The bladderball appeared at 4 p.m. on a crisp October Friday in 1981. At first, students advanced deliberately, but their slow march forward soon gave way to frenzy. “A thousand people descended on one not-so-small leather sphere in the middle of Old Campus,” wrote one News columnist of the scene. “These normally rational students pushed and shoved and scraped and clawed at each other for over an hour, all for the glory of their college.”
Beckoned by homework and dinner, the crowd eventually dwindled. Orange-clad student marshals responsible for maintaining order throughout the game rolled the ball through Phelps Gate and into a waiting garbage truck at around 4:50 p.m. The truck then sped away, officially ending the contest. That Monday, the News reported that the departing vehicle later deposited its bounty at the paper’s own offices, where staffers claimed the prize “as a symbol of yet another Daily News bladderball victory” — their 26th consecutive win.
That year, President Salovey’s first on campus as a graduate student, marked the second to last time Yalies played bladderball freely. Then-University President A. Bartlett Giamatti banned the 30-year tradition in 1982 after the game left several students hospitalized. “It is the nature of this event that no set of rules can guarantee that such injuries will not occur in the future,’’ Giamatti told The New York Times.
Yalies have tried to revive bladderball three times amidst this ongoing ban. The first revival, in 2009, lasted 40 minutes. Two years later, the second game ended after only 11 minutes of play.
Last Sunday’s bladderball was the quickest yet: A police officer seized and popped the ball within seconds. Out-of-breath students, myself included, watched the brightly colored sphere deflate like a sad and sorry Mylar birthday balloon.
But the subsequent chorus of “boos” made clear that, even 30 years later, students still want bladderball back. Perhaps now is finally time to lift the ban.
Today’s bladderball would likely differ from the concerning free-for-all of games past. The pushing, shoving, scraping and clawing that were once intrinsic to the event are no longer inevitabilities. Decades ago, bladderball customarily entailed excessive drinking and outlandish pranks, but the fleet of eager, sober players assembled on Sunday shows us neither phenomenon need define the tradition. Columnist Christian Vazquez ’13 alluded to this safer, saner bladderball in his op-ed following the 2011 game, writing that “the [bladderball] of today is not the raucous mob of yesteryear. When a student fell or tripped, the group was conscientious enough to stop and help them back up.”
Moreover, the current bladderball ban disincentivizes students from establishing clear boundaries and safety measures; perversely, the ban all but ensures the dangers that administrators fear will come to pass. Of course bladderball remains unsafe in a climate where upperclassmen might face disciplinary action for distributing rules, and as consequence some freshmen believe the end goal is transporting the ball through blocks of traffic to Timothy Dwight rather than one corner of Old Campus. Lifting the ban would dispel misconceptions and enable organizers to enforce actual standards of conduct, plus reintroduce precautions like the student marshal system.
This University faces issues bigger than bladderball — I get that. Still, even independent of the ban’s future, I can’t help feeling this year’s unprecedented aggressive response to bladderball symbolizes a troubling pattern of swift, almost shockingly cold, unilateral administrative action. The immediate, violent destruction of the bladderball — with no attempt to understand, negotiate with or even placate the student body — sits poorly in the wake of yesterday’s smugly scheduled meetings about cultural centers and divestment; the full-speed-ahead expansion of the colleges; and even earlier restrictions on social events like Greek recruitment, tailgating and Safety Dance.
In the end, even if administrators choose not to lift the Bladderball ban, what harm can allowing five or 10 minutes of volleying do? Next time, I predict even 15 minutes of bladderball would pass without incident. I have it on good authority that the News will keep its garbage truck at home.
Marissa Medansky is a senior in Morse College and a former opinion editor for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.