At Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity’s annual Mortician’s Ball, the football players who stood at the entry of the raucous event collected an entry fee in exchange for a beer cup. But these were no run-of-the-mill beer cups.
The tall plastic cups DKE printed for the party depicted John Kerry as Frankenstein and said, “As scary as Kerry.”
DKE, which consists of mostly football, baseball, lacrosse and soccer players and a few non-athletes, is traditionally a right-leaning fraternity, football player and DKE President Dicky Shanor ’05 said. While there are a few liberals in the fraternity, the majority of the brothers seems to be representative of so many varsity athletes on campus: politically conservative. In stark contrast with the rest of the student body, many athletes tend to espouse Republican views and vote the party line.
“From my experience and the athletes I know, I would agree that athletes seem more conservative,” Joshua Schwartz ’05, a member of the squash team, said. “I don’t know if there’s any basis for that, or if [conservative athletes] are the louder athletes that speak out.”
While Schwartz’s team happens to be one of the least politically conservative teams at Yale, teams such as men’s lacrosse, football and baseball are notoriously conservative. As is the case in DKE, there are always a handful of liberals who stand their ground during political discussions — which seem to come up quite often, especially on the football team — but conservatives compose the overwhelming majority.
“I guess speaking from experience of people on the football team, I’d say the proportion of conservatives is a lot greater than in the student body as a whole,” defensive lineman Bryant Dieffenbacher ’05 said.
Dieffenbacher quoted a poll of football players taken by Yale Sports Publicity at the beginning of the year that found 62 players voting for Bush, 27 for Kerry and 11 undecided.
In part, Dieffenbacher said, this can be attributed to the geographical composition of the team.
According to the Yale Football Media guide, 20 players hail from Texas, roughly 35 percent of the team comes from southern states and around 13 percent have their roots in the Midwest. Only four players call a northern city home.
In contrast, one third of the squash team is international students, and another third is from New York. The difference in the geographical make-up of the two teams speaks volumes about their differing political preferences.
The baseball team is composed mainly of Bible Belt ballers. Seven come from Florida, by far the largest state contingent on the squad.
Pitcher Colin Ward-Henninger ’05 said the Republican majority on the baseball squad is “definitely noticeable.” Though Ward-Henningner is in the Democratic minority, he said he never feels uncomfortable discussing politics with the team.
“[The Republicans on the team] just think in general most liberals are going through a phase, and once they get into the real world they’ll realize that it doesn’t make sense, and they will become conservative,” Ward-Henninger said.
Ward-Henninger also pointed out the presence of religion on the squad. He said many team members adhere closely to the laws of a religion, and some participate in Athletes in Action, a Christian group for athletes.
Catcher Cody Slape ’07 is an active participant in AIA at Yale. Meeting with AIA members twice a week helps him to balance school, sports and religion, he said.
Shanor said he believes religion is one of the main factors that helps to explain the conservatism of the football team, as well. A group of players on the team pray on their own before every game, Shanor said.
And while one would be hard-pressed to find a southerner with a stick in Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium, there is another huge factor that contributes to the lacrosse team’s conservatism: economics.
“In sports, there is a huge emphasis placed on personal ability and achievement,” Shanor said. “There’s little emphasis on compassion for the loser … If you look at NFL contracts, there are stipulations that say if you rush 1,000 yards in a certain amount of games, you get X amount of money. It’s very incentive-based. A lot of emphasis is placed on meritocracy, and that translates over to the capitalist view of the world.”
Lacrosse player Dave Levy ’07 agreed that most lacrosse players are conservative, and their political bent is often based on pocketbook matters.
“I always hesitate to say stuff like that because I think it sort of takes away from the legitimacy of a Republican’s point of view,” Levy said. “It’s not like he’s a Republican just because he’s rich … But on the lacrosse team, there are a lot of upper class, high society kind of kids, so that’s why most of our team is conservative.”
But professor William Kelly, who in the past has taught “Sports, Society and Culture,” said he thinks there is another element at play. While he agrees that geography, religion and demographics make some teams more conservative than others, he said an element of time-honored machismo in contact sports adds to players’ conservative values.
Kelly’s argument also helps to explain why highly individualized sports teams such as squash and tennis are not necessarily as conservative, even if the players have the same blue-blood pedigrees as their counterparts on the lacrosse and football teams.
“Those sports are among the most masculine sports, and they tend to idealize a kind of traditional masculinity and aggressive masculinity and conform to conventional gender stereotypes,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s argument also helps to explain why it seems women’s teams are often not as politically conservative as men’s teams. While society expects men to play aggressively, it expects women to take a more feminine role, Kelly said. That role does not include smashing into people on the field or on the ice.
“Women are playing against the stereotype when they become involved seriously in sports like this, so they well may have less conventional, or be less satisfied with conventional, attitudes,” Kelly said.
Lacrosse player Katherine Sargent ’05 said the women’s lacrosse team is probably much less conservative than their male counterparts.
“I think it might have to do with gender,” Sargent said. “I think women may tend to be more liberal, and the issues they’re concerned about might have more liberal ideas.”
Both Sargent and other female athletes addressed their hesitation to offend their teammates. While men’s teams often get into heated political debates, the women seem to steer clear from political argument.
“I’m not going to pick a fight with a teammate about politics,” Sargent said. “Those are their values, how they were raised, what their parents are … It’s not worth creating a rift on the team.”
But even on the football team, the players said they are a team above all else.
“We joke around with a liberal or whatever but it’s never in a harsh, mean, offensive sense,” Shanor said. “We all do respect each other in the end, and politics take a back seat when it comes down to it.”