In many ways, my days here at Yale have been colored by athletics. I have had some of my happiest memories at games: tailgating the Harvard and Princeton football games; dragging a grill out to the hockey rink before our playoff match against Dartmouth; wearing costumes and getting just a liiiittle bit too rowdy at the Quinnipiac hockey games; having a party with the gymnastics team and their parents after senior night; watching lacrosse win a national championship with friends from home who became die-hard Yalies during the tournament; holding up signs at the basketball Ivy playoffs and watching Yale in March Madness at Mory’s; watching women’s volleyball win what feels like a hundred Ivy League titles. The list is endless.
And from the very outset of my tenure here, I was surrounded by athletes. Trumbull assigned me to the “athletes’ suite,” where I, two football players, a lacrosse player and a heavyweight and a lightweight rower all shared a room in Bingham D.
And although everyone was an athlete, we could not have been more dissimilar. From our racial makeups, to our nationalities, to our socioeconomic status, to our intellectual interests, we were all so very different. And I have tried to make this element of athletics at Yale a focal point of the column I have written here.
Since the first day of my first fall, I have written about sports for the News. This piece, in fact, is the 97th and final collection of inadequately phrased words I will publish in our newspaper’s pages. Throughout those four years, I have tried to show how athletics at Yale are a place where diversity can and does flourish. And this should be the case. For athletics everywhere are the best example of a meritocracy — where the barrier to success is talent and talent alone. Sports are the path out of rough neighborhoods and over inherited disadvantages for so many men and women.
I have tried to show when this is the case at Yale. I have written about SAY at Yale, our LGBTQ support group for student-athletes. And I retold the triumphs in our history, like when our women’s crew team painted Title IX across their chests and backs and demanded — and received — an equal allocation of resources as the men’s team received.
But I have also tried to write honestly about when athletics has failed in this highest aim. I have touched on the lack of diversity in our athletic administration and coaching staffs. And I have written about the struggles of ex-athletes in leaving their teams, one of whom walked away because, as the only black man on a majority-white team, he felt he did not belong. Certainly, he is not alone in this feeling.
But throughout those four years of my writing, like clockwork, there is some column or some op-ed that hides behind a fabricated intellectual barricade and lobs the tried and trite buzzwords disparaging our athletes, claiming they shouldn’t be here and arguing that athletic excellence should not be considered in applications.
In fact, I became a columnist when I was tasked with responding to one of these articles in my sophomore year.
I have come across so many people in my time here who do not understand sports and who are absolutely incapable of conceiving why anyone would care about athletics — nevermind why anyone would care about teams for which they don’t play. But I do understand their opinions. What to many looks like fools running around in short shorts and long socks, kicking a ball in opposite directions, looks to me like a beautiful collective action articulated through calculation and rendered possible through countless hours of practice. To see the former and not the latter is perfectly okay. But what upsets me is the writ-large disparagement of those who have committed themselves to athletics.
I hope we are better than that moving forward. I hope we do a better job of cultivating an appreciation for athletics and our athletes. It would be a start to recognize the sheer physical difficulty of daily two-a-days, of 6:00 a.m. lifts, of the ridiculous diet plans. It would be a start to recognize all that athletes give up: not going out for half of the year, not taking afternoon seminars and sections, not becoming involved in many extracurriculars. But it would do best for people to realize that to become a great athlete is also a mental battle — the battle for focus, the battle for perfection, the battle for leadership. And we do best when we let our athletes lead off the court, when we let them speak, rather than telling them to “shut up and dribble.”
It feels only fitting that with my final words in this paper, I would make this final request.
And, to the one or two of you who are not my mom that have read some of what I have written, I also want to thank you. It has been an honor.
Kevin Bendesky | firstname.lastname@example.org