Athletics is not the priority of this University. Nor should it be.
Except for a particularly prominent few, Yale athletes remain nearly as unknown as our best pianists and painters. After all, no one student’s passion deserves more respect than any other’s.
With that said, sports holds a very special place in our society, as it is nearly omnipresent. And, setting aside quibbles about whether our various varsity programs could be more successful, Yale’s brand of sports should be appreciated for just how all-encompassing it is.
The inter-relationship of athletics and academics here is noteworthy: Varsity athletes are students, and many other students are non-varsity athletes. There are innumerable ways for students to be involved in the Yale athletics family, including club sports, intramural sports and student jobs with the Athletics Department or at Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
Over the past two years, I have often lauded the Yale student-athlete. Most often, I have praised the work ethic of a student-athlete who must commit nearly 30 hours a week to a highly structured, exhausting schedule of practices and competitions. Indeed, it is not the passion these students have chosen to pursue that deserves particular credit, but rather the way in which they dedicate themselves to that pursuit. The ability to persevere through monotonous and challenging practices while internalizing the same academic anxieties felt by every other student impresses me.
But at the same time, I would also point out that the Yale community as a whole is a relatively athletically inclined one. The myriad different athletic activities taking place each day in Payne Whitney illustrate the point. Students and faculty crowd the gym, not to mention the facilities available in residential colleges, and they must feel in some way connected to the greater Yale sports community. And then there are intramural and club sports athletes. Competition and being part of a team play nearly as important roles in the lives of these students as they do in those of varsity athletes.
Two weeks ago, I sat in the Pierson courtyard and watched members of the College’s IM “razzle-dazzle” football team practicing. They had divided themselves into two teams and spent time designing plays. They would congratulate each other on those plays that were well executed and discuss those that were not. While the grunts and cheers seemed a tad excessive, I could not question the underlying spirit of the event. Each projected a need to be active, to compete and to do so with others who share similar interests.
The Yale Precision Marching Band is another prime example of how many different members of our community have made themselves a part of the Yale athletics family. College sporting events would not be the same without the banging of drums and the cacophony of brass. And Yale’s band brings its own special touch to this age-old tradition by adding costumes and play to the act. Perhaps it’s the camaraderie that attracts so many to this group, but I would classify the entire activity as an integral part of the greater Yale sports environment.
Moreover, the moments that are most poignant to fans and alumni alike are often accompanied by the strains of the YPMB. For me, no one experience at a Yale sporting event is more exciting than when the football team makes its way through the tunnel and takes the field. And that instant would not be the same if the band was not there to play “March Down the Field.”
How about those students who cover Bulldog events for WYBC Sports? The rarely heard but highly committed teams of student broadcasters can be found in the press boxes of many events, but their presence is rarely known. At any given home football game, two students will provide play-by-play and color commentary, their analysis never to be heard by anyone else, because they are the second of two broadcasting pairs. Some of these students even travel to away games to send their school spirit out over the air. That is dedication to this school’s sports community.
And finally, there is this sports section. It is here where certain students show their passion for sports and Yale athletics daily. They may not compete at the varsity level or even the club or intramural level. Nevertheless, they have committed themselves to participating in this odd social phenomenon that we call “sports.”
And in a world of many wrongs, sports, especially the brand found here at Yale, are genuinely good. It is egalitarian and fun. It presents many different avenues of participation and can capture the passion and enthusiasm of so many. Sports are about accomplishing something for oneself and about being involved. No wonder sports make up such a dynamic piece of the existence of so many in this community.
Nicholas Thorne is a senior in Pierson College. This is his final regular column for the News.