To “put on for your city”, explains Grammy-nominated and self-proclaimed champion rapper Young Jeezy in his aptly named track “Put On,” is more than purchasing copious amounts of top-shelf liquor and foreign rides. It is a saying that I use, for better or for worse, to describe my allegiance to Atlanta, the hometown Young Jeezy and I share, even while I pursue my studies nearly 1,000 miles away.
Standing at 5 feet 10 inches while weighing 130 pounds, should I decide to dedicate myself to competitive athletics, I have a mountain to climb (perhaps literally — climbing is a full-body workout). Not to say I never tried. I still keep fond memories of tossing buckets of wiffle balls to my plastic bat-wielding brother on hot summer afternoons in our backyard, imitating the stances of Chipper, Sheffield and Lopez. I still keep my baseball card collection, all 2,000-plus, under my Johns Creek, Ga., bed, rifling through them on occasion. My most prized possession is a baseball autographed by Julio Franco, placed next to those of hometown heroes Jeff Francoeur and Brian Jordan.
It is human nature to identify with underdogs, as is validated by the success of films such as “Rudy,” “Remember the Titans” and “Miracle.” As a young lad growing up in Atlanta, a city which the New York Times-employed statistics wizard Nate Silver calculated as college football’s second largest in total fans, a common test of adulthood is one’s knowledge and devotion to his or her college team. As one who was not born into a school loyalty, I adopted the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. It seemed like a good fit for the young me searching for an identity. They’re an engineering school; hey, I like math. They’re located in Midtown Atlanta; no kidding, my dad works there! But what gave Tech the most luster was its juxtaposition as David against the Goliath that was the Bulldogs of the University of Georgia, a school and fan base multiple times its size with an athletics program with multiple times its success, especially in recent years.
Make no mistake; I hold no qualms with Georgia fans, many of whom are and will always be my good friends. However, one would be hard-pressed to proclaim the two schools are on equal footing. A recent USA Today poll found that Georgia fans outnumber those of Georgia Tech 4-to-1, something I can personally confirm counting Bulldog license plates driving through I-285. But it is exactly this reason I adopted the other side, a stubborn act of counterculture and a decision that, some 10-plus years later, holds to this day.
Now, my appreciation for Georgia Tech has evolved to define itself not by its rivalries, but by its own excellence; not from its underdog status but from its spread-option offense in football and a basketball program that produced the likes of Chris Bosh, Stephon Marbury, Matt Harpring and countless others.
In my decision to attend Yale, I was faced with the grim prospect of leaving my haven of sports fans and entering a “new haven,” whose sports allegiances would counter my own. It was my Yale admissions interview, in which the interviewer and I discussed the Atlanta Falcons’ playoff chances over lattes at Starbucks, that assured me I could survive in faraway lands with my loyalties intact.
Some Yalies point to poor attendance at athletic events as lamentable. And they’re not incorrect; the efforts and long hours of student-athletes could be met with better recognition by the rest of the student body. But this should not be confused with a lack of passion at Yale. The student body’s collective pursuit of excellence in a mind-boggling number of fields, some of which students create themselves, serves as a point of pride.
You can spot me wearing Georgia Tech shirts and Braves snapbacks paired with Yale sweats as I walk up Science Hill or study at Bass. But apparel by no means defines one’s passions. Anybody that dedicates his or herself to whatever he or she chooses to relate with, whether it be sports, studies, career aspirations or other pursuits, can create positive identities that stand the test of time. That is to say, anybody can “put on.”