BASEBALL: Yale captain writes widely shared open letter urging Ivy League to permit spring competition
Yale baseball catcher and captain Cal Christofori ’21 published the open letter less than a week after a memo to spring athletes warned that competition would likely not happen without “significant changes” in the state of the pandemic.
In a widely shared open letter to the Ivy League Council of Presidents published Wednesday afternoon, Yale baseball captain and catcher Cal Christofori ’21 emphasized his desire to compete this spring and that a safe spring season was feasible. The league has not yet announced a final decision for spring competition.
Christofori released his letter, which has garnered more than 300 retweets and 1,500 likes on Twitter as of Wednesday night, less than a week after the Ivy League sent a “status update” on the possibility of spring-sport competition to spring athletes and coaches. The Ancient Eight’s update was the league’s first official communication regarding spring athletics since last November, when the conference canceled the winter sports season and delayed all spring competition through at least February. Last week’s memo warned that competition would not likely be feasible without “significant changes” in the state of the pandemic but emphasized that the Ivy League Council of Presidents had refrained from making a final decision on the status of spring competition.
“I am writing to you as a senior on the Yale baseball team to emphasize and reinforce the importance of having a spring sports season this year,” Christofori wrote in the first paragraph of his letter. “We have seen effective COVID-19 health and safety protocols be implemented across a range of intercollegiate sports already, and are confident they can be more than upheld in the Ivy League this spring. Furthermore, with student-athletes having the ability to forego the season and retain eligibility, they are free to make decisions regarding individual health and safety independently.”
The Ivy League did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
In an interview with the News Wednesday evening, Christofori said that he wrote the letter because the prospects of playing seemed “uncertain.” As a senior, Christofori said he felt that it was his duty to share his thoughts publicly.
The captain’s letter was not the only statement shared in Ivy League baseball circles this week. On Monday, Brown pitcher John Torroella also took to Twitter to argue that the Ivy League should have a spring season and that it has had ample time to plan for a safe return. He argued that baseball, as an outdoor activity with relatively infrequent person-to-person contact, is a sport well-suited for social distancing and public health protocols.
Christofori spoke to some teammates and fellow seniors for input but emphasized that the letter was “player-driven” and that coaches were not involved in the drafting process. When asked if other baseball captains around the Ivy League were involved in the letter, Christofori said this letter was purely a Yale product.
“We have tried our best to handle this situation with class and respect for the league, but we have reached somewhat of a breaking point where student-athletes are forced to make tough decisions,” Christofori said. “I’m sure most athletes across the league are feeling similar about the situation. We understand the pandemic poses challenges, but just want an opportunity [to play].”
Christofori and Torroella posted their statements after Power Five conferences staged fall-sport competition and as more than 300 schools continue to compete in Division I basketball, though not without complications caused by the pandemic. Positive tests have repeatedly caused game cancellations and postponements, and a New York Times analysis published in early December calculated that more than 6,600 college athletes had been infected with the virus — a number they noted did not include the fans or auxiliary employees who contracted the virus attending games or working alongside athletes.
At Yale, where teams have not competed and not all students were invited back to campus this school year, three clusters emerged on campus this fall, including one on the men’s hockey team. During the fall semester, varsity teams spent 44 days with no in-person activity in Phase 0 of the Ivy League’s phased practice approach, 33 days in Phase I with limited strength and conditioning, six days in Phase II with sport-specific drills and zero days in Phase III.
Before the Ivy League’s memo to spring athletes last week, Yale baseball alumnus and current Miami grad transfer Benny Wanger ’19, whose Hurricanes start their season at No. 1 Florida on Feb. 19, used Twitter to voice his frustration with the Ivy League’s decision-making process. Men’s basketball senior forward Paul Atkinson ’21 also spoke out immediately after the league’s decision to cancel winter sports, expressing appreciation for the emphasis on health and safety but criticizing what he called “terrible communication” to student-athletes.
“For Cal, as a current student-athlete, it takes a lot of courage to make a public statement like that,” Wanger said. “Many people in this situation would think about what kind of backlash might come of it, so personally, I couldn’t be more proud of Cal for making his and his peers’ voices heard. The letter captures the desperation that Ivy athletes feel right now. For many [of] the seniors, a second canceled season would mean the end of their career for a sport they poured their heart into for most of their life. I sure hope the administration takes the letter seriously and makes quick moves towards having a season.”
When asked for comment on Christofori’s letter, Yale’s Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications Mike Gambardella referred to the status update the Ancient Eight sent to athletes last week.
“This information was emailed to all spring student-athletes, and the Yale Athletics administration will continue to provide updates as soon as they are made available by the Ivy League,” Gambardella wrote in an email to the News.
The Ivy League recognized that athletes may have to make enrollment decisions without a definitive answer on whether spring competition will occur this term in its update. Yale students at large, including athletes, have 15 days until after the term starts on Feb. 1 to petition for a leave of absence.
“I am glad that Cal wrote the letter,” fellow catcher Jake Gehri ’22 said. “It is something he has been contemplating on doing for a while now. I really feel for him being a senior. It was mostly orchestrated by him and asking us [teammates] for our inputs.”
Last year, the Yale baseball team began their season on Feb. 21 against The Citadel.
Eugenio Garza García| email@example.com