Coaches, teams must set a good example

Athletes, particularly ones as talented as the varsity football players arrested earlier this month for fighting in front of Gourmet Heaven, are public figures on campus. And though the players were not wearing their Yale uniforms when they and three hockey players broke Gourmet Heaven’s window, their behavior influences our university’s public image. The headlines that ran on ESPN and CNN and in The New York Times, if nothing else, attest to the amount of attention these players can bring to Yale.

But criticizing students for breaking windows in a fight is simplistic. More worrisome to us is the response, or current lack thereof, by Yale’s administrators and coaches to that broken window. It is the administrators who must set a tone of sportsmanship and establish guidelines of acceptable behavior for the athletes who represent Yale. The coaches’ and administration’s apparent unwillingness in this instance to establish the inappropriateness of their players’ behavior is dismaying.

We agree with football coach Jack Siedlecki that everyone is “entitled to the process of seeking the truth,” as he wrote in an e-mail to the News shortly after the arrests were reported; indeed, the charges against the players were dropped last Friday. But it should not have to take a criminal conviction to stir Siedlecki or Director of Athletics Tom Beckett into taking a strong stance against behavior that mocks Yale’s claims to responsible sportsmanship.

In contrast, Harvard University’s football coach suspended the Crimson quarterback for violating not a law but a team rule, and he also recently dismissed two players, including a team captain charged with domestic assault. The University of Connecticut dismissed five football players, only one of whom was under 21, for violating team rules by bringing beer to a hotel where the team was staying for an away game.

We understand the need to treat incidents such as these, like all disciplinary matters, on a case-by-case basis, but the essential difference between Yale’s approach and that of Harvard and UConn is glaring. The football team is one of the most visible ambassadors for Yale, and although this particular incident was not on the level of domestic assault, Yale’s inaction so far sends a strong message that reflects poorly on all of the university, not just on the team.

Yale should not give — or appear to give — preferential treatment to these athletes based on their talent, but the sluggishness of the administration’s response is giving just that appearance, compounding the problems for Yale’s reputation that the fight created in the first place. As much as the next victory-deprived Yalie, we want our team to win The Game — but we should remember that the strength of our football program is not measured only by how many touchdowns are scored or yards rushed.

Yale administrators should use this incident as a way to impress upon athletes the importance of the fact that they do represent our university. Athletes should certainly not break any more windows, but their coaches need to make sure that this broken window does not go unfixed.

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