Miracle and Taylor Branch

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USA winning the 1980 gold medal

On November 13, I went to the showing of the movie Miracle on North Quad. This movie documents the 1980 United States men’s hockey team, winners of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The coach at this time, Herb Brooks, is attributed to a lot of the success of this team by inspiring both physical and mental strength in his players. This movie is a great example of the intense lives of athletes. It demonstrates inspiration, hard work, teamwork, mental toughness and it will inspire all who watch it.

Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle giving a speech to the team

Coach Brooks in the movie Miracle giving a speech to the team. 

Viewers are inspired by the US team because they all came from different places and had been previous rivals with each other. They had to learn to put aside their differences in order to become teammates and play well together. In the movie, there is a well-known scene after a game in which the team lost. Coach Brooks punishes the players for not playing up to their potential by forcing them to skate hours into the night. The players could barely stand up and the coach’s assistants were telling him to stop but Coach Brooks did not let them give up. Brooks was pushing his team to their limits. He knew they needed to be pushed to see what it takes to be a champion. He kept asking the players who they played for, over and over. Finally, one player came forward “I play for the United States of America!” and Coach finally ended the drill. He wanted to get across to the team that they are all playing for a common goal and that there is a necessary mental toughness for this game. Coach Brooks stated from the beginning that he wasn’t there to be anyone’s friend but instead to coach a championship team.

I play for the women’s lacrosse team here at the University of Michigan and our coach constantly reminds us that we are playing for the Block M on our chest. We have to earn the right to wear it because it is such a privilege. When we first stepped onto campus we were given a plain white t-shirt and blue shorts with no Michigan or Block M anywhere on them. We had to earn the right to play for Michigan each day through our workouts. Every day we pushed each other to be better. The team becomes your second family. That is what Coach Brooks of the USA Hockey Team did as he made them to skate for hours. I can relate to this feeling because our conditioning sessions feel impossible but afterwards we know we accomplished so much. In order to become champions, you must push yourself to your limits with your team at your side, giving you great motivation, just like the USA Hockey team. If you do not push yourself to your limits, you won’t get better or see results.

Taylor Branch giving a talk about the NCAA

Taylor Branch giving a talk about the NCAA

On November 14, I was fortunate enough to go to Taylor Branch’s talk about athletes and how the NCAA affects them. Taylor Branch is a huge advocate for the rights of student athletes everywhere. He is an author and a speaker, and has spoken to many audiences and has written and co-written many books. He has written many pieces on sports, particularly the effect of the NCAA and the life of athletes. Right now, he best known for his pieceThe Shame of College Sports” published in the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic. This article talks about the NCAA and their strict rules and regulations it has on student athletes and universities. This article was interesting for me because he argues that all the scandals in the media surrounding college athletes cheating are not what we should be focused on. Instead, “the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves”. He compares overworked employees in the workplace to overworked collegiate athletes, saying it is unjust for one to be paid and not the other. It is interesting how in the workplace it is exploitation for an employee to not be paid for the success and hard work they’ve done. However, for a student athlete it is exploitation if they are paid or compensated in any way for the long hours, tough workouts, revenue brought to the university, and success they have while at the university.

I agree with some of what Branch says during this talk and I question whether collegiate athletes would push themselves harder if they were getting paid. However, I also believe that the NCAA put these rules in place to make sure that young athletes first receive an education before they decide to perform their sports professionally. Branch talked about the scandal at UNC. The UNC Athletic department created classes for student athletes that didn’t even physically meet. These classes were considered ‘fake’ but the students were still awarded the credits needed to be eligible and to graduate. UNC purposely made these classes to allow student athletes to focus on their sport, however this obviously took away the educational experience. On this note, a big point of conflict that Branch highlighted during his talk was that if student athletes got money, the “student first” would be lost. The NCAA wants student athletes to put the student first and get the education needed for their life after college. Again, as a student athlete I know the pressure that is put on athletes to perform at their best. Practices and workouts are very demanding. It is hard to sit through class and not worry about the excruciating workout that you next. It is also challenging to keep focus in an 8:30am class after a 7am morning lift. Despite not being paid for playing lacrosse at Michigan, being a student athlete has helped me learn to prioritize my time, and I believe I push myself to the fullest everyday, with the help of my teammates and coaches.

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Mill’s Thoughts about the Violence

A big focus in the news right now has been the shooting of Michael Brown. Ever since this event took place on August 9th, 2014, the media coverage has continued to grow extensively. As the trial finally came to an end on November 24th, the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Everyone has questioned whether this case has been properly handled in the justice system. This decision has caused chaos and many protests all over the country. These protests have been both peaceful and violent. Some are outraged not only because a police officer has shot an unarmed civilian but also because they believe law enforcement institutions are failing to protect. All this chaos has even caused Darren Wilson to resign in hopes that it would help calm the people and protect others as well.

