Last week, the Tribune ran a feature titled “Why McGill can’t ‘Pack the Stadium,” which discusses the lack of a sports culture at McGill. It argued that the numerous other entertainment options in Montreal, a shortage of athletics funding, and a few specific features of McGill’s athletic facilities, were the reasons why more McGill students aren’t McGill sports fans.
The question of “why don’t people at McGill get involved in athletics or become fans?” is a valid one. However, last week’s article ignored the structural, institutional, and cultural aspects that might alienate McGillians from a sports culture. Furthermore, it seems to propose that such a culture is a good thing, while failing to recognize the negative side-effects of sports culture.
It’s obviously possible that if McGill Athletics advertised more effectively they might be able to get more people out to the games. But maybe it’s not the cold or the overwhelming other entertainment options in Montreal, but rather the perceptions of athletics and athletes themselves that keeps McGill students from becoming sports fans. Perhaps McGill students don’t go to sports games because they, for very legitimate reasons, were dissuaded from coming to an athletics game long before they ever arrived in Montreal, or at least, before game day.
Perhaps they were dissuaded by previous negative experiences with ‘jocks’ in their high schools. Or maybe it was when they walked into the McConnell Arena and had a ticket checker call them a “fag” and maliciously suggest that they wanted to be “pat down,” as happened to a student earlier this year. Maybe it’s because they find the members of McGill sports teams that they know personally to be misogynistic and sexist. Maybe it’s the separation of sports teams into ‘male’ or ‘female,’ which leaves no space for their gender identity. Or that they were alienated by the sign in the Athletics facilities put up—and eventually taken down—this summer that said “Be a Man!” and then listed sexist stereotypes about what ‘being a man’ entailed.
Maybe they were put of by the team name “Redmen” which, yeah, okay, maybe is named after a Scottish kilt or something, but still seems kinda racist, and is kind of like naming a team “the Rapists” after an author with the (unfortunate) last name Rape and then defending the team name by saying “No! Wait! It’s not offensive! It’s a reference to a famous author! Don’t get so worked up!”
Some of the above listed are not the fault of McGill Athletics. Others are. In any case, they underscore a pretty major issue that was unexamined in last week’s piece: maybe people at McGill aren’t going to games because sports, organized athletics, players, etc. have been excluding them for most of their lives, and this doesn’t make them want to go to games and cheer on these athletes. This culture of exclusion in sports at large is not the specific fault of McGill Athletics, but the onus should be on McGill Athletics to prove to people that unlike athletics at every university in the world, the one at McGill is not oppressive nor exclusionary.
Do we want a culture of athletics on campus?
I also wonder what people have in mind when they envision a ‘strong culture of athletics,’ and particularly how they would see it manifesting at McGill. Obviously, it would include a stadium packed with fans for every game; but are those fans drunk fans? Do they host post-game ragers in packed (frat) houses? Does it include a culture of adoration of athletes on campus? In short, are they envisioning—and idealizing—a McGill-ified version of the culture of athletics that exists at many of our institutional cousins south of the border?
If so, I think this should give pause. In addition to packing the stadium with fans, “strong culture[s] of athletics” such as these tend also to have other unfortunate correlates. These include a culture of binge-drinking that alienates the many people on campus who choose not to imbibe (at McGill, 10.2% of students at our school report never having drank according to McGill’s 2013 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment survey). They also valorize athletes (especially hyper-masculine male athletes) which gives them a near-mythical status that allows them to get away with crimes like sexual assault.
Another way of saying this is that I don’t think that anywhere on earth there exists a positive “strong culture of athletics.” As such, if the McGill “culture of athletics” is going to look anything like what it’s like at other schools, I don’t want it at my university. I only want a strong culture of athletics here if it’s going to be inclusive, positive, and non-oppressive. If my friends and aquaintances’ past experiences with McGill Athletics and sports teams are any indication, this doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario. Considering the unfortunate incidents mentioned above, McGill Athletics—though well-intentioned and trying hard to be more inclusive—is simply not ready for a bigger role on our campus. It has alienated and hurt McGillians despite its minimal relevance, and I can’t imagine that these types of incidents would somehow decrease in frequency if sports and athletics took a more prominent place in campus life.
This commentary was printed in abridged form in the October 22nd issue of the McGill Tribune.