Tradition Hinders Progress

Tradition. I can practically hear the song from “Fiddler on the Roof” playing as people squawk at how the University and its football program has lost its sense of the word in recent years with the Dave Brandon era and subsequent mediocre football program that occurred during his reign. Fans proclaim that the want the tradition of the old days when football was simply about football without all of the gimmicks and high prices the program has seen lately. Yet, I highly doubt that they would be saying that if Michigan was behind in the times compared to other football powerhouses like Alabama and Ohio State. The game is now at the point where if a program isn’t up to these standards then they are considered to be behind.

A Place of Tradition

The recent firing of Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke and the departure of athletic director Dave Brandon got me thinking about the concept of conservatism and how people like consistency but most of all, tradition. In recently reading the works of Irish conservative Edmund Burke, I was struck with his idea of how “a cobbler should stay at his task” i.e. stick with what you know and don’t change things. While I think that this idea is important to a degree, I also have to disagree with it. If we never change anything then we will be stuck in the past. Part of life is change.

People will always be disgruntled. People will always have something to complain about. That’s inevitable. When Rich Rodriguez was coaching people complained about him too. What I think is telling though of how the University will and must change is the statement made by Jim Hackett the other day. He said, “I want to get rid of the word Michigan Man.’” He was referencing what has become an iconic phrase harkening back to the days of Bo Schembechler, who used the term when describing how he wanted a candidate to be a coach at Michigan. However, people typically use it in reference to how someone has to be of the Michigan character and even have ties to Michigan. The problem with that, though is that we live in a world today where that just isn’t possible. The fans and the people who work for athletics need to adapt to the changing environment while also maintaining the integrity of the sport and the program that Michigan has always been so famous for.

Some Michigan Fans

I don’t think it is bad to assume that we should maintain an air of conservatism in the way our football program carries out business, but I also think it’s important to pay attention to the fact that the business game is always changing and sometimes we need to adapt to that. You can still maintain your core values while changing the way you do business.

Thoughts on Changing Gender Norms

The first toy I ever played with was a Barbie doll. It wasn’t that I was forced to; I genuinely wanted a Barbie. My older cousin played with Barbie’s so it seemed like the cool, girly thing to do. I wore dresses, played with makeup, and participated in every stereotypically girly activity, much to my mother’s chagrin. She wanted me to develop my own ideas/feelings and felt that I was succumbing to the societal pressures to fulfill gender roles.

While I couldn’t understand at the time why that was such a bad thing, now that I am older and have gained perspective I can see why these gender norms are so detrimental to society as a whole. Despite the fact that we’ve progressed far enough in America that women should have conceivably as many rights as a man, we still have unfortunately continued to keep many gender norms that have been nearly impossible for many to breakthrough. Recently, in class we were asked to list some of these expected roles such as boys liking blue and girls liking pink in addition to the idea that women are expected not to propose. It reminded me just how much we accept these without any reasoning.

After reading Castor Semenya’s story in class, I was yet again reminded of the unwillingness of many individuals to not accept people with any difference. Women are supposed to be small and feminine while men are expected to be strong and masculine. It is easy to see how there could be a bias among athletes. The fact that Semenya was attacked for not fitting that mold is indicative of it. The trauma that she suffers after finding out that she is intersex is just an example of how our societal gender norms can harm a person’s wellbeing. This article depressed me for many reasons: one being that Semenya’s incredible athletic ability was overshadowed by this controversy over her actual sex, and two was that we still haven’t made it to a point even in athletics where people can be accepted.

Castor Semenya

Yet, perhaps despite this we are still progressing to a point where these differences no longer matter as much.

It made me also think back on a recent change Facebook made to their settings. While previously a user was required to be either male or female, they now have a range of 50 extra ones to choose from. This is great news for the lgbtq community; Facebook reaches millions of people from all over the world and it is reflective on the importance of people who identify as something differing from the norm.

It does raise questions, though. Where is the line drawn? Do we just allow everyone to decide what they are or do we choose specific classifications? I don’t think there is an easy answer. Clearly there isn’t one.

I think that while it may take a while, change is occurring. People are beginning to realize that we all have our differences and responding to that. It’s important though that we start from childhood, teaching kids to be accepting of others and choose how they want to define themselves. It’s fine if little girls want to play with Barbies, but it’s important that they are because they want to, not because they think they are supposed to.

