Prior to this football season, the attitude within our team was that we expected to be 10-0. It was not arrogance or hollow rhetoric, but a confidence in each other that had been cultivated over the course of four long years together. Certainly teams lose, and, yes, we had our share of heartbreak this season, but increased expectations are the price teams pay for success. When one expects perfection — as our team did prior to this year and throughout the season — disappointment is inevitable. But my teammates and coaches have taught me during this incredible ride that true success lies in expecting the most from yourself and not being afraid to fail.
This lesson transcends sports. Understandably, there are many endeavors at Yale and other places that afford one the opportunity to learn courage, discipline and confidence. But for me and approximately 300 other seniors who have played an intercollegiate varsity sport throughout their four years at Yale, athletics are truly special.
A few months ago, a debate arose on campus concerning the place of sports at Yale. Critics charged that athletes insulate themselves from other students and detract from the academic environment at Yale because, in part, they bring lower SAT scores to campus. Could it be true that we have such shortsighted individuals at Yale? Like many of my fellow athletes, I brought below-average SAT scores to Old Campus, but I am graduating with an above-average GPA. Football has helped me make up for my supposed “intellectual shortcomings” and has provided me with insightful perspectives on life and the human condition. Above all, athletics has given me a disciplined work ethic and the confidence to dream that anything is possible. In high school, I never thought that I would have the honor of being elected captain or, more importantly, stand poised to graduate from Yale. Athletics, along with my family and teachers, helped put me in this fortunate position.
Those of us lucky enough to represent Yale as athletes are not the only ones benefiting from Yale athletics. As everybody knows, the Harvard-Yale game is more than just a football game. It is a chance for the entire Yale community to come together — something that does not happen but once a year. Beyond The Game, there are many other contests throughout the year that offer local residents the opportunity to share experiences with Yalies on a campus that can seem exclusive. Athletics are a tremendous vehicle to facilitate improved town-gown relations because sports have the unique ability to transcend racial and socio-economic divides. In the future, I hope that Yale will continue its strong tradition of athletics, not only for the personal development of its athletes, but as a mechanism to enrich the greater community of Yale and New Haven.
So to my coaches and advisors — I thank you. The lessons I learned on the practice fields at Yale taught me as much as any theories I learned in the classroom, and I am confident that these lessons will serve me as well in the future as they did during the last four years.
Peter Mazza is a graduating senior in Jonathan Edwards College. He was the captain of the 2000 Yale football team.