I remember watching in shock as the Yale and Harvard football teams returned to their locker rooms instead of kicking off the second half of the Game this fall. It hadn’t surprised me to see a few dozen protesters take the field after the halftime show for a protest — I expected them to stay just long enough to get their message across before walking back to their seats for the rest of this historic matchup. When the players left the field, I felt the wind change. We’d entered into the surreal.
For many of us, sports make sense in a world that doesn’t. There are rules, awards and schedules that we can count on, which are so often absent from school, politics and our daily lives. On Nov. 23, the gridiron order of football was disrupted by a group of committed activists from Fossil Free Yale and Divest Harvard. Their plea was to remember that we have hurt and continue to hurt Mother Nature every day, and that she will eventually exact her revenge. She cares little for our homes, our lives and least of all, our sports.
In these early months of 2020, as Mother Nature gives us a reminder of the power she holds over us, I can’t help thinking back to halftime at the Game. I believe that for many people, the suspension of athletic seasons was the wake-up call alerting them to the gravity of the coronavirus crisis. Personally, news from the top flight of Italian soccer provided a dismaying timeline to my chaotic month studying abroad there this spring. Several matches were postponed the weekend my program in Ferrara was closed. After I was hurriedly moved to Rome, matches were being played behind closed doors. Within a week, there were players with the virus and the whole league had been suspended. Like a chain of dominoes, nearly all of the world’s major sports championships collapsed, from Europe’s domestic soccer leagues, to the Champions League, to March Madness, to the NBA, to the NHL.
I returned from Italy a day before the country went into lockdown to an oblivious America. While Italy had few models to look toward for the spread and containment of the coronavirus other than the unreliable source of authoritarian China, America could easily turn to other democracies for a guide to proactively deal with the virus. Instead, the federal government, as well as most American citizens — from what I gauged in my hometown from the crowded cafes and the college students squeezing in their last ragers of the truncated semester — did nothing. Coronavirus numbers in the United States have continued to “follow to a T” the graphs from unprepared countries like Italy. We were 10 days ahead and yet we decided to wait and see whether we’d be hit the same way before we reacted.
The parallels between America’s coronavirus response and its attitude toward climate change are unsettling. We ignore expert predictions when they foresee dire consequences from carrying on with our way of life. We are reluctant to acknowledge that there are some situations bigger than us, that require drastic changes. Our politicians and leaders saw coronavirus bearing down on them like a freight train, and decided to wait until the last second to scramble. Only time will tell whether they made it out in time. The good news is that while there will never be a miracle vaccine for global warming, we can curb its effects now, without locking ourselves in our homes. Climate change has given us more time and leeway to prepare than coronavirus.
In November, I felt that there was something disrespectful in the climate protest at the Game, not only to the players and coaches, but to the very laws of sport. It was a gut feeling. How can it be allowed to interrupt this glorious rivalry playing out under a beautiful, clear afternoon sky to worry about future, seemingly unrelated problems?
Today, I think the protesters couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time and place. What may have made it more effective would have been framing the demonstration, rather than as an interruption of an important Yale event, as a direct address to the world of sport, a warning of what lies in store. Athletes, managers and fans around the world should be the first to recognize, as we sail into this uncharted territory, the danger that threatens those things we take most for granted. It’s finally possible to appreciate the reality that sports as we know them won’t be played in an economy shattered by climate change, in stadiums sinking under rising seas.
I urge you to take steps now to reduce your carbon footprint, if only in the hopes of seeing Yale trounce Harvard at the Game for many, many years to come.
MATTHEW KLEINER is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .