(Preface: I’m always a bit unsure of exactly what my readership for these columns is, but I operate on the assumption that the only devout weekly readers of my columns are the YDN editors, my grandparents and whichever one of my mother and father drew the short straw that week. For those of you outside that esteemed group, I’ll sum up my message of the past few weeks in three quick words: “Save Yale athletics.”)
I’ve talked about the tradition, the divide created by current policies and the place of Yale athletics in the community, all with the (admittedly optimistic and so-far disappointed) hope of changing a mind or two in Woodbridge Hall. But with a new month came the realization that I’ve only got a few more weeks here. Maybe it’s some senior sentimentality getting the best of me, but I think it’s time to explain why I care so much in the first place.
Over the past four years, I’ve worked at hundreds of Yale sporting events on the staff of the Yale Sports Publicity office and for the Yale Daily News, and have been a part of countless more in playing four seasons of varsity softball. I’ve seen fencing to football, balance beam to basketball, history and heartbreak. With that painful exception of a win against Harvard in The Game, I’ve seen it all.
I’ll always remember the women’s basketball team’s huge upset win against Florida State in December 2010, or the DJ playing the other version of Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” for Harvard fans after men’s basketball’s epic senior day upset last season. I’ll never forget Chad Ziegler’s ’12 miraculous game-winning, overtime goal in the NCAA regional against Air Force in 2011, nor how the crowd at Brady Squash Center grew as this year’s match against Trinity went on, and how I, standing out of sight of the final match, still knew exactly what had happened when John Roberts ’12 closed it out. I’ll remember men’s soccer and men’s swimming’s inspiring turnarounds this season, and Yale field hockey finally getting an Ivy title after coming agonizingly close previously.
But I could get four years of wins and losses anywhere. The magic of Yale athletics, for me, lies in the experiences you can’t see from Woodbridge Hall … or even from the stands. The magic is walking up the stairs to the weight room in Payne Whitney Gym, passing memorials and lists of Olympic medalists that took a similar walk decades before. The magic is in heated training room discussions distracting from painful treatment, hours spent listening to the dialogue between coaches in the Ray Tompkins house, in days in the weight room being pushed to your limit (and then beyond) with teammates around you doing the same. The common denominator? The people, past and present, and their enduring determination for success.
One of those people is Director of Athletics Tom Beckett. Always publicly composed and stoic, Mr. Beckett’s Yale athletics fandom could best be described as powerful but professional — far from the rabid fandom I’ve fallen into on occasion. But with the Bulldogs down against Dartmouth at Ingalls earlier this winter, Kenny Agostino ’14 found the net with a miraculous, game-tying goal with 30 seconds to go. I jumped, yelled, fist pumped and turned … only to see Mr. Beckett doing the same. Sports here are not something clinically administrated from afar in Ray Tomkins House. They’re a constant battle against the odds that requires emotional investment, concerted commitment and mental toughness from all in the face of adversity, created by the very institution these sports seek to honor. When any Yale team wins that battle in spite of the odds facing this athletics department, everyone in the building jumps with pride.
I love Yale athletics because I see what can’t be seen from the outside: I see that joy after grueling hours of work put in the weight room, painful hours in the training room and late nights in the library after long practices, pay off with a win. When all that work for the “Yale” on the front of a jersey is justified in one or two memorable moments that tie this generation to those who came before, those who are battling now and those who will come after. While outsiders and Yale administrators see that we, like any athletic department, have our share of bumps and bruises, they don’t see how much goes in to patching them up. For that reason, they will never understand the agony of a loss that is, for them, nothing more than a game. Nor will they ever feel the importance of a win that, to them, is evidence that what they are doing is not hindering our program at all.
I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad and the inspiring of Yale athletics. From this experience, I’ve become sure of two things: one — that no one outside of Yale athletics will ever be able to understand just how valuable sports here are and what people in the department put into them. And two — that for all the struggles and difficulties that come with being a Yale athlete, there’s something magical about putting on that Yale jersey and being a part of the tradition. From its people, to its places, to its past, this program has a mystique that can’t be allowed to fade.
Sure, you can get memorable wins and losses anywhere. But here, you get people as invested in an increasingly futile battle as anyone anywhere. Here, everyone must work harder; here, mental toughness grows from an unwillingness to make excuses despite the administration’s creating them. I care about Yale athletics because being a part of Yale athletics requires an emotional investment unlike many others, and yet every single person in a Yale jersey makes it. Their efforts are all the evidence I’ll ever need that there’s value in athletics: if that many people through the years here have put so much of their heart and soul into them, it’s nearly impossible to think there’s not something important there. No, Yale’s administration will never completely understand. But if they take advice from experts on other administrative decisions in areas where they lack experience, I hope they’ll take some advice on this one: speaking as someone who would know, who’s experienced the very bad as well as the triumphantly good, I can say for certain that Yale athletics are something special, something to be supported and something to be admired. Yale athletics and all they entail embody everything this school should hope to be, and their calculated demise, everything it should not.