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


  • yale 11

    Yale masters/deans,

    You are the SOFTEST, WEAKEST people in New Haven.

    Take your timid fear of physical activity and leave us alone.

  • Andrew, GRD 11

    If that had been my wife and daughter stuck in the car by your illegal activity, you can bet I would be suing Yale and the undergrads involved in advertising the event for inciting a riot. If you can keep it off the roads, then sure, be stupid by yourself. But NOT on public property.


    Penelope Laurans does NOT speak for the Jonathan Edwards community.

  • yale 08

    Andrew, GRD 11,

    You cannot sue if you did not suffer damages/harm. Real harm. Not emotional harm or annoyance.

    (thanks for the lesson Bob Dunne, RIP)

  • point taken

    “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.”

    Boy wouldn’t it have been great to see an op-ed like this when hateful graffiti was found on campus or disparaging emails about freshmen girls found their way into student inboxes. Nonetheless, the deans and masters have a point – taking this out of Old Campus and into the street was dangerous both to students and passerbys who were caught up in it all

  • Y ’10

    I completely agree with commenter #5. I agree that the bladderball game was inconsiderate and dangerous. I just wish the masters and deans had this much concern over all of the hateful incidents that have occurred on campus over the past few years.

  • y09

    Nice to know that bladderball merits a public condemnation by every Master and Dean at Yale, but sexual harassment is tossed under the rug with some vague mutterings about free speech.

  • 0Y8

    Bob Dunne RIP

    Seems to me that when the rumors began, YPD should have made preparations to close Elm street. Noone HAD to be on old campus, so its your own fault if you get trampled when you chose to be there. If the street was closed, it also would be your own fault.

    Yale: wimps. Instead of producing future leaders with the balls to fight, protecting itself from lawsuits from wimps.

  • Y10

    Totally agree with 5, 6, 7. I understand that Bladderball is inconsiderate to the New Haven public, but it seems that “intimidating activity” only merits condemnation when it affects the Yale Brand’s external image, rather than the welfare of it’s students.

  • @9

    What part of the distinction between speech and action is lost on you?

  • @10

    Lucky for you, sexual harassment covers both speech *and* action!

  • @#10

    Do you fail to recognize that speech is an action as well?

  • anon

    Oh man, who wrote this? It gets absurd at the end with all the pompous stuff about being condemned to repeat history, etc.

  • Y ’12

    I know that part of bladder ball is the spontaneity and lack of rules, but is there really no middle ground to be reached? It seems the main issue is that it obstructs traffic and the lives of people who don’t choose to be a part of it; is there really no way that the administration can back down a little bit, and allow a more regulated form of bladder ball?

    Street fairs are not uncommon across the US, if we worked with New Haven PD and closed off the streets that would be affected (which is only a few block radius, easily gone around), it wouldn’t put the same hamper on ambulances etc. as cited in this article, and no one who didn’t choose to be part of the risks associated with bladderball would have to be a part of it.

    That said, even with that switch, bladderball would still be a lot of fun, and a great yale tradition to continue, albeit slightly amended.

  • student

    baldderball is the danger… but masters and deans are doing nothing about the rampant speeding and reckless driving all around the campus, killing and injuring yale students, staff and faculty EVERY SINGLE YEAR???

    how about cutting a few masters teas and using the money to install some traffic calming. every other civilized campus and city does it. amherst college has light-up crosswalks. why can’t yale? it is not very expensive.

    give me a break!!!!!!!!!!

  • Andrew GRD ’11

    “You cannot sue if you did not suffer damages/harm. Real harm. Not emotional harm or annoyance.”

    Quite true, but there were people (non-Yalies) who were thrust by the crowd into cars and walls. They suffered damages.

    However, I do like the suggestions to either get permission to shut down the street (quite possible), or keep it in Old Campus (but this one is improbable). You just have to work with the city, not do it first and ask forgiveness later.

  • SP60

    What an incredible waste of resources. You might as well buy back toasters for all the good it will do. This has been shown again and again, yet the same old, tired responses to violence keep coming up again and again.

    Gun buybacks are political theater, since only guns no one wants anyway are ever turned in. You can be sure that real criminals will keep their guns, after all, they paid a lot more than $50 for them on the street. They are a good way for criminals to get rid of ‘hot’ (ones used in a crime) firearms though, since no one checks them and they are typically destroyed shortly afterwards.

    The facts show that most firearms violence is gang-on-gang. The money used for this buy-back would be better spent on either fielding more officers, or providing programs like those used in Boston to reduce gang violence in general.

    Treating guns as if they were the problem is a head-in-the-sand attitude. The true issues are deeper than railing and ranting against inanimate objects, and not as easily dealt with. A gun buy-back makes everyone involved feel good, and provides nice sound bites for the 6 o’clock news, but in the end will not make a bit of difference in a single life.