LETTER: Keeping athletics separate

I was dismayed by the confusion shown in Yishai Schwartz’s column last Wednesday (“Consider the academics of sports,” Oct. 12) approving of a proposed integration of varsity athletics into college academic programs. To put it bluntly, he errs in ignoring the distinction between academics and sport, to the disservice of each.

Let me be clear — I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of Yale’s varsity and club athletes and believe the perseverance, self-discipline, and competitive spirit that athletics promote all merit inclusion in a liberal arts education. Despite what our soccer coaches told us when we were seven, athletics is in the end about winning. At its best, sport perfects the competitive, spirited aspect of our nature — and sends chills down our spines.

Yet academics and the pursuit of wisdom are not for the sake of competition. Competition involves relative victories — showing your superiority over a particular opponent. Truth, however, pursues an absolute, unconditional victory of sorts — the victory of human knowledge over an opaque, recalcitrant world that does not easily divulge its secrets.

By ignoring the real purpose and end of athletics, we also do sport a grave disservice. Schwartz reduces athletics to mere technique or strategy. What’s more, I find collapsing the distinction between “student” and “athlete” subtly patronizing. As a major designed explicitly for athletes, it forecloses the possibility of a true scholar-athlete who excels both in her sport and outside of it.

This no doubt sounds pretentious — talk of “truth” in education is out of vogue these days. But it’s only by acknowledging the distinctions between two very different practices that we can recognize and celebrate the particular kinds of greatness that come in sport and in scholarship. Let’s not be afraid to call things by their proper names.

Nick Geiser

Oct. 18

The writer is a junior in Branford College


  • HighStreet2010


  • The Anti-Yale

    *Competition involves relative victories — showing your superiority over a particular opponent.*

    Does anyone remember that it was a Yale President (later Commissioner of baseball) who gave a speech — which scandalized alumni — with the thesis “Winning isn’t Everything.”?

    “. . . superiority over a particular opponent” can mean grace, elegant delivery, courage, nobility in defeat.

    It doesn’t ALWAYS mean ‘winning’.

  • River_Tam

    Craig Breslow majored in MB&B and pitches for the Oakland A’s. True scholar-athlete right there.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    And he’s a quite good lefty reliever, at that. Fun fact: for the first time in 51 years, two Yalies (Breslow ’02 and Ryan Lavarnway ’09) are playing in the major leagues at the same time.

  • chandlerpv

    in classes based on curves, victory in academics is relative, not absolute as you suggested. Your idealism of academics as about the pursuit of knowledge is misleading. many academic pursuits are vocational and practical, much like the vocational, practical aspects of majoring in sports.

  • CharlieWalls

    I would not support an athletics major but Mr Geiser’s letter has given what seems a spectator’s take on athletics. It is not all about competition and hence that does not distinguish it from academics. It is about actually doing something, doing something with your own physical self.
    A four year stint at academics and athletics, together, is a brief training or exercise experience. In both you work with others and try to do well.
    If you watch football or whatever, please note, that winning involves only one-half of the players. All of the players are working like hell, cooperatively, having fun and expressing themselves in practiced and disciplined efforts.

  • RMarsh

    @CharlieWalls. Without taking sides, I think it bears noting that Mr. Geiser is himself a very accomplished cyclist. His is not a spectator’s take on athletics, but rather an insider’s view. I’m quite sure he understands the discipline and dedication the pursuit of athletic excellence requires.

  • River_Tam

    @RMarsh – that’s interesting to know, because as I read this letter I definitely got the feeling that Geiser was himself an athlete. Thanks for confirming!

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