When the Yale football team starts its season tomorrow at Georgetown, the game will not just mark the start of a new season and coaching tenure. It will be a chance for the team to shake off a series of scandals and begin a long rebuilding process.
Ours is one of the nation’s most storied football teams, with a history as old as football itself. It remains the crown jewel of a Yale Athletics program that prides itself on molding scholar-athletes. But the past few years have left the team’s mandate in question.
In 2008, members of the Zeta Psi fraternity were photographed outside the Women’s Center holding a sign that read “We Love Yale Sluts.” In 2010, members of DKE horrified campus with their chants on Old Campus. Both fraternities are closely tied to the football team.
Last December, former head coach Tom Williams resigned after he was caught lying about having been a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. In January, The New York Times published an article suggesting that quarterback Patrick Witt had withdrawn his candidacy for the Rhodes because of a sexual misconduct complaint against him — not because the interview was scheduled for the same day as The Game.
A young head coach was hired. A new captain was elected. Spring practice should have been the time for the team to start moving past the scandals. Then Will McHale ’13 had his captaincy suspended this summer after he allegedly punched another student in the face.
Football can be a force for good. It can teach leadership, character and disciplined teamwork. But due to several very visible failings, the team has appeared to stray from that mission. It has become something most students see as only a source of an annual tailgate and a stream of scandals.
Yale might not be a football factory, but the team has a privileged place in the pecking order of varsity sports. While other teams struggle to fill rosters, relatively pampered football brings in 30 recruits a year and plays before tens of thousands. That position within the Athletics Department comes with responsibilities; football must prove itself up to the same lofty standards lesser-known Yale teams face.
There is a great deal of unwarranted antipathy toward football players in the general student population. The recent string of scandals, even though they represent the actions of a minority of the football community, will only worsen negative perceptions of athletes.
Yale Athletics is not making matters better. Athletics Director Tom Beckett has failed to address any of the issues that have plagued the team in recent years, hiding behind terse press releases from his office instead of speaking out.
Now a new season begins. The members of the football team and new coach Tony Reno will face more than just the pressure to win and make up for a decade of of embarrassment against Harvard. The reputation of their program has sunk, and it is up to the team as a whole to remind a school prepared to count them out what good football can do. They have no captain this year, and maybe that is fitting; each and every player shares the burden of reminding Yale what a noble thing football can be.