Caleb Michael came to Oregon State University on a soccer scholarship, but somewhere along the line he came to a realization: He wasn’t going to play professionally.
And when he tried to pursue other interests on campus, he came to another realization: As a scholarship athlete, he was expected to devote all his time and energy to the team.
That’s when he decided to break away. After his junior season, Michael quit soccer.
“I knew I didn’t want to go pro, so I needed to prepare myself (for the future) in other ways,” he said.
Fewer than 2% of National Collegiate Athletic Association student-athletes go on to professional sports careers, according to the NCAA. For men’s soccer, the figure is 1.4%.
And yet, according to Michael, he was discouraged from any activity that would take his focus away from the soccer pitch.
“A lot of us aren’t going to go pro,” he pointed out. “What are those coaches doing to set us up for success? If they’re not going to help me, I’m going to have to help myself.”
Student-athletes are under severe pressures to excel in their sport while keeping up in the classroom, and those pressures can be even more intense for students of color on a predominantly white campus such as Oregon State.
After he left the team, Michael took on a leadership role with Real Talk, an athletics department program aimed at minority OSU athletes and their allies. Working with student-athlete development coordinator Jamaal May and graduate assistant Amanda Ekabutr, Michael helped expand the program’s focus to deal with broader issues.
“We talk about everything from gun violence to racial slurs to interracial dating,” Michael said.
“We wanted to give student-athletes a place where we can openly talk about things that we cannot usually talk about.”
Michael took on another project as well: bringing back the OSU chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically black fraternity that had gone inactive on campus.
“When I stopped playing soccer, I wanted to join something — I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” he said.
In addition to providing fellowship for members at OSU, the chapter raises money for charity (St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is the main beneficiary) and creates a lifetime connection with fraternity brothers across the country.
“I wanted to be a part of that,” Michael said. “There’s four of us that got the chapter back in 2019, and we hope to keep the chapter active from here on out.”
Although Michael’s OSU experience was challenging at times, he believes those challenges helped him develop leadership skills that he’ll take with him to his next destination, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where he plans to pursue a master’s degree in strategic public relations. After that, he plans to pursue a career in media in Los Angeles.
“The biggest thing about my experience is I was able to find out who I am,” he said.
“I think I’m a very independent, faith-driven person. I really believe that if I put in the work for something, I can make things happen.”