The Relatedness of Social Contracts and the State of Nature to the University of Michigan

I chose to attend the University of Michigan after going to an incredibly small college preparatory school that left me feeling stifled and in need of a drastic change. I got exactly what I wanted when I stepped onto campus the fall of my freshman year; everywhere I turned there was a new person for me to meet. Yet, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the vast size of this institution. I now felt like a minnow in a sea of sharks. It seems as if there are a billion different organizations at the University and everyone is occupied and passionate about something. The truth is though, that even though the University does provide various communities for the students to be a part of, there is still a sense of disjointedness when I speak with many of my peers. 

Could this be because of the administration? Have we created a university that is structured around self-involvement that it does not encourage collaboration both academically and socially? If so, it would certainly reflect the political climate of our society today.

In reading the works of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke in class recently, I immediately began to make connections to different institutions in my own life and those that I encounter on an every day basis. The most glaring of these was Michigan. Obviously, we are not in a state of nature, but we are being ruled over with a governing body. We have social contracts to maintain; if we pay for our education and obey the rules in turn the University will give us the tools to go out into the world a successful individual.

These three theorists would disagree about what a lack of structure, i.e. the state of nature would do to education… If we were all free to choose how to educate ourselves little would probably get done and chaos would ensue. Rousseau would lead you to believe that the state of nature was a place without rationality with vast freedom, while Hobbes would argue that people are intrinsically selfish and would undoubtedly turn one each other, and Locke would be in the middle ground saying that while all people are self-interested in the state of nature, but also nonviolent.

I believe that the students at Michigan are ruled to an extent with all of these social contract and state of nature theories in mind. Our University is run by a democracy similar to the proposed solution by Locke with delegates presiding over our supposed best interests (Regents! Athletic directors!). While we do not have a sovereign (something Hobbes would endorse) to rule over us, there is an idea that if left without rules we would become self-interested, fearful barbarians.

This is a competitive university, with some of the most talented students in the world. This may also arguably be the most divided period in recent years for the campus. People divide themselves based on clubs, interests, athletic capabilities, Greek Life, even class and race to a certain extent causing social disjointedness. Continuously, there is a discussion raging on campus about the lack of diversity amongst the student body.

However, there are times when I look around this campus and I have never seen it more united. Most recently, the student body came together with the support of alumni for a rally to fire the now former athletic director, Dave Brandon. It is worth noting that this could not happen in a Hobbesian type rule. It’s moments like these, though, that give me hope for Michigan, that despite its huge size the students can still gather and maintain a sense of community. I think that people forget that even though we are so big that we are united over one common desire: to be at this school and have an amazing future. So in my opinion people are actually more like Rousseau would claim them to be: when we need to come together we will, and we will make sure we all do our part to create a thriving and successful community.

Dave Brandon is not a Prince

I see a lot of unhappy people walking around Michigan’s campus lately. While some of that may be due to upcoming midterms, a lot of that has to do with the football team’s losing streak. Michigan is considered the “winningest” football team in college history. (“Wikipedia”) This is a title its fans take very seriously. After the Lloyd Carr years Michigan struggled with the newly hired coach, Rich Rodriguez. The most recent coach, since 2011 is Brady Hoke who fans have come to regard with an almost fanatic hatred.

Machiavelli would not approve.

I group up in Ann Arbor and was raised by a diehard Wolverine’s fan who didn’t even attend the school. I remember the sentiments that the townies have had towards these two coaches. “Rich Rod” generally was regarded with disdain and fans praised the decision to hire the current Hoke. Many believed that the football team would be brought back to its glory days of the Schembechler years. The hopes were high, especially when Michigan beat Ohio State. However, people are fickle and when a football team with Michigan’s prestige begins to lose nearly every game people are bound to go ballistic.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in class the other day that a light bulb went off in my head. We were talking about Machiavelli and what it takes to be a good Prince. Sports are kind of like politics. Dave Brandon, is kind of the Prince. Except, he’s a prince who doesn’t know how to be a very good one. Michigan’s recent luck in football may have everything to do with fortuna and Brandon can’t figure out how to roll with the dice given to him.

