We are mentally and physically exhausted, sleep deprived and behind on our school work. Our bodies ache and we long for an ounce of time off to rest and recover from our intensive six-day a week, year-round schedule.
We have every justification to choose one of the three elevators we pass on our journey to the fourth floor, but every single one of us makes the decision to take each of the 71 arduous, grinding steps to our weight room in Payne Whitney. Every time. No excuses.
Each stair that we take represents our view of Yale Football at its core –– committing to a system that is centered around relationships and selflessly puts each and every one of your brothers from the last 147 years before yourself. Each stair represents the pride we take in wearing the jersey that represents our school and taking part in one of the most historic football teams in the country.
The gift of attending a school like Yale is being exposed to other students who are quite literally the best in the world at what they do. Every single person on this campus is gifted in so many ways and contributes to why I love this school. As members of the athletic community, we are forced to deal with the challenges, failures and consequences of being a college student.
I only wish that as Yale athletes we felt lifted up by the community we attempt to support rather than feeling ostracized in so many ways. It may surprise you to know that my teammates and I are some of Yale University’s biggest fans and supporters across a diverse offering of disciplines and extracurriculars. Some of my own fondest memories at Yale include attending my suitemate’s a cappella concerts and touring museums with my society. We try to exemplify and spread the values that have been ingrained through our culture as a team, a culture made so much more potent by the sacrifices we have made as Yale athletes.
For these reasons, I found myself exasperated when an op-ed urged Yale to stop admitting athletes and claimed that we do not deserve to be here. Some professors have recommended that I wear non-football branded clothing to class because wearing it apparently implies that I am academically inferior to my peers. I have even been asked to sign a petition seeking to dismantle Yale’s football team.
But it’s in these moments that I remember the values I stand for as a member of this extraordinary program. Yale was once the epicenter of football. One could even venture to call us the Crimson Tide of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Twenty-seven national championships, two Heisman trophy winners and over 900 total wins speak for themselves. This year, despite an 8–1 record and a chance to clinch our second Ivy League Championship in three seasons, our stadium has seldom reached ten percent of its 65,000-person capacity. Even for the biggest game of the year, our fans will slowly trickle into The Bowl all the way into the third quarter, and we will never reach peak capacity, but none of this stops us from taking those 71 stairs each and every day.
When I committed to play football here, I knew exactly what I was signing up for and will forever be grateful for the opportunities that I have been afforded as a part of my journey. Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned during my time at Yale have not come from the classroom. They came from sitting in team meetings and learning tangible and applicable lessons about building relationships, overcoming adversity and persevering when your body and mind are begging you to quit. I have been pushed to both physical and mental limits more frequently than I would like to acknowledge, but these lessons are integral to the man I am becoming. One of the few things I know for certain is that the perspectives and experiences gained from my time with Yale Football will last a lifetime.
I vividly remember the controversy last season with regards to student ticket distribution for The Game at Fenway Park. I remember the frustration my teammates and I felt fielding complaints, reading articles and seeing angry social media posts. Students on campus were aggravated by the early wakeup call and forced to either skip breakfast or show up late to their 9:00am class in order to secure their ticket to The Game — and they had every right to be upset. The bureaucratic process of receiving tickets forced them to make an unfair and unwarranted sacrifice. This situation that was shared by our entire University population was a perfect representation of the dichotomy that I have felt as a student athlete every day of my college career. Fielding complaints about not being able to get a ticket to our biggest game of the year, when our stadium stood empty without students for every other Saturday during the season felt ironic and hurtful. None of this, however, has stopped us from taking the stairs for each other.
What some do not see, but I know so many do experience, are the daily sacrifices that are made to represent our University as student athletes. We wake up at 4:15 a.m. most days during the second semester to work out in the freezing snow and slush to the point of physical exhaustion and vomiting, only to show up late to our morning classes without breakfast or a shower –– the same dilemma I know so many of you face on ticket distribution day every year. We have difficulty eating meals in the dining halls most nights and are inhibited from taking certain classes because of our athletic schedule. We often are left to choose between academic commitments and rehabbing our broken bodies. When I am tired, when I am in pain, when it is well past midnight and I am just starting my problem set that was due the previous day, I know that there are 100 other guys on this campus who understand the hurdles I am facing and still choose to take the stairs the following morning for me. I take the stairs for each and every one of them.
I also know that so many of my peers are facing their own struggles every day, ones that my teammates and I cannot see, but know you all experience. To claim that our battles as Yale athletes are more important or more difficult to conquer than others is a fallacy. So next time you’re in Payne Whitney, consider taking the stairs with us, and we will start taking them for you too.
Sam Tuckerman is a senior in Saybrook College and kicker on Team 147.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.