Well, here we are: the last issue of the News before we leave for the summer, and for some of us, before we leave forever. Today, however, I am writing with a call to action rather than a closing argument.
For weeks now, I’ve used this space to air my concerns about the state and future of Yale athletics. I’ve made good arguments, bad arguments and tried to outline both sides of the story (at least as far as my bias will allow). I have — I hope — at the very least voiced the concerns of a worried corps of Yalies past and present. At the most, I hope I have given members of the Yale community who have read my thoughts something to think about. But my goal, inspired by the response I’ve gotten over the past few months and my own feelings about Yale and its athletics, is change.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from my efforts as a Yale athlete is that change takes time. I will never forget the quote our strength trainer handed our team a few years ago, a metaphor about a stone cutter who hammers at his rock hundreds of times, seeing no effect, making seemingly no progress. Yet he persists, and finally, with one fateful blow just as he is wondering if his quest is futile, the rock splits in two.
We have to keep hammering, but unlike the stonecutter, our rock is not defenseless. Far from it, as the Yale administration has the power to decide the fate of athletics on a whim. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take action. It just means we, as Yale athletes and fans of Yale athletics, are at a familiar disadvantage. We’re used to fighting the odds, particularly the odds set by those in Woodbridge Hall, so if we are to effect change we must do it as we do every day on the field, in the weight room and in every aspect of our lives: with hard work, perseverance and class.
The administration, in this case, is like a bad referee: unbelievably frustrating. Like the bad referee, the administration puts you at a tremendous disadvantage. It feels better when you complain about it, but ultimately you have to deal with this figure as an obstacle to your goal. Regardless of whether a foul actually is, or a strike actually isn’t, the only choice you have is to control what you can and hope it’s enough.
And that is precisely what we must do. But here comes the tough part: We have to be better than we are right now. Preface this next section with a strong caveat — if anyone reading this thinks I am anything but the biggest supporter of every Yale athletic team, they haven’t gotten my message at all. But it is because of that love for Yale sports that I ask us to be better. For current Yale athletes, the administration has a clear perception of our place in this community, and it’s not a good one. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is a complete misconception. But that 1 percent is what gets remembered. Even the smallest of incidents involving Yale athletes justify everything being done in Woodbridge Hall to those doing them. Yes, things happen everywhere. But Yale isn’t everywhere. Yale tradition doesn’t exist everywhere, and it’s not everywhere that the administration is looking for a reason to ruin something so good and so important. We have to be better all the time.
It’s not as though Yalies of previous generations were perfect either. And I’m not saying we have to be perfect, just that we have to be better and smarter in how we craft the place and image of Yale athletics in the community. It’s not just the obvious stuff that shows up in the News every once in a while and gives rise to unfair stereotypes. It’s everything we do.
I’m as much an offender in fulfilling stereotypes of athletes as anyone else: it’s so easy after a long day of class and practice to go to your room, lock your door, and isolate yourself from the Yale community, or see only your team for days in a row. It’s something I regret having done for four years as I have tried to balance school, sports and other activities at the expense of fully experiencing my college. Athletes living off campus together rather than integrating themselves in their residential colleges — also an issue, but not at all a conscious knock on Yale life. The bonds forged on teams foster a mutual understanding that makes living together a natural choice. I get it. But we have to get creative here, and changes in how we interact with Yale in general — even if we are doing a good job 99 percent of the time — are a part of that.
That said, I want to make this clear: regardless of what is mentioned above, there is no team or athlete at Yale that owes the administration anything for being a Yale athlete. No apologies, no extra effort on behalf of this school other than a classy and concerted effort in the classroom and on the field, no feelings of inferiority. Nothing. Still, if we are going to incite change, we are going to have to go out of our way to do it. We have to make a positive stamp on the Yale community that is impossible to ignore, though I know we’ve tried already with a laundry list of community service projects, the Mandi Schwartz Bone Marrow Drive, etc. Yale athletes are doing good, but, to return to the bad referee analogy, the ones making the calls aren’t seeing the game the way they should.
Last week I wrote to express my frustrations with the use of statistics to say athletics are ruining the University environment. I stand by what I said: statistics tell a story, but they don’t tell every story, and I simply can’t justify relying entirely on numbers to determine the impact of an athletic scene here when its impact is as positive or negative as the people who are a part of it choose to make it. It’s that simple: it’s not sports that our administration has a problem with. It’s their place in the community as they see it. Their view is influenced by statistics in a variety of areas, and confirmed by a few isolated incidents over the years that cement the place of athletics in their short-sighted view. Anyone who is a Yale athlete or supporter of the Yale athletic program has to commit all they have to creating an image of Yale athletics as impossible to ignore, as an invaluable part of this Yale community: we shouldn’t have to, but we must start changing minds.
We’ve been here before: Yale athletes have to work harder and overcome greater odds than any team they take the field against, and have always had the responsibility (and privilege) of upholding a tradition more weighty than most. So we’re well-trained to fight for this cause, however steep the hill may seem. But we, as current Yalies, alumni or fans, are not alone in our quest: we have over a century of former Yalies who have made massive impacts in the world in a variety of capacities, but always with hearts tied to Yale. We who love Yale and know how important athletics are must remember there are centuries of Yalies who feel the same, but a decade of deterioration simply must be reversed. Even in a tradition centuries long, there are formative moments, those moments that make Yale what it is today. This is one of those moments. Lose Yale sports to irrelevance, and you lose a part of the Yale tradition that cannot be replaced or duplicated. Lose Yale sports, and you lose a part of Yale that has shaped this community and its alumni through the generations. Anyone who loves Yale sports has to act now. The trends are undeniable, and the future is dark. We must do all we can to show the administration that athletics are a part of this community and a tradition that it cannot do without. It will take a team effort, but unlike Yale sports teams crippled numerically by edicts from Woodbridge Hall, edicts that deeply slice the number of recruited athletes while requiring that recruits meet higher academic qualifying standards than any other school in the Ivy League, we have a loaded squad: Yalies past and present realize that this is a crucial moment, and Yalies past and present each have a different role to play in shaping a future grounded in the past. Not a past where numbers ruled and haughty academia reigned in New Haven, but rather a past where well-rounded character and hard work in all facets of life was the distinct mark of a Yalie. Whether in alumni networks or in the actions of current Yale students, we must do all we can now or never, lest we lose the Yale we know and love forever.