The Climate of the Harvard-Yale Game

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The temperature of the college football landscape is finally beginning to settle. This past weekend simmered with bitter rivalry games in search of Conference Championships. However, previously, in another rivalry, the 136 installment of the annual Harvard-Yale game, more was at stake and the climate was inhospitable to respectful intelligent behavior.

Students (and some alumni) interrupted the game in protest for a cause I intentionally do not cite nor mention in this text to avoid the very publicity they desire. They stopped a football game to get their point across. They thought it was important so everyone needed to hear about it right then, right there, and right now on the football field. When asked to disperse by the announcer on the loudspeaker, “OK boomer” was chanted. Most eventually dispersed and in a cascading impact of sanctimonious nonsense, some were arrested.

This type of behavior hurts their cause nationally, embarrasses the universities, and disrespects their fellow students. Harvard and Yale cannot reward this type of narcissistic showmanship.

This is not an issue of agreeing or disagreeing with any specific cause or their specific cause.  There is academic merit to portions of their discussion. Rather, it’s the mechanism by which they feel entitled to operate with such disdain. It comes across as a well-orchestrated temper tantrum.

I practice neurosurgery in Alabama. I have made friends in our new community. I can make an honest statement that the circus stunt pulled during this game only re-enforces the notion about how out of touch the educated elite can become. The silent majority watching Sportscenter on Saturday night simply rolled their eyes when this reached their TV screens; this did not move their hearts.

The challenge is that people don’t view football as just a game. It’s time spent with grandpa.  It’s the time dad made burgers on the grill, and the time mom was so nervous on third down she couldn’t even look at the television. It’s an identity that people have taken with them. It is the ritual of football much more than the sport of football. The far-Left seems to simply ignore that process and many others just like it.

To the protestors, this was simply a venue. It didn’t matter that their fellow students had prepared, practiced, and sacrificed to get to that moment. It didn’t matter that many families traveled distances to rekindle old friendships. It didn’t matter that it was an incredible game.

Headlines didn’t focus on Yale’s painfully historic comeback. Even fewer are talking about the balance of athletics, academics, and what it truly means to be a student-athlete. The Ivy League’s approach to tackling and contact in practice isn’t the talking point memo.

And that’s what the protestors wanted.

This was a football game, on national television. In 2014 ESPN’s College Gameday hosted this very game in Boston.  The ability to have a moment like that has passed.  The protestors just needed to be heard.

Again, this criticism is indifferent to the subject matter being protested. I would certainly be equally offended by some sort of pro-Trump propaganda protest. I would even be offended by a free-market protest illustrating concern for the current victims of socialism and communism.

I am a strong supporter of free speech as it generates competition in the marketplace of ideas to help university students find the best solutions to complex problems. Free speech is only a worthwhile interrogation when you disagree with someone. There is no inherent anger or frustration at the student’s viewpoint. It’s certainly worth debate.

It’s a decorum, class, and dignity issue.

Most of the social media noise about this speaks in virtue simply because they agree with the cause and its pressing temporality. Ideological heavyweights like Alyssa Milano are voicing their support. But, it’s intellectually and academically insipid.

There would be absolutely no tolerance this sort of social exercise if it came from the Right. Yale, and its Ivy League cohort, consistently stifle appropriate free-speech of those entities that deviate anywhere from center-Left. Nicholas Cristakis was dessimated. Free-speech at the William J Buckley Program conference on was >literally spit at. In protest to Dick Cheney’s selection to speak by Cornell Republicans, protestors noted that “Dick Cheney represents the worst that humanity has to offer.” In 2017 when the University of Pennsylvania students scheduled a work-in (it’s a protest where you do your homework) in defiance of the Republican’s tax reform.

Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale have an ugly history of placating these demands at times. Good order, debate, and true academic inquiry can no longer be held hostage by narcissistic ideological hubris; those who direct higher education need to stop paying the ransom.

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Richard Menger

Richard Menger MD MPA is an assistant professor of neurosurgery and political science at the University of South Alabama. He is a 2016 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he was awarded the Hale Champion Public Service Fellowship.