Masters and Deans: Why bladderball was (and still is) banned

There was a lot of joyous excitement on Old Campus Saturday afternoon as a group of students instigated a reprise of bladderball. Even some of us were caught up in the early elation that comes with such a spontaneous, exuberant and seemingly innocent event. Those of us who did not directly witness the event were quickly sobered once we viewed the footage captured on video.

The chaotic behavior we witnessed reminds us why we shouldn’t let the thrill of last Saturday fool us into thinking that bladderball is harmless. The event disrupted lives; interfered with ambulance, fire and other emergency response efforts; damaged the relationship that all of us in the University and New Haven have worked to develop; and incurred costs to the University that are only now being tallied. As some of you observed, motorists with young children were terrified by being caught in the midst of what to them seemed a dangerous riot; elderly people were shoved up against cars; students were knocked to the ground and fortunate not to be trampled. Yale and New Haven police were tied up for several hours trying to maintain safety and order. We are grateful that they responded so professionally and were able to prevent more serious problems.

Because it has been more than a quarter of a century since bladderball was banned, the game’s dangers and problems have receded from individual and institutional memory. It is easy to focus on the exciting, carnival-like aspects of the event; but these aspects can turn dark. As President Giamatti wrote in 1982 when he banned bladderball after a game in which three students were hospitalized: “I don’t think it’s an event whose historical roots justify the risk of life and limb … This is not an issue of anger, guilt or blame, but of the safety and well-being of human beings.”

Bladderball was banned because it could not be organized in a way that prevented the very serious problems that came hand-in-hand with it. Of course, the essence of bladderball is its lack of organization, the absence of rules and structure, and both the freedom and risk of being taken up with the crowd in pursuit of the ball. When one is “in the moment” of bladderball the true dangers of the game are not evident. This is exactly why Yale banned the game in 1982 and why that ban needs to be upheld.

It is not surprising that, after a lapse of 27 years, memories of the problems caused by bladderball have faded while glorious tales of the virtues of this tradition have become more powerful. We study history so that we can learn from our past; we forget history at our peril. We call on our students, whom we trust and care about, to help us preserve the spirit of our community while ensuring safety and respect for the rights of all.

Marvin Chun, Master

Kevin Hicks, Dean

Berkeley College

Steven Smith, Master

Daniel Tauss, Dean

Branford College

Jonathan Holloway, Master

Leslie Woodard, Dean

Calhoun College

Richard Schottenfeld, Master

Craig Harwood, Dean

Davenport College

Stephen Pitti, Master

Jennifer Wood-Nangombe, Dean

Ezra Stiles College

Penelope Laurans, Master

Kyle Farley, Dean

Jonathan Edwards College

Frank Keil, Master

Joel Silverman, Dean

Morse College

Harvey Goldblatt, Master

Amerigo Fabbri, Dean

Pierson College

Paul Hudak, Master

Paul McKinley,Dean

Saybrook College

Judith Krauss, Master

Hugh Flick, Dean

Silliman College

Robert Thompson, Master

John Loge, Dean

Timothy Dwight College

Janet Henrich, Master

Jasmina Besirevic Regan, Dean

Trumbull College

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