Can Athletes Stand Up For What’s Right?

Graphic by Isabella Xie

By Noah Whiting
Managing Editor of Sports

Last fall, details were released of multiple collegiate men’s sports teams ranking the women in their respective sports based on perceived sexual preferences and physical attraction. It was discovered that the Harvard men’s soccer and cross country teams, along with Amherst men’s cross country team, had an age-old tradition of creating a spreadsheet in which they evaluated the women in their respective sports with explicit, developed criteria.

These incidents have left people questioning the culture of mens sports teams and why such a demeaning tradition is seemingly allowed. While this is an important question to address, one must ask, what made individual members of the team unable to stand up against such a tradition?

Realistically, it is likely that some of the athletes understood how horrible the tradition really was. What is it about the culture of our sports teams that makes it so difficult for individuals to go against the pull of the team and stand up for what they believe in?

Dr. Estin, a psychology teacher at Newton South, saw the incident as a case of “group loyalty” which clouded the judgement of players and made it hard to see the real scope of what they were doing.

“I don’t think that nobody knew it was wrong. They may have rationalized themselves into believing that. [Group loyalty] is a powerful force,” said Estin. “If you are in a group that you associate with your identity, it is very hard to go against that group. You will argue yourself into all kinds of things rather than risk the group membership.”

This group loyalty is one of the things that makes a successful sports team because it brings athletes together as they work for one another to further the goals of the group, but it can also be dangerous in cases like these when it becomes hard for athletes to stand up to the group. In an effort to build chemistry and a strong team unit, we can lose the values of individual thought and reasoning.

Senior Gal Fudim cited this comradery as a reason that it would be difficult to go against the group that you identify with.

“It is hard to go against your team’s mentality because you join the team and you think that you are all brothers,” said Fudim. “They’ve got your back so why not have theirs, even if it is something that you do not agree with.”

Fudim also added that it can be easy for younger athletes to be drawn towards older athletes as role models

“When I was an underclassman on the track and cross country teams, I would often be inspired by what the older guys were doing and thankfully it was good things, but I could see why if such a charismatic leader does something that even though you don’t seem to agree with, you can kind of be blinded by it and just go along with it,” said Fudim.

A sports team functions like any other sector of society in which the older and more experienced people tend to hold more power.

The pull of the group is strong and for a player that is trying to earn their spot on a team, it can be especially hard for a younger player to do anything that might jeopardize their standing on the team.

As a sophomore, junior Alec Szwarcewicz was one of three underclassmen on the boys’ varsity soccer team. He acknowledged that if something similar had been occurring at South, it would have been difficult as younger player, trying to make a name for himself, to go against the culture of the team.

“I think that definitely as an underclassman it would be very difficult to stand up,” said Szwarcewicz. “Obviously you would know that it is wrong and feel that it is wrong, but I think that as an underclassman it would be hard for you to stand up and make a name for yourself.”

It can be difficult as a younger player to stand up to the older and more experienced athletes on the team, but eventually the younger kids become the older ones and then the question becomes, why can’t the older kids say anything?

Fudim thought that the problem for the older athletes is that the tradition would be so familiar to them, it would seem normal .

“For a guy that’s been on the team for years it might just seem kind of routine to them,” said Fudim.

However, Szwarcewicz felt from his experience of being a captain of the soccer team this year as a junior that, in a position of power — such as an upperclassman on the team or as a captain — he would be able to stand up to the group and change the tradition.

“I think as a captain especially, you have a lot more power within the team, so if that were still happening I would have to talk to the team,” said Szwarcewicz. “There is no way I could be a captain of a team that would allow that to happen.”

Fudim agreed and added that traditions can change, and he would have no problem altering a tradition in the best interest of the team.

“There’s nothing wrong with changing traditions or starting new ones. If something is really that terrible, it’s within your power to say enough is enough,” said Fudim. “You can stick by your traditions or you can modify them, but you just have to do what’s best for the team and in that scenario what’s best for the team is to modify the tradition.”

While the group mentality can easily turn into a negative influence on the team, there are ways to keep an open environment so individuals can stand up for what they believe in.

In Fudim’s experience, the key to a healthy environment lies in the attitude of the leaders of the team.

“I have tried my best to get to know these freshman and let them know that I am their captain, their leader, and I still want them to respect me, but I can also be a friend,” said Fudim. “Being a captain is about letting everyone talk to me and letting everyone know that their problems are also mine.”

For athletes that do feel uncomfortable or recognize that something is wrong in a situation such as this one, it is important to say something, and not get sucked into the mentality of the group.

Boys’ varsity soccer coach John Conte believes that it is important for players to be able to go straight to the source of their discomfort and stand up for their beliefs.

“I would encourage any of my players to talk to the person that bothered them and then if they still have a problem, come to me. Then they have tried to stand up for themselves, and now if it’s not working, then get some alliance,” said Conte.

As an individual, it can be difficult to stand up to a figure of authority or a group. Sometimes it can be easier first to form smaller alliances and gain support so you do not have to challenge a group alone.

Freshman varsity track runner Ethan Jacunski suggested that if you are an athlete in this situation, it is important to reach out to your friends and find other people that feel the same way as you do.

“See if any of your friends agree with you and go talk to older kids on the team. Slowly build support to stand up as a group.”

Dr. Estin concluded that it is important to make yourself heard in unhealthy situations, and even if you go about it as an individual, you will not be alone.

“In this day and age, you will get support if you do come forth,” said Estin. “You are going to get institutional support. You are not going to be doing this on your own.”