Yale’s athletes, both recruited and not, anything but ‘substandard’

Like the majority of Yale’s undergraduate population, I was not a recruited athlete. And, like everyone else here, I understand that our campus population is made up of varsity athletes and “non-athletes.” Yet many of these “non-athletes” were varsity athletes in high school, myself included, and still play club and intramural sports here. It is unfair, first of all, to characterize (as Ned Fulmer ’09 did in his column “Go big, Bulldogs, or just go home,” 4/16) everyone at Yale who was not a recruited athlete as a “non-athlete”, and, in fact, I am offended at the implication that I should feel separate from the recruited athletes at Yale because I was not recruited.

Beyond that, though, I am extremely upset about the assumptions that Fulmer makes regarding the athletes at Yale. First, addressing the main purpose of the article, Fulmer states, “Yale coaches recruit. But unable to offer athletic scholarships, they cannot recruit anyone with real talent.”

This is undeniably a false statement. There are many phenomenal athletes at Yale who were offered scholarships to much “better” schools in terms of athletics, but chose to come to Yale because they value the academic experience Yale offers. I’d like to see Fulmer go up to Alex Righi ’09, Mike McLeod ’09, Lindsay Donaldson ’08, Eric Flato ’08 or Ryan Lavarnway ’09 and tell them that they don’t have real talent. They would (and should) laugh in his face.

More offensive that this comment, though, are Fulmer’s about the intelligence of athletes at Yale. He says that “one cannot forget that we also admit recruited athletes who are, for the most part, of a substandard academic caliber and more likely to be apathetic toward collegiate academia.” It’s true, I’ll admit it, there are some athletes at Yale who do not do their work, who do not go to class, who say stupid things in section. But believe me, I know a lot of “non-athletes” for whom these phrases apply as well. I, for one, do not go to all of my lectures; I know that I never finish all of my reading, and I have been to many lectures that are disrupted by “non-athletes” talking or asking stupid questions as well. And I know many very intelligent, hard working athletes, like Josh Cox ’08, Will Engasser ’08, Alex Christ ’08, Sarah Tittman ’09, Phil Lang ’09 and yes, Ryan Lavarnway ’09.

I was a swimmer in high school, and I believe that swimmers, rowers and cross-country runners are some of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life. I also live with two recruited athletes, both of whom quit their respective sports, but now work much harder than I do and often seem more dedicated to their academic experience. It is unfair to them to state as fact these assumptions about their intelligence and their work ethic.

Finally, I resent the implication that a rift automatically exists between athletes and “non-athletes” at Yale. Yes, one can walk into “Commons after 7 p.m. or to Toad’s on a Wednesday night” and see a lot of athletes, but you will also probably see me and my suitemates there, along with many other “non-athletes.” It is not hard to become friends with the athletes at Yale; one only has to make the effort to talk to them without being condescending.

There is a rift between athletes and “non-athletes” not only because of the teams the athletes are on (I mean, you could say that fraternities and sororities create this same kind of divide) or their supposed “substandard intelligence,” but also because many “non-athletes” at Yale either envy the ease at which athletes can enter the social scene or because many “non-athletes” assume they are better and more intelligent than the athletes at Yale because of the very fact that they got into Yale “on their own.”

I understand that Yale is not as stellar as it could be athletically because we do not offer athletic scholarships, but this allows Yale to draw athletes who will choose Yale over other Div. I schools because of its academic reputation. I don’t care if we don’t go to the final four or if we are not D-I in football. All that matters is that our sports teams do well in the Ivies, which they generally do, and that Yalies go to cheer them on. And I believe that the population of athletes at Yale of “substandard academic caliber” is more than outnumbered by the population of them that are intelligent and hard-working students.

Kristin McCall is a junior in Calhoun College.


  • Anonymous

    While there are certainly intelligent, thoughtful, hardworking athletes, there still remains elements of logic behind Ned's article.
    The fact remains that the median SAT and GPA of our athletes, while still high compared to national averages and MUCH higher than the averages of athletic teams in state schools, are lower than those of the non-athletes. This doesn't mean that the athletes are unintelligent, it means that they do not meet the academic criteria that Yale has set for "non-athletes". Ned's second point was this: if we are to compromise our academic integrity at all, we might as well go all out, and get the best athlete possible, regardless of academic record. This does not mean that all nationally competitive athletes do not have stellar GPAs or are "dumb", it means that Yale might as well get the best possible athlete available.
    Some people have noted that Yale does the same thing with musical geniuses and legacies, and that Yale shouldn't just accept people with perfect SAT scores and GPAs -- that such an attitude would go against everything Yale stands for. This is true. But when Yale accepts a musical genius with a less than stellar academic record, they are usually accepting the top violinist, cellist, opera signer etc. in the country. This is not the case when Yale admits a recruited athlete in many (not all) of its sports teams. They tend to be the best blend of intelligence and athletics that Yale could find -- but they are dilettantes: good at lots of things and masters at nothing.

  • Anonymous

    First, this is old news if news at all given Ned's apology.

    And what's the meaning of the generalization (something you seem to claim is wrong): "All that matters is that our sports teams do well in the Ivies, which they generally do, and that Yalies go to cheer them on."

    And why does this matter? And in "Yalies go to cheer," how many are talking about (and do you include alumni) -- as an example, few people I know of went to more than 4 football games their entire time at Yale and I can tell you from personal experience Lax attendance was just that with the bulk of spectators appearing to be family of the players. How many sports did you go see last semester Kristin?

  • j23

    Athletes do not choose Yale because if its "academic reputation," Kristin, they choose Yale because it's an Ivy League school that opens more doors after graduation. They could not care less about their education at Yale, and they have proven that many times with their behavior, such as taking gut classes.