I have always felt a weird, magnetic draw toward sports, whether I was making some less-than-remarkable saves in goal for my high school soccer team or donning my blue and white L.A. cap once a week at Dodger games. That part of it always came naturally to me.
What hasn’t been so natural is the hype surrounding sports, the ceaseless commentary and projection, the fantasy leagues or SportsCenter running on a constant loop. Anyone at the News could probably attest that given the choice between an entertaining ABC Family romantic comedy and the Blazers-Knicks game, I’d much rather watch the former.
I think I appreciate watching sports for the sport itself. I love the feeling of walking in to a half-empty baseball stadium and watching it come alive on a warm summer night. I love when the crowd erupts after the home team scores. And I love the beauty and excitement of sport itself.
After four years of watching sports at Yale, I tend to think that Ivy League athletics operate in the realm of the sports world I like best. They exist free from the maelstrom of media and fandom that surrounds most other college and professional leagues.
This is not to say Yale sports are subordinate to those leagues. Yale boasts many world-class athletes, and those who have the potential to be.
What I mean is that your average Yale-Penn basketball game will not be seen on TV, will not have any post-game coverage aside from in some newspapers or on WYBC-1340, and will not encourage much more conversation than from a select group of fans. Unlike Duke or Kentucky during March Madness, no one is going to be adding the Yale team to any kind of bracket.
Yale’s biggest athletics event each year, The Game, is the only one that provokes the type of nation- and school-wide hype that most other teams are privy to year round. Yet even that was broadcast only on channel 200-something by Versus and was only available on one cable provider, not like CBS or ABC or FOX’s Bowl Championship Series coverage.
Barring success in national tournaments, like the men’s hockey team’s in the past two years, most Yale teams operate under the radar and outside of the world of ESPN, NESN, YES, MSG and any other anagram you might throw out there. Even when the hockey team made it to the NCAA Tournament, ESPN still wrote it off — this year, at least.
Consider Yale’s most continuously successful teams, like crew or squash or fencing. By all accounts, Yale is a squash powerhouse whose men’s team recently became the second-best in the nation. But very few people would have known that had it not been for a controversial incident in the national championship that wound up on SportsCenter.
I think this detachment allows Yale sports to be played and appreciated by fans purely for the value of the sport itself. As much as I love the Dodgers, I cannot go to a game without being bombarded by advertising around the stadium or hoping that a great play ends up on that night’s highlights.
But when I went up the hill to Ingalls Rink every Friday and Saturday night, I knew I was in for a night of great hockey and a fantastic atmosphere of raucous students and die-hard New Haven fans, not TV-timeouts and corporate sponsorship.
Watching countless soccer games at Reese Stadium has made me appreciate the beauty in the game of soccer and the hard work athletes put into their sport.
Witnessing the football team’s effort in The Game this year made me appreciate how, even when a season is effectively over, athletes will work as hard as they can to win a game.
Seeing members of the cross country team endlessly circle the field while I’m listlessly participating in an IM soccer game reminded me of the dedication required by these athletes.
All of these things sometimes get lost in the box scores and fantasy rankings or in contract negotiations and front-office politics that plague professional sports leagues. Or in the convoluted BCS system and athletics scholarships offered by other schools. Yale athletes are primarily students. None receive full rides just for sports, barely any will leave school early to go pro, and only some will be ranked among the best in the nation in their sport.
Don’t get me wrong, I live and die by Major League Baseball and have been glued to the National Hockey League playoffs these past weeks. But watching Yale athletes compete over the past four years has reminded me why it is that I watch sports.
Ivy League sports are special because they highlight only the team or individual. No attention is given to that team’s graduation rate or to that individual’s draft stock.
Yale’s athletics have reminded me what is pure about sport because of their focus on the sport itself. They have reminded me why I love the simple thrill of the game.
Brittany Golob is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and is a former Sports Editor for the News.