On Saturday, legions of Yale undergraduates will awake at heretofore-unseen hours of the morning. They will meander over to their minifridges, reluctantly pull out the orange juice and locate the plastic vodka jug in the corner of their rooms. By 8 a.m., Taylor Swift will have awakened the ignoramuses who thought they could sleep in. By nightfall, every hero who didn’t pass out face-first into a bedsheet, frat-couch or toilet will have migrated to Toad’s Place. Everyone else will go to sleep, content with simply surviving Yale’s best day of the year.
But not every Yalie gets to experience Spring Fling. If you play a spring sport at Yale, this upcoming Saturday probably still means waking up at an ungodly hour of the morning to the sound of the person blasting Taylor Swift on your travel bus and passing out face-first into a bedsheet, frat-couch or toilet upon your return. When you fall asleep, however, you won’t be lulled into somnolence by your drunken stupor but instead will pass out from pure exhaustion and the sober reality that this Saturday will be no different from the hundreds of others you have spent competing on the baseball, lacrosse, crew or other team you have devoted your life to at Yale.
Missing Spring Fling is just one of the many sacrifices athletes at this school have to make in the name of their sports. It is a shame that 10 percent of the undergraduate student body can’t day drink and sweatily bob around to a couple of C-list artists, but it is a sacrifice student-athletes signed up for when they came to the school. Sports should come first, and I think most Division I athletes would agree. While Yale has tried to move Spring Fling to a different day of the week, the rest of the school should not have to sacrifice a day of reading week just so that student-athletes can drink and party as well.
But what features of the Yale experience, other than the relatively trivial Spring Fling day, do student-athletes have to miss because their coaches prioritize sports above all else?
At 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, every residential college will have its Senior Dinner to commemorate the four amazing years students have spent at Yale. It is a momentous occasion that only occurs once in a Yale career. Speeches are given. Tears are shed. Sirloin beef is consumed. And any student-athlete who has Tuesday practice is probably going to have to miss it.
The Senior Dinner isn’t the only thing that happens at 5:30 on a Tuesday. When my roommate gave his Mellon Forum, a 20-minute speech seniors give concerning research they have done for their senior essay, earlier this year, two of his best friends on the baseball team rushed into the Davenport Common room 15 minutes late, making it just in time for the acknowledgements. They, of course, had practice.
Grand Strategy, a two-semester program unique to Yale and taught by esteemed professors and intellectuals like John Gaddis, Charlie Hill and David Brooks, is a two-hour seminar on Monday afternoons generally followed by a catered dinner. It is an awesome Yale experience, but it is one that Yale student-athletes can never have. And it’s not just Grand Strategy; many athletes cannot take any class offered during the late afternoon.
I am not saying that sports teams at Yale shouldn’t have practice or that student-athletes should get to miss practice for banal reasons. But I am saying that positions on sports teams are not meant to be 40-hour-a-week jobs and that they should not be prioritized over a college student’s educational experience. If someone wants to major in mechanical engineering, they shouldn’t have to quit the football team to do so. Sports should augment and enhance a student’s time in college, not dominate it. But forcing rowers to practice at the expense of their Senior Dinner does just that.
Prioritizing sports above every other aspect of the Yale undergraduate experience widens the divide between athletes and nonathletes on campus. It fosters resentment that leads to student-athletes hating their sport and nonathletes hating student-athletes. Sports at Yale should be competitive, and those who participate in them should do so with dedication and commitment. But that dedication and commitment never should come at the expense of a student’s ability to be the best student they can be or, even worse, their happiness.
Student-athletes have a very important place at Yale, but there is a reason the word “student” comes before the word “athlete.” Everyone at Yale, heavyweight rower and lightweight drinker, should get to take advantage of the holistic experience an institution like Yale offers. Student-athletes don’t have to be allowed to go to Spring Fling, but let them go to their Senior Dinner. Let them take Grand Strategy. Let them attend a College Tea or their friend’s Mellon Forum. Most importantly, let them have fun. Isn’t that the purpose of sports, and college, anyway?
Noah Asimow is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .