Yale women’s soccer has been a hot topic for more than a month now. The media requests, the stares at our soccer team sweatshirts as we walk by, the texts from high school classmates whom we haven’t talked to in years are all forms of attention that our team hasn’t received in recent memory. If we had any sort of tangible success over the past few years — perhaps in the form of an Ivy League championship or a berth in the NCAA, or even just a few more W’s on our schedule — maybe we would have garnered all of this attention in a positive way. Maybe the media would ask us how great we feel, rather than how terrible. Maybe the stares would engender pride in our gear, rather than shame. Maybe the texts from high school classmates would feel validating, rather than obnoxious. But Yale women’s soccer hasn’t had any real success to speak of for the past 13 seasons since the 2005 team won an Ivy League championship. Yes, that is more than a decade. There have been moments of success. We opened the 2017 season with six wins for the first time in Yale women’s soccer history; we blanked Harvard the same year 3-0; we denied Columbia the Ivy League trophy for two years in a row in the last minutes of the games. But the truth is, these successes came in spite of, not because of, our program. Without disrespecting the prowess of other teams or making excuses for times where we could have played better, we have not been given the opportunity to be truly successful. In fact, we have been denied this opportunity outright.
The media is mostly interested in how terrible it feels to have been on a team coached by a man who cared more about lining his pockets than coaching us and who threw away one of our precious few recruiting spots. And yes, thanks for asking, it does feel terrible. But today, I’m here to give you a different story. It’s not just the story of betrayal by Rudy Meredith or Rick Singer, because you already know that one. It’s a story of betrayal by Yale Athletics, and more broadly, Yale University. It’s a story of running uphill against the wind; of the hollow feeling of learning to accept defeat on and off the field year after year; and of watching our hopes and dreams for college soccer slip away, in so many ways out of our control.
With the risk of sounding hackneyed and perhaps entitled in the midst of urgent conversations about the Student Income Contribution and the Program of Ethnicity, Race and Migration, what the women’s soccer scandal threw most vigorously in my face was Yale’s tendency to be reactive rather than proactive at the expense of, and in spite of, its students.
No one could have predicted an inside scandal of this degree. But for over 10 years, Yale women’s soccer players have raised serious and urgent concerns about the state of our program, and we’ve been completely ignored and undermined. From sexist pregame speeches to counterproductive or nonexistent practice sessions, to flagrant power abuses resulting in a plagiarism scandal, my three seasons at Yale have been marked by coaching that was, at best, incompetent. We recognized that we weren’t being given the treatment we deserved: Every year, the graduating seniors met with former Athletics Director Tom Beckett to voice our experiences and concerns. Unfortunately, it became an annual ritual to leave these meetings defeated, knowing that the Athletic Department wasn’t going to change anything. Not only did the department fail to take any action, these complaints would mysteriously get back to Meredith, who would then confront players about them. Let’s talk about power dynamics for a second: Our team would raise complaints and demands to the highest-ranking member of the Athletic Department and, rather than being heard or benefitting from programmatic improvements, we were reprimanded, and nothing changed.
Now cue the admissions scandal. Cue University President Peter Salovey’s email, lamenting that “Yale has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by a former coach who no longer works at the university.” Just to clarify, President Salovey: Rudy Meredith no longer works at the University because he resigned right before the scandal broke, rather than because of any action that you took. And while we’re on the topic of resigning, it feels worth noting that former Athletics Director Beckett resigned just in time to avoid the consequences of protecting Meredith at the expense of the well-being of Yale women’s soccer players and the success of the program. Beckett may not have known about Meredith’s illegal behavior, but it happened on his watch (and we gave him every reason to be watching closely), and now current Athletics Director Vicky Chun, who has made our team feel nothing but validated and heard, has to clean up the pieces.
We players never gave up. My teammates and I, and the alumnae before us, still spent countless hours each week practicing, lifting, doing homework on buses and icing our legs in the training room, while our coach and the Athletic Department actively worked against our success. It’s been exhausting, demoralizing and more than anything, it’s been classic. Classic in that, for years, our concerns and needs as athletes were dismissed as emotional, dramatic, insignificant. Classic in that we were punished for raising these concerns, rather than heard. Classic in that as soon as our program became national news and Yale was negatively implicated, our feelings were valid. Suddenly, our coach was “really as bad as you said he was!!”
It shouldn’t have taken a national scandal and bad press for Yale to care. Our coach was a bad coach a decade before he accepted a bribe at the expense of our program. In fact, he accepted a bribe because until Vicky Chun was hired, Rudy Meredith was immune to any consequences for his actions. Our experiences shouldn’t be validated because it turns out our old coach is a federal criminal. Our experiences should have been validated because they were always real and always unacceptable. We have not been treated with the respect or the decency we deserve as Division I athletes and as students at Yale University.
So, Yale, listen to us. Not because one day one of your employees might be on the front page of The New York Times, and not because The Wall Street Journal will question your character, but because when we voice our concerns and our needs, we don’t do it to garner attention or pick a fight. We do it because we are living these experiences, and we’re doing it with your name across our chests.
Thankfully, we now have a stellar coaching staff who cares deeply about the program. We have an incredible athletics director who has expressed her plans to prioritize all teams — including ours. We are thriving, but it’s no thanks to Yale. So when we play this fall, it’s not for Yale as we’ve known it. It’s for the Yale we want to see, one that shows up for its students. It’s for the people who have shown up to our games even when we were losing every single one of them. It’s for the people who have lifted us up, rather than held us down. It’s for our alumnae who weren’t granted the opportunity to succeed. It’s for us. And finally, to all the students who continue to suffer from Yale’s negligence, when we step onto the field at Reese Stadium this August: We’re playing for you.
Jane Buckley is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .