A message for prospective Yale students: Never mind that it rained on Bulldog Days. Be disappointed you couldn’t see a football game.
Most of the college application process is now a complete blur to me, a mishmash of terrible tour guides (ahem, Harvard and Princeton) and really lame essay topics. But one conversation with my father stands out — not counting the one where he told me I wasn’t allowed to look at schools in California. He asked me, in the early spring of my junior year of high school, if I was considering the sports at my prospective colleges.
He wasn’t referring to my mediocre swimming career. At the time, I was thinking about schools like Washington University and the University of Chicago, where athletics are not a big part of campus life. He told me that when he was in college, everyone going to football games together was an important part of his experience.
My dad, it turns out, is a pretty smart guy.
Sports have played a huge part in my four years at Yale. First, sports have been an amazing social experience. I remember the first time I sat in the Pierson section of the Yale Bowl. I have pictures of me and my friends going absolutely nuts on the Harvard 50-yard line last November. I also have pictures of me and people I don’t even know watching football games together. There’s something special about going to Yale sports events as a Yale student: Everyone’s your friend, at least on the right side of the court/stadium/rink.
While this isn’t unique to Yale, it’s not as common as you might think. Every Harvard student I’ve ever met is unfailingly surprised when I tell them how many students come out for football and basketball games. Matt Kyle, the starting center of our basketball team, said Dartmouth has one of the worst atmospheres in the Ivy League for players because no one shows up to watch the games. Not everywhere can you bond with hundreds of your classmates and jeer at Penn basketball players.
Second, Yale sports provide a great escape. I can’t even count how many times I’ve stopped writing a paper in frustration and decided to go watch basketball instead. I guess you could just turn on the TV, but watching a patented Casey Hughes steal-and-jam is so much more satisfying.
Granted, I’ve been to a lot of sports games at Yale. If you’re reading this, chances are you will, too. But even if you only plan to go to Yale-Harvard football games, athletics will play a big part in your college experience.
Let’s think about The Game. Real, honest-to-goodness rivalries aren’t that common. Just ask the Princetonians, who seem to think we care about playing them as our warm-up before Harvard (on a side note, “Harvard sucks” = best anti-Princeton cheer ever). In fact, in 2003, Sports Illustrated rated Harvard-Yale as the sixth-best rivalry in college sports.
What this means is that even if hundreds of Yalies don’t know the difference between a football and Handsome Dan, they get to reap the benefit of the associated … festivities. This doesn’t just mean four years of drinking too much at tailgates and hitting on Harvard freshmen. It means an excuse to come back to campus for years and catch up with friends.
Beyond Harvard-Yale, the integration of sports into Yale culture plays a big role in fostering my favorite trait in many Yalies: humility. Conventional wisdom says the opposite happens: Us stuck-up smaht kids get to have some dumb jocks around to make us look better. I happen to know some fellow MB&B majors and soon-to-be-former Yale athletes going to medical schools you’ve heard of who would have some issues with that.
Frankly, being a college athlete is hard. It takes a lot of time and sacrifice from kids just like the rest of us who have other interests they’d like to pursue. Yet so many athletes do find ways to integrate themselves into Yale culture: They sing, they act, they play IMs, they serve on college councils. I wouldn’t be surprised if more athletes continue to live on campus here than at other schools. Implicit in athletes integrating themselves into the lives of non-athletes, being our friends, is us recognizing just how much of a balancing act they perform every day. This both demands our respect and humbles us.
A lot of thought goes into where we decide to go to college: academics, proximity to home, extracurriculars, food. Just the other day I walked past three prefrosh debating the merits of Jersey girls versus New England girls. All that is well and good. But prefrosh, if you’re reading, stop and think for a moment about football. I, for one, will be going to Yale-Harvard games for the rest of my life.
Daniel Adler is a senior in Pierson College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column usually appears on Thursdays.