The stands in Providence, Rhode Island’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center were packed with fans in navy blue on Thursday as the Yale men’s basketball team upset Baylor for its first NCAA Tournament victory. But absent were the many Yale students and alumni who have not felt comfortable supporting the team given the controversy surrounding former captain Jack Montague.
Montague was expelled on Feb. 10 after an alleged incident of non-consensual sex with a female student, and his lawyer announced Monday that Montague plans to file a lawsuit against the University. At the team’s Feb. 26 game against Harvard — weeks before rumored allegations of sexual misconduct were officially confirmed — players came out for warm-ups wearing shirts customized with Montague’s jersey number and nickname.
The shirts caused significant controversy on campus, including the appearance of posters featuring team members wearing the T-shirts, calling on players to “stop supporting a rapist.” In the weeks following, even as the team plays its best season in decades, some students and supporters have struggled to celebrate players’ success given their public displays of support for Montague.
“I think people have a right to be proud of Yale’s accomplishment, but we still need to be talking about the destructive way in which they have affected our campus climate,” said a Yale student and survivor who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “Changing your [Facebook] profile picture by clicking that button that says ‘Click here to support the Yale Basketball Team’ makes survivors feel like you’ve conveniently forgotten about us.”
The team published a statement on March 9 reaffirming its commitment to “a healthy, safe and respectful campus climate,” writing that players’ actions were meant as a show of support for a former teammate and were not intended to cause pain. The statement included an apology for any inadvertent hurt. In subsequent press conferences and interviews, individual players have expressed much the same message, referring to Montague as a “brother.”
But these messages from the team have not ameliorated lingering hurt and resentment toward the team, and this fact has not escaped faculty. Saybrook College Master Thomas Near sent an email to Saybrook students on March 16, the day before Yale’s first-round NCAA game, sharing thoughts from a “productive discussion” that occurred within Saybrook in the days leading up to the game.
“Some of us who were troubled by these events [involving the men’s basketball team] are encouraged by the team’s public apology on March 9,” Near wrote. “Others in our community do not feel comfortable supporting the team in any capacity. We collectively respect the views of all members of Saybrook College and affirm that sexual respect is a core value of our community.”
Many who are not comfortable rooting for the team argue that the team’s actions have a broader impact on Yale’s sexual climate. Much of this debate has played out over social media:
Who do you think is more devastated today: Baylor or the survivors of sexual assault at Yale being silenced in favor or a basketball team?
— Noah Remnick (@NoahRemnick) March 17, 2016
Forty-eight people retweeted Remnick, many of them current or former Yale students.
“The reason I cannot support the men’s basketball team is really simple; I can’t support an organization that has fostered rape culture on our campus and derailed conversations about sexual violence and assault,” Joshua Tranen ’18, who has also been vocal on Twitter, told the News. “It would take a whole lot of cognitive dissonance for me to cheer on the Yale basketball team while less than a month ago they were publicly supporting their captain who was expelled for sexual misconduct.”
Tranen said although he recognizes the historical significance of Yale’s NCAA Tournament berth, the pervasiveness of rape culture is a larger issue. He added that the problem is not limited to Yale, and that multiple other universities, including some whose men’s basketball teams are in the NCAA Tournament, are facing similar cases at their schools.
Still, other students said they were able to separate the team’s performance on the court from the controversy surrounding its players.
“In my opinion, the team’s performance has overshadowed the recent events,” said Celine Yeap ’19, a member of the women’s squash team. “They worked hard to get to where they are, and I think all we Yalies and Bulldogs want to see is a great basketball game.”
Some have countered Yeap’s point by arguing that celebrating the team’s success places a higher premium on college athletics than on the consequence of the team’s actions on survivors, but she is not alone in her views. Several hundred Yale students and fans showed up to support the team at Thursday’s game. In order to help students get to the game — 109 miles from campus — Yale athletics offered subsidized tickets and transportation to the venue.
Elizabeth Bernabe ’17, a member of the women’s golf team, said she did not want to discredit the team’s competitive success and recognizes the “time and dedication it takes to be a successful athlete.” Bernabe and her teammates watched the game together during the team’s spring training trip in Utah.
“For me, the controversies surrounding the basketball team haven’t influenced my decision to support them,” Bernabe said. “The win itself is an amazing feat, and I’m sure the men on the team worked hard to beat Baylor [on Thursday].”
Still, for some, the decision to support the team required considerable thought. One student who attended Thursday’s game said although he has always been a fan of March Madness, he had second thoughts before deciding to make the trip to Providence. Mallet Njonkem ’18, who followed the game online, said it was only after “much thought and deliberation” that he decided to continue supporting Yale’s sports teams.
For his part, men’s basketball head coach James Jones has called for the focus to stay on basketball.
“This is the first time we’ve made the tournament since ,” Jones said in a press conference Wednesday after being asked a question about Montague. “We are one of the best defensive teams in the country. We are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. So I think that’s a great story. And I’d like to tell that one going forward.”
Co-president of the Yale Basketball Association Butch Graves ’84, who attended Thursday’s game, also said the University community should be focused on celebrating what the team has achieved in its season.
The Dunkin’ Donuts Center was at 90 percent capacity for the Yale-Baylor matchup, with a total of 11,656 people in attendance.