Wilson's resignation letter

Wilson’s resignation letter

As the frustration of the public continues to grow, so does the violence. Violent protest efforts include rallies, arrests, riots, shootings, fires, and many other forms of protests. Ferguson, MO is not the only town that has been emotionally reeling from this tragedy. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and many other cities have seen expressions of protest.

Protester getting arrested

Protester getting arrested

John Stuart Mill’s book “On Liberty”, discusses many topics such as proper behavior, vices, virtues, social values, and individuality. John Stuart Mill believed that if someone did something you did not approve of or that you disagreed with that it is okay and sometimes beneficial to argue with that person. However, violence should be avoided and should never be used to get your opinion across. Therefore, I believe that, regardless of his possible view on the shooting, Mill would advocate against violence. Mill states that people should have the freedom to express their opinions so he would urge peaceful protests. However, he strictly states that no harm can come to others while expressing an opinion and these protests have caused more harm all over. Things have been destroyed, such as property damaged, people getting hurt, and much more.

An example of peaceful protesting

An example of peaceful protesting

The violence must come to an end. Even Michael Brown’s parents and President Obama have urged protestors to remain peaceful. As said by Mill, it is possible for these protestors to get their opinion to the public without using violence  Everyone has the right to protest and express his or her opinions and feelings. Those having peaceful protests with signs have the right to do that as long as no harm comes to anyone. However, there is a line between acceptable forms of protest. Although people are free to express their thoughts, once harm comes to others, this line has been crossed.

In the Hands of the NFL

After reading the article NFL Rules Changes: When is Football No Longer Football?, I now question whether football will lose its power of becoming a paradise for the players and the spectators. The National Football League is starting to make significant changes in the interest of safety that will start to change the game in a large way. For starters, they decided to ban ball-carriers from lowering their helmets into oncoming defenders in an attempt to break free of the tackle. Other major changes include the elimination of the “Tuck Rule” and no more kick-offs in the Pro Bowl. In addition, they have even taken tackling out of preseason camps. All of these changes are designed to make the game safer for the players. Football is a very dangerous sport because you are making contact with your opponent at full speed with great force. However, I wonder whether or not the game will remain the same after all of these modifications.

A hard hit

A dangerously hard hit

In Giamatti’s Take Time for Paradise, he states, “In that moment of vision, of sensation compounded of sight and inside, everyone – participant and spectator – is centered” (24). The players and spectators are consumed by the world of the game. They are not focused on anything else but the competition in front of them. Giamatti explains that people play sports because they want to achieve a paradise that we have lost. This paradise is considered better than our actual lives. If many changes occur in the sport of football, will this paradise be lost?

With these changes, I believe the game would not be the same, as there would be “no more dramatic returns for touchdowns. No more advantage or disadvantage to be won or lost by improving field position. No more exciting, surprising, game-changing onside kicks.” (Tracy). These are all important aspects of the game because they keep the audience and the players guessing who will win the game. The surprises within the games keep the players going hard throughout the entire game, fighting for the win. I also agree with Marc Tracy that football would not be football without tackling.

Not only would the game change for the players, as they would have to learn new rules, but also this would change the intensity for the spectators. The loss of these aspects of the game would definitely cause the spectators and players to lose the paradise that was once created by football. As stated by Giamatti, “the spectator, seeing something he has only imagined, or, more astonishingly, had not yet or would never have imagined possible, because the precise random moments had never before come together in this form to challenge the players” (27). This means that the spectator goes to football games in order to experience something they cannot on their own.

A packed Giants stadium, full of fans awaiting the start of an intense game.

A packed Giants stadium, full of fans awaiting the start of an intense game.

The NFL wants to keep the sport of football as safe as possible but when do they draw the line before ruining the sport completely? Football will never be completely safe because then it just would not be football anymore. As stated in the article, “would football without kick-offs still be football?” (Tracy). “the National Football League needs to figure out what football is”. They have the ability to uphold the tradition of the game or to create a completely new one, it’s all in their hands.

Giamatti, A. Bartlett. 1989. Take time for paradise: Americans and their games. New York: Summit Books.

Tracy, Marc. “NFL Rules Changes: When Is Football No Longer Football?” New Republic. N.p., 2 Aug. 2013. Web.

