Gallagher: Safety first, Yale

I had no part in bladderball’s return to campus. And I had my reasons for staying out of it.

It was Parents’ Weekend, and my parents and my young brother were visiting. They were, I have to admit, a little disappointed not to have witnessed such a spirited and storied tradition. But let’s be realistic. With hordes of students pouring through the streets, shoving and clambering in single-minded pursuit of the ball, it would have been all too easy for someone to get hurt.

That’s why I really have to agree with the joint statement issued by the masters and deans last week (“Why bladderball was (and still is) banned,” Oct. 14). They were absolutely right to remark that “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,” and must be banned for those very reasons. Risk and freedom and the absence of rules and structure can be very appealing, but let’s be reasonable: they don’t belong at Yale.

We should be proud of our University for taking a courageous stand against such things. Yale is fighting the good fight against some formidable adversaries. Consider Vergil: “Fortune favors the bold,” or Chaucer: “he that nought n’assayeth, nought n’acheveth.” And against these siren songs that threaten to lure us into bladderball or other such reckless activities, Yale has wisdom enough to raise the sobering slogan: “Safety First.”

It’s a slogan I was proud to adopt for myself when I kept me and mine away from the threat of bladderball. But, as the University understands, playing it safe means much more than avoiding riotous ball games. There are so many dangers in life, so many potentially explosive forces — and it takes a lot of hard work to keep them under control.

But, historically, the University has proved itself equal to the task. Most of us can still remember “Sex Signals,” a show that first drove home for me the University’s admirable concern with safety. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce freshly-arrived new students to the University’s ethos. We were shown a little play about romance and seduction, and the action could be halted at any time, if enough people held up the little stop signs that had been passed around.

What profundity! In high school I had acquired an idea that romantic love was a matter of unquenchable passion, of intrigue, of heartbreak and regret, tied up with guilty feelings. So you can imagine how relieved I was to learn that sex was a matter rather like directing traffic. We may never completely get rid of the temptation toward road rage, but with a good system of regulations and signals, everyone can get around as much as they want.

And the University doesn’t object to us having fun. I don’t doubt that bladderball would be allowed, if it could be tamed, and it would be grossly unfair to take the University administrators for spoilsports, when they’re only looking out for our best interests. When they can, they make considerations of safety as unintrusive as possible. They’ve given us Purell in every dining hall and prophylactics in every entryway. It’s as inspiring as something from the Bible: “The poor shall eat, and the needy lie down — in safety.” One can live very pleasantly without letting the passions get out of hand: it’s not like we never enjoyed ourselves before bladderball.

But nothing to excess. At a place like Yale, the passions are, and ought always to be, only the slaves of reason. We’ve got classes to go to, careers to plan, relationships to form and maintain; we’ve got too much going for us to risk life and limb in the frenzy of bladderball. Of course we need to blow off steam now and then, and there’s nothing wrong with kindling a little excitement. But let’s stop short of anything too incendiary. We should work hard, and play hard; but who wants to play when the stakes are real?

To be sure, human nature resists being tamed, and there will probably always be people getting themselves worked up over one thing or another. But that spirit in which people climbed walls and leapt into ditches in pursuit of the bladderball, forcing their way through the crowd for nothing but the thrill of the moment and the glory of their college, that spirit of uncalculating adventure, that spirit that led a friend of mine to proclaim that bladderball was one of the greatest events of his life — that was an example of the unbridled Dionysian spirit that has no place on a civilized campus such as our own.

Even in such a safety-conscious atmosphere, everyone makes mistakes, now and then — it’s inevitable that we men and women of Yale will sometimes end up paying a little too much homage to the god of wine. But as those little cards handed out before the Game last year reminded us, the University has the good sense and compassion to regard drinking not as a disciplinary issue but as an issue of health. Now there’s an enlightened policy.

Because we deserve our little pleasure for the day and our little pleasure for the night — but always with a regard for health.

Kevin Gallagher is a junior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • dmw

    Nice piece. And way to sneak a Nietzsche quote in there at the end without it sounding too pretentious.

  • S.K.

    The Age of Encyclopedists is gone, when with great pains men wrote large Folios; now we have an age of intellectual tourists… And a genuine religious rejection of the world, followed with constant self-denial, is equally unthinkable among the youth of our time: nevertheless, some bible college student has the virtuosity to achieve something even greater. He could design some projected group or Society which aims to save those who are lost.

    Action and passion is as absent in the present age as peril is absent from swimming in shallow waters…

  • bmw

    Noticeably absent from all of the coverage and criticism of bladderball is a simple fact that all of us who spent and hour in the scrum know: we set our own code of conduct. Whenever (and this happened multiple times) someone looked to be falling down in the midst of the ruckus, multiple people would shout “stop” and hold out their hands to keep people from moving around until those who had tripped got back up. Only when everything looked safe again would we start up.

  • yalemom

    Mr. Gallagher!!! Extremely well written, kudos to you! Keep up the great work.

  • Yale 2008

    Ahh! bmw,

    Sounds like Mencken’s “Spontaneous order”

    A find observation you’ve made.

    Do we truly need government to set all the rules?

    If the laws were erased tomorrow, how would we behave?

  • LoneVoiceofSanity?

    This column is terrible. Mr. Gallagher should try putting down his Nietzsche on a Friday night and try having some true, unobstructed fun–he might like it.

  • satire alert

    satire.