CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the name Kain Colter. The article has been updated to reflect the appropriate spelling. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error
The term student athlete was an invention. It's been well documented that the origins of the phrase trace directly back to Walter Byers, the first executive director of the National Collegiate Athletics Association. It was a nifty trick, promoting athletes above the rank of simple students to explain why they should be judged by a lower academic standard while simultaneously keeping them below the status of employees.
The term entered wide use in 1955 when Ray Dennison, an Army veteran and football player for Fort Lewis A&M, was killed on the opening play of a game against Trinidad Junior College. Going for a tackle, Dennison was struck in the head by an opposing player's knee, shattering the base of his skull. He died 30 hours later, leaving behind three children and his wife, Billie. When she sued for workers' compensation benefits, she was denied.
Ray Dennison was not an employee; he was a "student athlete." The court decided Fort Lewis A&M was "not in the football business." That argument may have been valid in 1955, but it is a far cry from the reality of 2020, when UNC athletics was projected to make $110 million in 2020-2021 before the pandemic.
The NCAA has used the term ever since to place "student athletes" in a no man's land between student and employee, yet detached from the realities of both. The DTH recognizes that this identification doesn't truthfully describe an athlete's role on campus. That is why moving forward, the DTH will no longer use the phrase "student athlete" and instead will opt for "college athlete," "athlete" or "student" as the context requires.