Athletes and non-athletes clash at Yale

In the article “Ivy League Promotes Brains and Brawn,” (10/13) Nick Baumann responds to an article by Jessamyn Blau that argues recruited athletes should not have a privileged admissions status. Baumann’s position is that Yale (and the Ivy League in general) does a good job of admitting competent student-athletes.

In general, I agree. The Ivy League does do a better job than other colleges and universities at assimilating athletes into the academic sphere of the school at large. But I also think that an unhealthy relationship between some athletes and some non-athletes at Yale deserves to be discussed.

Statistics don’t begin to tell the story. Though athletes may have graduation rates comparable to non-athletes, it is important to note that the curriculum for both groups is not exactly the same. Though technically there exist no athlete-oriented classes at Yale, some classes are notoriously (although not solely) populated by athletes. Most of these are classes often considered to be “guts.”

The true story does not lie explicitly in class enrollment, but rather in the attitudes non-athletes have toward athletes and vice versa. Each group views the other as fundamentally inferior; it has been my experience that, socially, athletes look down upon their non-athlete counterparts as uncool or not worthy. This attitude is most evident in Saturday night Toad’s culture, where athletic self-entitlement prevails. Conversely, non-athletes consistently write off athletes as intellectually inferior and choose not to acknowledge them as legitimate members of the academic community (as discussed in Blau’s article).

My experience in four years at Yale has led to more than the observation that these two groups of students are simply different — I believe athletes and non-athletes actively resent one another to a degree greater than any other two major groupings of students on campus. To draw a comparison with another large group on campus, Yale students interested in theater do not inherently view themselves as better or worse than those with other interests, and those with other interests see no need to assert themselves as better than the theater students.

One of the more poignant examples of this resentment was an event that took place at a tailgate two years ago. One member of a particular team, unprovoked, climbed on top of the U-Haul of a Pierson College tailgate, which consisted of four girls and a table of food. The individual, cheered on by his teammates, jumped off the U-Haul onto the table, breaking it, sending food everywhere, and ruining the tailgate. Though I can only speculate as to the heartless and barbaric mob mentality that motivated this act, these actions are evident of a culture that is not only different from non-athlete culture, but also one that demonstrates blatant disregard toward Yale students who do not play sports.

Conversely, the manner in which non-athletes stereotype so-called jocks is equally ridiculous. Many non-athletes neglect the fact that many athletes carry their discipline into the classroom; many of the most accomplished students at this school are also athletes. Too many non-athletes make sweeping generalizations about the intellectual and moral worth of athletes at Yale, and their closed-mindedness contributes to the hostility and social tension.

While no doubt a profound lack of respect between athletes and non-athletes exists, the origins of such disrespect are not clear. Surely there are different forms of insecurity on both sides, but the depth of this divide should not be underestimated.

Most recently, the rift manifested itself in the Ward 1 aldermanic race between Livengood and Shalek. Both campaigns were intelligently designed to make use of their respective ideological bases. The candidates and their campaigns exploited the divide between athletes and non-athletes.

The Shalek campaign mobilized students who would normally play less of a role in local political affairs. Shalek registered voters outside of the varsity weight room at Payne Whitney and deployed a task force with representatives on various teams to register other potential supporters. Livengood made an appeal to liberal non-athletes and members of the UOC in an effort to galvanize the other end of the Yale social spectrum. This is not to argue that issues weren’t the most important matter of the election. It is to say that a profound social problem reared its head in the non-social realm of the aldermanic race.

Ultimately, the most important prerequisite for participation in a diverse community is respect for the other members of the community. There is no requirement that all individuals like all other individuals, but it is an absolute necessity that respect be demonstrated towards all. Any student or group of students who does not show this respect consequently has not demonstrated the maturity required to live and work in such a diverse community. It is the duty of each student to look beyond stereotypes and preconceived notions. Only by doing this may one evaluate who one really is — athlete or non-athlete — and transcend unfortunate generalizations.

Greg Aponte is a senior in Saybrook College.