Strike squeezes athletes’ food habits



To meet his daily caloric intake, a lineman on the Yale football team needs to eat 32 slices of Papa John’s pizza. If he is not in the mood for pizza, 56 chicken wings from Popeye’s or 20 classic BMT sandwiches from Subway ought to do the trick.

Traditionally, the variety of food choices available in the residential college dining halls is enough to satisfy the dietary demands of Yale athletes. But with the strike by Yale’s unions entering its fourth week, the closure of all dining halls except for Commons and the limited options offered in local restaurants have made it much harder for athletes to observe these nutritional regimens.

“It’s very difficult to be in season and not to have the dining halls open,” volleyball player Kelly McAlearney ’05 said. “You have to plan out all your meals. It’s definitely a disadvantage in terms of time. It makes it even more difficult to balance athletics and academics.”

Athletes, especially those in season, often have very strict dietary restrictions that they must follow to stay in top physical shape.

“You can only eat pizza so many times a week, and it can be difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables,” men’s cross country runner Casey Moriarty ’05 said. “I’m a little bit afraid that people aren’t getting good nutrition because that can be something that will catch up with us later on in the season.”

Besides making it less convenient for athletes to observe their dietary restrictions, the closure of the dining halls has also raised financial concerns. Athletes traditionally eat more than ordinary students and have long relied on the all-you-can-eat format of dining halls to meet their nutritional needs. But the strike has forced athletes into a pay-per-meal format, and often the $130 weekly rebate check does not cover the cost of their meals.

“All-you-can-eat meals are definitely a plus for football players, especially linemen,” football coach Jack Siedlecki said. “It gets expensive to put in the calories some of our guys need to stay at their competitive weight.”

Because Ivy League rules prohibit the University from giving student-athletes any preferential treatment over normal students, the burden of dining during the strike has fallen largely on the shoulders — and wallets — of the athletes themselves.

“We can’t subsidize them for their meals at all,” field hockey head coach Ainslee Lamb said. “We are not allowed to give them anything that other students aren’t getting.”

To alleviate the problem, many athletes are eating at Commons, the only open campus dining hall and the only local all-you-can-eat site. But Commons offers only a partial solution; Commons is still less convenient than the residential college dining halls. In addition, Commons’ status as the lone operating dining hall has increased the length of the serving line, a difficult hurdle for time-strapped student-athletes.

Beyond nutritional concerns, athletes also are worried about team spirit. Many teams hold meals following practice in residential colleges. The strike has reduced the frequency and attendance at these meals.

“The biggest problem is team unity,” Moriarty said. “Everyone kind of branches off to do their thing. The biggest thing I regret is that we haven’t been able to have some of the great team dinners that we’ve been able to have [in the past].”

Although the strike has dented the number of after-practice team repasts, it has not eliminated the ritual of the pregame meal.

Traditionally, Yale teams gather for a team meal the night before home games to prepare physically and bond emotionally for the upcoming contest. The meal usually takes place at a residential college or graduate school eatery on the Athletics Department’s tab.

Teams have adapted, moving their pregame meals to alternate locations. Larger rosters, such as football and men’s soccer, are having their pregame meals catered. Smaller programs, such as field hockey and volleyball, simply have moved their meals off campus to area restaurants. All pregame dinners are still paid for by the Athletics Department.

“Educated Burgher is facilitating our team breakfast before games, and Yorkside Pizza is taking care of our pregame dinners,” Lamb said. “The [food] vendors in the area have been very flexible with accommodating [the field hockey team] during this difficult time.”

For the most part, the pregame meal tradition has not been greatly impacted by these relocations.

“A large part of [the men's soccer team's] preparation is that they congregate and communicate and share the time together and are fueling their body,” men’s soccer coach Brian Tompkins said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal where we do it. It’s the process more than the environment that is truly important.”

Comments