Last week at the volleyball game, Jackie Becker sang a beautiful rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before helping lead the Bulldogs, as their setter, to a big win over Brown. Ryan Steeves is a political science major who is also pre-med, and he balances long afternoon labs, challenging seminars and long, and late road trips to places like North Dakota for hockey games. And my roommate, Steph Wei, is the captain of the women’s golf team and an Academic All-American who gets better grades than I do despite being out on the course for hours upon hours each day.
Suggesting that all Yale athletes are simple-minded and a drag on our university struck me as highly ironic because, in doing so, a critic proves herself to be just as ignorant as those whom she is criticizing. Every single student at this school is here for a reason, and a good one at that.
The argument against athletes at our nation’s universities is nothing new. It is cliche, but it’s also trendy to criticize athletes, from any number of angles. They’re cocky. They’re pampered. They’re brash. They’re taking the place of legitimate students. They’re stupid.
Varsity sports are just as important to the University in some ways as, say, snagging a big physics professor is. Both bring in money and respect, both give Yale a little something extra to use to distinguish itself from other places of learning. There’s something called school pride, and it’s an intangible and unexplainable concept. But it’s important to the future of the school. Some people feel this pride when they see a book published by a Yale author, but others are much more apt to understand it when they are in the stands at a game, watching athletes in Yale blue celebrate a hard-won soccer victory. I was a sportswriter at the News for two years. It is laughable to me to suggest that athletics should be just another booth at the freshman bazaar. We already have that; it’s called club sports.
Saying that a recruited athlete is four times more likely to get into Yale is a silly statistic. The athletes Yale recruits are limited to those who have the capacity to become students here, and comparing them with the general population of applicants — some of whom are qualified, many of whom are not — gives us little to no information. I won’t pause to mention the fact that an international student, say from France, will also face a higher acceptance rate than the general population.
In Blau’s column (“Athletics injure Yale’s academic mission purpose,” 10/10) she makes a distinction between extracurricular activities and educational activities. This is where, fundamentally, we disagree. I have always been brought up to believe, and I still do, that one should take advantage of everything a place has to offer. This means, to me, engaging in an interesting and well-rounded package of activities. Learning is not limited to the classroom, and as cheesy as that sounds, it is entirely true. I love my classes, and I do my work (to an extent) but in the grand scheme of things, I probably devote more of my time at Yale to other activities. Yale’s resources are not limited to books and professors, they also include athletic facilities and coaches, as well as fabulous non-athletic extracurricular opportunities. They also include the people you will meet here who will challenge you in unexplainable ways.
It’s easy to see nothing except an anti-athletic slant to Blau’s column, and leave it at that. But I find her most disturbing point to be that a “special talent at any non-curricular endeavor — should play a much smaller role in determining whether to admit a student to Yale.” She explains that a nationally-regarded volleyball player, an outstanding cellist, or even a student body president should not be given too much consideration on the merit of their extra-curricular activities. But these people are precisely those who Yale should be recruiting. They have learned to balance outside activities with schoolwork, and have thrived at it .
Blau quotes Yale’s mission statement, but the Yale Admissions Web site tells a slightly more realistic story. It explains that in looking at applicants, two questions are asked: “Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?” and “Who will contribute most significantly to the Yale community?” Blau compares a math whiz with a fabulous volleyball player, but who’s to say that one is better than the other? What if that math genius never leaves his room except to go to the library although he takes advantage of the highest level classes, while that volleyball player is participating in Youth Day, involved in community service, and making lasting friendships despite having mediocre grades? Is either of them a bigger asset to Yale than the other? The University stresses diversity, and this includes diversity of talents and mind as well as diversity of background.
By making the decision to come to school in the United States, Blau came to a country that values the education of the well-rounded person mind, body and spirit. Like it or not, Americans see beyond the classroom, and do not consider a person who is running from one extracurricular activity to the next to be a person who is necessarily ignoring his academic goals. If Blau disagrees, then I feel sorry for her. She is missing out on a large part of the Yale experience.
Katie Baker is a junior in Berkeley College.