April 11, 2014

Letter: Maroon Nation not so little

I was appalled to read that an established Viewpoints columnist had chosen to use her allotted space to laud the DI college sports in the town she comes from, when she makes no reference to ever attending a Maroon sporting event in her life. I’ve had the pleasure of reading other installments by Jenny Lee on previous occasions, and I’m not attacking her entire writing repertoire. However, “Little Maroon Nation” (4/8/14) is misinformed and misdirected.

Let me be clear, I agree with the subhead of the article, that “Sports teams should engender communal spirit, not dismissal.” However, as a former Maroon sports editor, I’ve found myself living and dying with some of the squads I’ve covered (even though there’s no cheering in the press box). I don’t think these athletes would agree with, or appreciate, the author’s characterization of the student body’s apathy toward athletics. As someone who watches the tournament intently year after year, and chose this school over a DI school with a high-level athletics program, I can tell you that we aren’t missing out on too much. Sure, it would be fun to go the Rose Bowl sometime or travel to North Texas for the Final Four. But we are in college to learn, and whether or not people become huge fans—of DI or DIII athletics—is entirely within their own individual agency. I don’t think it’s a problem that we have Mike McGrath coaching our men’s basketball squad instead of John Calipari, or that our gym has fewer seats. I don’t think we have a lower quantity of athletic school spirit because we are DIII; I think we have a lower quantity because there are people who approach the teams the way this columnist does.

Jenny Lee is a second-year, and so was not on campus for the excitement that surrounded the women’s basketball team, which went undefeated until partway through the DIII NCAA tournament in the 2011–12 season. People went to the games and were actively talking about the team. That’s school spirit, over the athletics that she deems to be of a lesser “caliber.” A friend of mine still mentions the excitement over Matt Johnson’s buzzer beater for the men’s team in a close game that same year. That highlight made SportsCenter.

The issue that Jenny Lee fails to notice is that the lack of school spirit, as she defines it, has nothing to do here with the level or type of sports we have; it has to do with the actual personality structure of most of the student body. People do make the joke she mentioned, the one about not having a football team, but to be honest, the same people who make that joke would be nowhere near tailgates or games if we had DI athletics.

And I say “lack of school spirit, as she defines it,” because I do think we have school spirit; I just think it’s a more malleable entity than she is giving it room to be. Just as the “Letter from the Editors” (4/4/14) from last week improperly noted a dormant campus culture, this seems to be an incorrect definition of terms. School spirit doesn’t have to be people painting their chests in support of a DI sports team; it can be something as simple as being proud of the University one attends and speaking highly of it. Though we do have a highly developed sense of pessimism inherent in our student body, I’d say that, on the whole, people are glad they’re here and knew what they were getting into. I can’t even count how many people I see daily, on the quads and in my classes, in UChicago apparel. That’s school spirit. I even think the self-deprecating jokes we all make with respect to the school are spirit, too. Under this broadened definition, we do have school spirit. We aren’t “Little Maroon Nation,” we are just Maroon Nation.

—Sarah Langs

Class of 2015