Last week, I wrote a column in the Sports section discussing my Yale football experience and the love my teammates have for each other. I detailed the sacrifices — academic, social and health-related — a student-athlete makes on a daily basis and the unique struggles that accompany this commitment. I shared how we often feel underappreciated and how even on our biggest game of the season, we are a mere afterthought. This year was certainly no different.
As most already know, towards the end of halftime of this year’s iteration of The Game, several dozen students stormed the field with banners and megaphones in an attempt to protest the current investment strategies of Harvard and Yale’s endowments. There’s no doubt that our endowments have garnered scrutiny over the past few years. Given the current student debt crisis, one could even argue that their size alone, irrespective of the investments, is ironic at best and ignominious at worst.
While I acknowledge that these are all very real issues and our universities must grapple with their role in exacerbating or assuaging these problems, I also vehemently condemn the manner in which last Saturday’s protest occurred. Please note, however, that I am speaking for no one other than myself and not as a representative for my teammates, my coaches or the athletic department.
Yes, a protest is inherently supposed to be disruptive. Notable examples, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the late ’60s to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem more recently, have generated a spirited national reckoning. But neither protest directly inconvenienced innocent bystanders. This protest, however, left all football players on both rosters as mere pawns in a standoff that nearly compromised all 136 years of the storied rivalry.
It is a shame to me that the protest functioned just as much as an attack on Yale’s Athletic Department as it was an event to raise awareness for significant issues. First off, I struggle to understand why the protesters waited until both bands finished performing their halftime shows to storm the field. Interrupting their classmates’ musical performance was off-limits, but the athletic competition was fair game. Obviously, I am not suggesting that it would be acceptable to disrupt the bands’ performance — because it wouldn’t be either — yet the protesters’ choice is a telling one.
Another issue I had with the protest is the selection of The Game itself. There has been a plethora of equally important and nationally covered events on campus this year, most of which are unrelated to Yale Athletics. Why did they pick The Game over the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s Halloween Concert, Convocation or James Comey’s visit? I can’t help but see this as a calculated attack on student athletes’ worth as Ivy League students.
Without a doubt, our game provided them with the largest stage possible, a platform that my teammates and I have worked tirelessly to obtain. The protesters didn’t value The Game itself nor the recognition Yale Football has earned over our 147 years of existence, but they opportunistically stole the spotlight that comes as a direct result of both. They valued our audience, but the countless hours of intense training, all the early mornings, the gruesome injuries and the painful rehab every person on our roster has given over their career to accumulate such a large audience were expendable in the protesters’ eyes.
They also almost altered the outcome. The Ivy League announced that had the game gone into one more overtime period, it would have been canceled before finishing because of a lack of light and safety for the players. Thus, the game would have ended in a tie, Dartmouth would have been crowned the outright league champion and we would be stripped of our crown. These protesters were minutes away from costing us a chance at history because of how long they deemed it necessary to disrupt our game.
As I reflect on last Saturday’s protest, I find the hypocrisy glaring. Nearly compromise 100+ years of tradition by prolonging halftime, yet deliberately steal the spotlight that the same athletes they disrupted have worked to create? Protest the human-caused degradation of our environment, yet leave the designated student tailgate area littered with trash?
A riot, Martin Luther King Jr. said, is the voice of the unheard. But I find the protesters’ deliberate choice to delay the game distasteful when there were so many other ways to be heard. For example, they could have stood outside the stadium with their bullhorns and banners, and they could have even done the same from the stands. Even temporarily storming the field would have produced similar attention without compromising the game.
The fact that the game ended in the way it did will only cement these protesters’ place in history. After the game, a vast majority of the media attention was dedicated to the protesters, and not the athletes. All the pictures associated with these articles are not of players, but rather the trespassers. Between the GoFundMe designed to pay the legal fees of those arrested, the tweets from presidential candidates offering their support and the overall narrative that a protest for an issue plaguing our world is justifiably allowed to happen because it was only interrupting a sporting event, we have once again been marginalized on our own stage. The protesters became the face of our game, but I am here to offer an alternative headline.
This game will go down as the most historic Harvard vs. Yale game of all time and arguably as one of the most famous games in the history of college football. The double-overtime thriller will be remembered for the blood, sweat and tears that 100 members of both rosters sacrificed over their careers to make a game like this happen. The game will be etched in stone for the historic 14-point comeback that my team made with just over a minute on the clock to force overtime. This game will be memorialized for the onside kick that succeeded against all odds. While the protest will always be a part of the story written about this game, it deserves no more recognition than that of a footnote.
Protests will continue to be a crucial part of our national dialogue in the same way that climate change will only become a more pressing issue in the coming years. No matter how laudable the cause, I hope you can acknowledge and support my disappointment in the lack of empathy and awareness shown by the protesters towards members of both teams.
SAM TUCKERMAN is a senior in Saybrook College and is the kicker for Team 147. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .