"It's well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, 'This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,'" lead author Deborah Feltz, a distinguished professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University, said in a statement. "They're kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against."
The study focused on the concept of "stereotype threat." The theory holds that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies: They create anxiety in the stereotyped group, causing them to behave in the expected way.
Feltz and her graduate student surveyed more than 300 student-athletes representing men's and women's teams from small and large universities and a range of sports.
The study, published in the Journal of College Student Development, found the more strongly student-athletes identified themselves as athletes, the less confident they were with their academic skills, and the more keenly they felt that others expected them to do poorly in school.
"Coaches spend a lot of time with their players, and they can play such an important role to build academic confidence in student-athletes -- not just good enough grades to be eligible for sports," Feltz said.