Many of my fondest memories in my life have come while watching or playing sports.
I remember winning soccer city tournament games in penalty shootouts and rushing the game-winning player. I remember going bonkers in a Silliman suite watching my beloved Seahawks win the NFC Championship. And, of course, I remember celebrating after the Yale men’s hockey team shocked the world by beating Quinnipiac in 2013 for the national championship.
Add one more great moment to that ledger — because after Saturday’s 71–55 win over Columbia, the Yale men’s basketball team is going dancing for the first time in 54 years.
Watching the Bulldogs take it to Columbia was a beautiful sight to behold. All season long, Yale has won thanks to its rebounding ability and strong starting lineup, and this game was no different. The Elis held a 39–24 advantage on the glass, with swingman Nick Victor ’16 leading the way with a game-high 12.
And 63 of Yale’s 71 points were scored by its starters. Even though forward Justin Sears ’16 had just four (though he did post eight boards, five assists and three blocks), point guard Makai Mason ’18 was brilliant, pouring in 22 points to lead all scorers.
A year ago, the Bulldogs lost at Dartmouth in the final game of the regular season in the final seconds, and a week later fell against Harvard in the same manner. It was a brutal end to a fantastic campaign — but it also served to fuel this year’s squad.
Sears came back with something to prove, and the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year has improved his numbers from a year ago. Mason, replacing All-Ivy point guard Javier Duren ’15 in the starting lineup, has arguably been better than the St. Louis native, averaging 15.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. The low-post singer, Brandon Sherrod ’16, returned from a year with the Whiffenpoofs to set an NCAA record for consecutive field goals while altering innumerable shots in the paint.
It’s an incredible team, with an incredible story, and it deserves this chance to dance.
But it’s impossible to talk about the 2015–16 campaign without also mentioning former captain Jack Montague, who left the team almost a month ago. According to a recent statement by his father, Montague was apparently expelled, though the exact nature of the expulsion has only been hinted at by bulletin-board rumors. The University has yet to officially comment on his departure.
It’s not a coincidence that all of my favorite sports moments also brought people together. We’re social creatures by nature, and it’s so much more fun to compete and play when you have people you can count on by your side, whether as teammates or fellow fans.
But the reaction to Montague’s expulsion, or, specifically, the shirts his team wore to support him, have only served to divide this campus as evidenced by posters and Overheard at Yale posts. And that’s a shame.
Sports will never be a politics-free zone, nor should they be. People pay attention to sports. We idolize players as heroes, and that means that a statement or action by an athlete can have far greater repercussions than one might think.
I wish that the 17 guys on the team had considered that when they took to the court a week ago wearing those shirts. I wish they realized the impact their gesture would have in this community.
And I hope they can understand the hurt they’ve caused, apologize for their divisiveness and return to focusing on the tourney.
I’ve been on an athletic team and I know the bonds one can form with teammates. I know that Montague, as a team leader, has been a huge part of the season and of each player’s Yale career. I understand they want to support him.
But we don’t live in a vacuum.
An apology would go a long way toward bringing the campus back together. We can get back to rooting for a team that should unite us against whatever No. 3 or 4 seed gets the misfortune of playing us in the first round. And, of course, it would be the right thing to do.
The accomplishments of this Eli squad are truly remarkable. Wearing those shirts, however, has caused a major rift, and it casts a cloud over New Haven that is impossible to miss.
I want to be proud of this team. I am proud of this team. But I also expect and demand better from this team, and I hope the players — our classmates — can deliver.