What did we learn from Ned Fulmer?
Was he right? Are Yale athletes mediocre, on and off the field? Absolutely not, and Yale athletes were right to be insulted at the suggestion.
But was the extent of the response warranted? Several people camped outside of his room for a day, and for months, jeers and expletives followed him wherever he went.
Obviously, we cannot take the immaturity of a few to represent the entire athletic community — just as Fulmer’s column didn’t represent all of Yale’s non-athletes. But Elizabeth Moore’s column provoked similar outrage on campus, and nobody stalked her. Nobody decided to hold “Moore Monday” in protest, like “Fulmer Friday” on Old Campus last year.
The vitriol with which people approached their fellow Yalies was astounding. What we learned from Ned Fulmer is that there are vast tensions underneath our placid existence here at Yale.
On the surface, everything looks fine — far better, in fact, than at almost any other school, especially any other Division I school. There is a lot of mixing between athletes and non-athletes — almost all athletes can point to friends who do not play sports, and vice versa. We take largely similar classes, and despite their already enormous time commitments, many varsity athletes are members of other undergraduate organizations. The residential college system does much to alleviate a problem that is so much worse at most other schools.
But at Yale, we should strive for the best — and we are certainly not there yet.
The proof, of course, is Ned Fulmer. Not Ned Fulmer the person — Ned Fulmer the incident; the idea; the buzzword. The fact that a student wrote that piece and that other students responded the way they did does not indicate that either side is entirely in the right; rather, that there are problems here we need to deal with.
Non-recruited athletes with misconceptions about their recruited peers may begin to resent them without understanding them. And athletes, who have coined the demeaning term “normies” to denote anyone who could get into Yale without playing a sport, return the favor. As we’ve seen, this does have consequences for the way we interact with each other. It is not an innocent and meaningless social divide.
What, if anything, can we do about this? Certain things are intractable — athletes have to eat dinner in Commons if practice gets out after 7 p.m. And even if they didn’t, one of the great things about sports teams is that they form such close bonds on the field.
At the same time, though, so do many organizations on campus — nobody has a problem with friends spending time with one another. But this particular gulf is special. Some varsity athletes even have separate names for the two sides: “Yale One” — recruits — and “Yale Two” — everyone else.
I think we have to look deeper than day-to-day structure — dining halls, schedules etc. These things cannot account for the pervasive effects we observe. As unpopular as it may be to say this, I think it has something to do with the way athletes are recruited.
Keep your pants on. I’m not saying that athletes are stupid and shouldn’t be here. That is obviously false; bad students are no more frequent in the athletic community than within Yale College at large. But I do think they are often sent that message. Even though they are clearly capable of engaging with the life of the mind, the recruitment process doesn’t convey that.
“We want you for our team,” they are told, “now let’s talk to admissions about getting you in.” An “Academic Index” is calculated for all recruits using a composite of SAT scores and grades, and some recruits are separated into “bands” based on AI — their numeric value to the team. Often, it is well known who is in which band, warping the expectations of recruits and their peers. Yale says that recruits are students first and athletes second, but the implicit message of this system is the opposite.
Most pay no attention, becoming successful student-athletes with interests and passions off the field, but the message lingers in the background. Athletes are sometimes surprised to find that they are not, in fact, less intelligent than their peers.
A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that holistic, case-by-case affirmative action was acceptable in public education, but that adding 100 points to every black applicant’s SAT score was not. I think we should apply this standard to athletics, abandoning the current points-based approach in favor of a holistic one. Student-athletes add a lot to our community, but is quantifying their abilities as “worth” a certain number of SAT points really a good idea?
We can’t make changes unilaterally — that would be silly, and The Game next Saturday would be awful. But maybe the Ivy League should think about revising its rules — if nothing else, for the health of our community.
Sam Bagg is a senior in Silliman College.