Brandon believes in running athletics like a business. This is all due to him being a businessman himself; he was formerly an executive of Domino’s Pizza. While he may have exercise “manly strength” as a leader should, he also lacks foresight and the ability to win over his people. I’m sure Brandon had no idea that Michigan would do so poorly in football or that Shane Morris would sustain a concussion that would go unnoticed by Brady Hoke. However, by being a leader it is his job to deal with the unpredictable. Machiavelli would not approve of Dave Brandon or his actions. Because it was his actions following the Shane Morris injury that would prove Brandon does not have the characteristics to maintain respect as a leader. He released a press statement at 1 in the morning, further incriminating himself and his ability to lead. He has alienated himself from the people so much by portraying himself as an arrogant, narcissist that he no longer has any desirable traits. Maybe he is all of those things, but part of being a successful leader is not showing them. Machiavelli believes that a leader should portray themselves as kind, humane, and faithful. (“The Prince”) While Machiavelli also believes that it is better to be feared than loved, that is hardly what has become of Brandon. Students and fans congregate in the hopes of getting him fired and recently a fan even changed his occupation on Wikipedia to “Pizza Delivery Man.” (“The Detroit News”) 

Dave Brandon has raised millions of dollars for this University. Yet, his more noticeable contribution is the steep hike in ticket sales and the massive sports complexes he has built. He appears to have “dirty hands” when it comes to the Shane Morris incident as well. While he eventually came out in support of Brady Hoke, he still delayed making a press statement. All in all, he has portrayed himself as a poor leader. While Brandon has continuously justified his actions and policies over the years in an “the ends justify the means” attitude, there haven’t been tremendous results to justify anything.

Michigan needs to stand by their school, which cannot be done by boycotting the athletics department in any way. Where is our sense of nationalism? You cannot simply quit just because of poor leadership. Part of being in a strong nation is sticking with it even when the going gets tough. In turn, Michigan needs leaders who appear to have strong convictions, passion, and the ability to create a loyal following.

Sports and their Place in College

I never pictured myself at Michigan. In high school I was I was advised to attend a small liberal arts school. I essentially only applied to small schools, but when it came time to actually visit them, I realized that the only outlier in the mix that I applied to was also the only place I could actually see myself: Michigan.

I wasn’t prepared for Michigan. I may have been prepared academically, however in no way was I prepared for the jock culture that I would come to be exposed to. Everywhere you turn there’s a store selling maize and blue apparel or various deals associated with the Wolverines. The athletes, in particular the football and basketball players, are treated like Gods. They stand out in a sea of somewhat nerdy and bookish students. It’s not hard to tell who is an athlete at Michigan. Just ask anyone at this school.

Most people I talk to outside of Michigan can’t separate the University entirely from its football program. They may know who the football players are and what position they play, but when prompted to list what some of Michigan’s best programs are they come up blank.

It makes sense, however, when athletics is such a crucial part of this school and the revenue it produces.

So in what way are the athletes profiting off of this revenue? They work just as hard in many ways as the adults who make decisions for them. They go by a complicated schedule that doesn’t make a lot of room for their studies or a life outside of their team. They give most of their time and energy to the sport, Michigan, and its fans. While fans may give them recognition (there are many athletes on this campus that receive VIP status), they also don’t get much compensation after they leave the school. Athletes face the risk of concussions and other serious injuries that could greatly hinder their quality of life, not just their abilities on the field. These are injuries that players in professional sports encounter. Yet, they don’t get paid like these pro-players.

We could make the argument that they should be playing for the learning experience and getting a discount on a great education is payment enough, but when adults are profiting off of them, how is that fair?

It’s not. They’re devoting the majority of their time to the sport, they face injuries, and they also take the heat when the team doesn’t do well. Michigan and its fans already treat them like they’re celebrities, so they should be getting the payment of a celebrity.

If athletes are paid, though does it take the fun out of the sport? Indeed, it does appear that it takes some of the play and leisure out of what is meant to be an enjoyable diversion from the everyday monotony of work. It is meant to entertain. Athletics that involve play does not fit in with the definition of play that is given in Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. He believes that play should be meant to be a diversion from regular life and still maintain the fun.

This hardly fits in with what we witness in college sports today, specifically at Michigan.

Does M Club really support you?

So to conclude, what we have going on with athletics at Michigan is a system that profits off of 19 year olds who are getting their heads smashed in with little compensation. The fun is taken out of play for the sake of monetary gain. This debate will continue to be ongoing, but it is clear that athletics at Michigan need to change. The system isn’t working.