Teer: I play to compete; I compete to win

Last week, columnist Tyler Ibbotson-Sindelar wrote that Yale should get rid of varsity athletics (“End varsity for club sports,” Feb. 5). In the piece he argued that sports dominate athletes’ lives too heavily at the varsity level, and thus Yale athletes would be better off if they all played club sports, along with everyone else.

His column was only the most recent to insult Yale’s athletes. Last year, Ned Fulmer wrote that Yale should eliminate its varsity teams because they don’t win national championships and we athletes are too dumb to be here (“Either go big, Bulldogs, or just go home,” April 15, 2008). Most unfortunately, these columns are only written proof of sentiments many Yalies express much more often in conversations — sentiments that need to be ended. We athletes deserve more respect.

Ibbotson-Sindelar was wrong to assert there are only two benefits in sports, which he claimed to be fitness and a sense of collective purpose. Varsity athletes have more reasons to play. We compete in sports at this level because of our commitment to and love of our sports — to working to win, for our teams and our school. Club sports simply don’t offer enough to satisfy us.

I know this personally, having sacrificed for the goal of competing at this level. I sat out my first two years at Yale while battling shoulder injuries that were finally fixed by reconstructive surgery, and only now am I finally able to dive again. I rehabilitated through more pain than words can describe because I love competing too much to quit. I’m driven to work so hard, and to suffer so much, because of my passion for the sport.

Yale leads the nation in the quality of its student-athletes. For the last two years, Yale has topped the NCAA Academic Progress Rate Performance, which measures “progress toward graduation of every individual team … and includes eligibility, retention and graduation as factors,” with 28 teams meriting recognition. It’s worth noting that men’s and women’s squash, sailing and crew are not included, since they do not compete under the NCAA. If they were, the number would probably be 34, not 28, teams recognized. In other words, more athletes excel academically at Yale than at any other school.

When athletes can’t balance the workload, that’s a personal issue. It’s not the fault of a team, or athletics as an institution. All it says is that the athlete should work on time management or reconsider whether he can actually maintain the commitment needed in both school and athletics. They call us student-athletes for a reason. In that order.

At least in recent years, athletes have not written columns in the News advocating the cancellation of club sports, or calling for the end of open gym because it hinders our training. Although the diving team has to train dry-land for much of the morning because of open swim, and although gym sports must share their space with club and recreational athletes, we don’t wish the others would end. We don’t call for these things because we have too much respect for the institution of athletics. Athletes also don’t argue everyone should participate in athletics, because we know that other people are as passionate about other endeavors as we are about our respective sports.

Ibbotson-Sindelar’s argument that varsity athletes would be better off competing at the club level was sadly comical. Similar arguments could be made for other activities. Imagine advocating the elimination of the Dramat since its members work far too hard, and telling them to participate in less-well-run, less-well-funded productions.

Unfortunately, Ibbotson-Sindelar’s column voices an opinion that seems too common throughout Yale. It’s reminiscent of Ned Fulmer’s ideas from last spring, though the ideas are expressed much more frequently among students on campus than in the News. The question behind all of this is why athletics are always defamed.

Psychology tells us people have egocentric biases. Each of us thinks everyone else shares his experience. Ibbotson-Sindelar may enjoy every extracurricular and need nothing more than club squash, but we’re not all like that. Some need more than club sports; some don’t. That’s why club sports exist. That’s why every extracurricular activity exists.

How many schools can claim to offer one of the world’s best educations? At how many schools can someone receive a world-class education and compete at the highest level in their sport? If Yale were to cut their teams, where would athletes like Rhodes Scholar finalist Casey Gerald ’09 — a member of the football team who merited numerous academic and athletic awards this season — and Academic All-American Alex Righi ’09 — a swimmer who narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic team — go to school? Why should they have to sacrifice some of their goals? Surely they could find another school, but why push them, and so many other athletes, away? And why would Yale want to lose such students?

The program that Yale has in place satisfies everyone. If your motivation is simply fun, the gym has spaces and times available for you. If you want some level of competition, each college has a diverse range of intramural teams. Club sports offer more serious training and competition. Varsity athletics offers competition and training at the highest level. Why change it?

Instead of debasing athletics in columns and conversations, people like Ibbotson-Sindelar, Fulmer and everyone else who badmouths athletes should talk to varsity athletes to get to know us, hear about why we compete, and find out what we contribute to Yale as a community and as an institution.

Telling other people how to live — or telling them what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to do — is about as ignorant as one can get. Few would dare be so disrespectful to other extracurricular activities. So please think again before ignorantly calling for the end of varsity athletics at our school.

And every time you step into the gym or onto the squash court that you use for exercise, intramurals or club sports, remember that varsity athletics paid for those facilities.

Drew Teer is a junior in Morse College and a member of the men’s swimming team.

Comments

  • Well done…

    Yale, at its best, is a place where people root for one another, whether they're in the college orchestra or the pool, and don't seek to validate their own path by diminishing someone else's.

    The profound insecurity that lies at the heart of the recent articles you cite is worthy of further scrutiny.

  • db11

    great column drew.

  • Tom Robinson

    Not offering varsity athletics also pushes away kids who in high school were so involved with playing sports at a high level that they did not have the same opportunity to commit themselves to other extra-curriculars. Taking away varsity athletics would push away this segment of the population that is very talented and very motivated. For instance, the athletes mentioned in the article would never have had the chance to attend a place like Yale because they cared about their sport. The question is whether or not Yale wants to give these kids a chance to excel outside their sports by going to a good school.

    Along with all the other millions of reasons for why Yale needs varsity athletes.

  • Y09

    Can you athletes stop writing the same column fives times per year and become more involved with your colleges (which Drew is) and non-athletes if you want us to stop complaining. If you want us to stop with calling you second-class students, start calling out the athletes who walk around here like the own the place.