By dismissing athletes, Fulmer errs, alienates

I can only hope that Ned Fulmer’s column, “Either go big, Bulldogs, or just go home,” (4/14) is a prank for society initiation. Otherwise, I regret that a fellow student could be so blatantly disrespectful toward the Yale Community.

Student-athletes promote collegiate excellence at Yale. Fulmer’s column is an attempt to turn an athletic mantra against athletes, and it argues that they have no place at our University. The author merely alienates his classmates and, by so doing, contradicts his own academic ideal.

Fulmer writes that there is a fundamental cultural separation between athletes and non-athletes. According to him, the athlete culture is counter to academic success, yet our athletes perform poorly at their sports. Hence, Yale Athletics cannot justify its current existence. Some change must be made. The options, for Fulmer, are to “go big, or go home.”

The unspoken answer Fulmer gives is that Yale’s athletes should just go home. He offers Stanford as the model of a university that “goes big” and excels both athletically and academically. But Stanford is able to succeed athletically only because it offers athletic scholarships. Since Ivy League schools cannot and will not offer athletic scholarships, the Stanford-like alternative dissolves.

Even the Stanford alternative is derisive to athletes, though. Sports are tolerated there, Fulmer believes, because they draw large crowds. But, the cultural rift that he sees between athletes and non-athletes does not disappear. It seems, then, that athletes lack a serious place in universities regardless of whether they go big or go home.

This is precisely where Fulmer is wrong. He does not argue that although athletes benefit the school, admissions ought to weigh athletics differently than it does relative to other talent areas that students offer. Instead, he makes the stronger claim that student athletes contribute nothing to our collegiate environment. What is his evidence for this absurd and offensive generalization?

It is trivial to point out Fulmer’s mistaken conception of Yale’s athletic success. While not all Yale teams sit atop Division I standings, some do. And even those that do not fall short only in comparison to other Division I teams. Clearly, Yale is full of extremely talented athletes.

More troubling is that Fulmer collapses the collegiate experience into the one-dimensional concept of academic success and then concludes that athletes cannot contribute. Athlete culture, if it is distinct from non-athlete culture, is no less academically rigorous. Fulmer does not consider the countless students who succeed athletically and academically. He does not believe that the person who will play in “the new football stadium” is the same person who will make advances on “the new particle accelerator.” His negative stereotyping of athletes as academically unqualified and apathetic is unjustified and incorrect. I also fail to see how Fulmer believes that “disrespectful athletes” can uniquely disrupt “large lectures” unless it is that a tall athlete has blocked his view of the PowerPoint. By that logic, Yale ought to bar athletes from attending lecture as frequently as it ought to bar those with big hair.

Despite the fact that his assessment of our athlete’s academics is mistaken, Fulmer also gets the collegiate experience wrong. It takes only a quick look at Yale’s Web site to see in the President’s Welcome that the mission of Yale is to help students “learn to lead and serve” through many things outside of academics. Fulmer acknowledges that to some extent the ideal of the Yale experience is intellectual growth through the exchange of varied ideas. But by seeing Yale along the athlete/non-athlete divide, Fulmer not only ignores the heterogeneous compositions of these groups but also alienates athletes and their legitimate opinions. The fact of cultural difference, if it exists, can drive the exchange of ideas; Fulmer’s viewpoint hinders it.

The problem at Yale is not the dedicated student who balances the responsibilities of athletics and academics. As this year has proved many times over, the unjustified disrespect of members of the student body is one of our most salient threats. It takes personal sacrifice to be a student athlete at Yale. And it is unfortunate that the efforts of so many of these students are forgotten in Fulmer’s unfounded dismissal.

Brian Irving is a senior in Davenport College. He is a member of the varsity baseball team.

Comments

  • ed westerfield

    the real comparison isn't Stanford, but Rice in Houston. I graduated from Rice in 1979, and wrote sports for the student paper, and your article is very reminiscent of sentiments of that era. There were calls, primarily from the faculty to abandon D1 competition in the late 70's and early 80's. Rice went big instead. Rice, like Yale, uses the residential college system and all of the athletes live with everyone else. Rice does give athletic scholarships. The fact is that Rice has experienced success in athletics, and that has made a difference with the alumni and with financial donations.