made the Dean’s List the last couple of semesters as an undergrad and earned a master’s degree with honors.
Now, she’s not shy about giving this advice to incoming student-athletes:
“I would say do your best to go to every class, make sure you’re reading all your assignments and you’re taking advantage of what you’ve been given,” Dallas said. “Don’t take your education for granted.”
Still think they’re just a bunch of dumb jocks?
Athletic accomplishments: Former Penn State track and field student-athlete and NCAA qualifier who set multiple school records. Competed in the 100 meter hurdles for her home country of Nigeria in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Education: Bachelor’s in business management with a minor in child developmental psychology, 2001.
Occupation: Substitute teacher and high school track and field coach in Long Beach, Calif., and hurdler.
Fun filming fact: Stretching sequence made for great film when discovered at the shoot. “They wanted us to do a warm-up and I just did a modification of what I would normally do with a track and field competition,” Augustus said.
Lights, camera, action: Can be seen in a Comcast commercial hurdling through a TV.
Athletic accomplishments: Former Illinois women’s basketball student-athlete. Led the Big Ten in rebounding three consecutive seasons and ended with 34 double-doubles in her career. Was the No. 21 pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft.
Education: Bachelor’s in English literature/history and master’s in education (with honors).
Occupation: Actress/fitness instructor.
Fun filming fact: Saw an old high school teammate at the audition. Both booked the spot.
Lights, camera, action: Played a bully on the Nickelodeon television series iCarly. Can be seen in a Nike commercial dunking over male players.
Athletic accomplishments: Former Fresno State wrestling student-athlete, competing in the 141-pound division as a junior and 149-pound class as a senior. Two-time NCAA qualifier.
Education: Bachelor’s in recreation administration with an emphasis in commercial management, 2004.
Occupation: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and co-wrestling coach at a Fresno-area high school. Also does guest clinics and motivational speaking engagements.
Fun filming fact: His audition for the NCAA PSA was a fluke. “When you’re doing something you actually know, it’s not acting,” Olson said. “When you have to speak it was a little bit different.”
Lights, camera, action: Heading to New Jersey this weekend to do an interview/tryout for “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show on Spike television network.
Athletic accomplishments: Former Northwestern football student-athlete. Four-year arena football player.
Education: Bachelor’s in environmental sciences, 1999.
Occupation: West regional manager of environmental compliance for Continental Airlines, which merged with United in October 2010.
Fun filming fact: The amount of weight for his bench press set, which took about 45 minutes of filming, decreased with the number of takes. Rubber weights were added as props. “(It started) at 225, that was me being a little bit like, ‘I can’t be a lineman coming in here benching anything less than 225, so go ahead and put two plates on there,’” Taylor said. “That ended really quickly.”
Lights, camera, action: Does an occasional spot, such as a Toyota commercial, but jokes “if you blinked then you would probably miss me.”