The following post explores why Harvard’s cancellation decision may have repercussions beyond the school’s soccer team — and even beyond Harvard. It was written by John M. Carey, the Wentworth Professor in the Social Sciences in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College.
Harvard University made a great decision last week, canceling the remainder of its men’s soccer team’s season in response to the revelation that the team had, for years, produced “scouting reports” on the physical appearance of recruited women soccer players. The move was savvy because it does not ask for heroism where we’re unlikely to find it, in the locker room, but it could empower men who don’t want to condone abusive behavior.
The details of the Harvard scouting reports have been reported elsewhere and I won’t repeat them here, beyond noting that they were degrading toward the women players, and sleazy and dishonorable on the part of the men who wrote them.
Harvard’s response was swift and resolute in the face of clear documentary evidence. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust did not call for a “campus-wide conversation” or empanel a committee to review the culture of the Athletics Department. She canceled the remainder of the men’s team’s season. That the team was about to clinch the Ivy League title, and with it an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, sends a stronger message than any committee could deliver.
But the more important impact of Harvard’s decision could be to shift the culture of men’s college sports teams more generally, provided that zero tolerance for such practices is consistently enforced. The change would empower men who might be decent but aren’t necessarily courageous, which is a great thing if decency is more abundant than courage among college men.
What do I mean by decency without courage? Consider a player joining a team with a practice like the scouting report. Some young men will embrace the abasement and join right in. We know this because that is precisely what happened. But what about the new player who sees that this is fundamentally wrong? Does he say so? If the ringleaders question his manhood, does he point out that they have no honor? If the coach doesn’t back him up, does he walk off the team? What if the player is worried about his spot on the roster? Chances are, he keeps his mouth shut.
Most of us might like to think we would take the righteous stand in this situation, and that the sons we raise would, too, but that kind of fortitude is rare. And the calculus — that my teammates’ behavior is beneath contempt, but I can’t be the one to challenge it – is too common.
Harvard’s decision could change the calculus. Previously, for a player with that core of decency, the price of going along was only the queasiness of failing to show courage. Now, not acting threatens all your work, all your sweat, whatever victories you eked out on the field. And you know that your teammates know that, too. So now, if you call out the jackasses for their deplorable behavior, you might expect support from your mates — not just the courageous ones but the self-interested ones, too.
Harvard’s attempt to rewrite the locker room equation does not depend on great valor. Players only need some decency, and the desire to protect their own efforts. It’s a modest formula, which means it could work.