The Fall of Dave Brandon

The University of Michigan has a prestigious reputation.  The fact that Michigan is known for its top ranked academics and athletics puts the university under an immense amount of pressure.  Michigan claims to be the “Best of the West” in their fight song, setting the school’s standards extremely high.  The relentless pressure that is put on the university affects not only the students but the administration as well.  Michigan’s athletic director, Dave Brandon, was recently forced to resign from his position.  In chapter 13 of the Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, states, “…from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself, so reasonable, as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he sees no other power great enough to endanger him” (Hobbes 2). This quote shows that Dave Brandon took this job knowing how difficult it would be and that his job was at stake everyday. Hobbes expresses that no security is possible and life is full of horror. The athletic director position at the University of Michigan is incomparable to any other and Dave Brandon understood that when he took the job; he knew how difficult the job was and what was at stake every single day.  The Michigan department program has been known for its competitiveness and high expectations.  Although Dave Brandon lost his position because of critics who complained that as the Michigan athletic director he did not uphold the expectations of the program, as a student athlete, I can vouch for Dave Brandon, by saying that he bettered this University every single day that he stepped into office.

The student body has ridiculed Dave Brandon because of his business decisions to raise ticket prices and expand and renovate the athletic facilities around south campus.  It is unfortunate that the opinion of Dave Brandon is so negative with the student population, but the athletes have had the chance to meet Mr. Brandon and have experienced the positive changes he has made for the athlete population. The student body had such a negative outlook on Dave Brandon that they took great lengths to attempt to get him fired.  A few actions they took was having a rally in the Diag and creating an online petition calling for his job.

Students in the Diag rallying to fire Dave Brandon.

Students in the Diag rallying to fire Dave Brandon.

The problem is that many people that signed the petition without knowing all details. One main issue with the petition was that some people who signed it without attempting to look for all the facts and searching for Mr. Brandon’s and the athletes’ side of the story.  One huge example is that Dave Brandon cares deeply about each student athlete on the Michigan campus.  As part of the first women’s lacrosse team here at Michigan, I can vouch that without Dave Brandon the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs would not exist at Michigan.  He not only fought for the creation of our program, but has also raised millions of dollars to provide our teams, as well as all the smaller teams in the athletic department, the best facilities in the NCAA. These facilities will be placed on South Campus and are priced at 200 million dollars.  Dave Brandon has not only promised but has guaranteed his athletes the best, and has risen above all standards as our athletic director.  He works around the clock to make sure that the athletes at Michigan are taken care of and satisfied to be at this university. He makes sure to ask us personal questions about how things are going in order to see if he can help in any way possible. He takes time out of his day to be at all of our games. He even flew to the first women’s lacrosse game at Villanova to watch in person, as the lacrosse team made history. He is not just a businessman; he is personable and caring for each individual athlete on campus. Dave Brandon has guaranteed that all 935 student athletes at Michigan are satisfied with their lifestyles and if you ask me, that is the most important and most difficult job an athletic director can have, and he was successful.

Dave Brandon giving support to a football player during the PSU game

Dave Brandon giving support to a football player during the PSU game

Dave Brandon is a true Michigan man.  He dedicated his work to bettering the athletic programs here at the University of Michigan.  He is an incredible leader and it is OUR loss to have him resign.  Unfortunately, the decline of the football team’s success over the passed few years had to be blamed on someone and the outrage of Michigan’s fan base, alumni and student body caused people to revolt against Dave Brandon.  The pressure on Michigan’s athletic department put Dave Brandon under a magnifying glass and the world was waiting for him to do something wrong. As we can see throughout our history: if something goes wrong, society will find someone to blame.  Dave Brandon is human, he is not perfect, and it was not right for us to put that immense amount of pressure on him, to set him up to fail. Dave Brandon had to step down; the job had become an endangerment to his livelihood. Any respectable person would understand why he would resign. The announcement of Dave Brandon’s resign was a shock and a terrible reality to everyone in the athletic department. The fact that the student body and many other fans turned against the football team and Dave Brandon is something that student athletes cannot believe happened. Dave Brandon will forever be missed by his student athletes.

Like A Girl

As a result of Title IX, women have benefited from more athletic opportunities and more justifiable facilities. Also, women have received more athletic scholarships and as a result more opportunities for higher education that some may not have been able to afford otherwise. Title IX also increased the salaries of coaches for women’s teams. Despite all of the positive changes that have come from Title IX, there is still much work to be done in reaching full equality between men and women in the world of sports.

In the book The Playing Fields of Eton by Professor Mika Lavaque-Manty, there is a full title that explores some of the challenges women encounter in sports. This chapter entitled “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” compares being a woman to having a disability in the sports world.  The title of the chapter alone, as the two are paired together, gives off the connotation that society views women in sports as being similar to those with disabilities. In society, men are stereotyped as being stronger, tougher, more competitive and more aggressive than women. These stereotypes create the ideas that men are naturally better than women at sports and that women cannot perform up the same standards as men.

This reminded me of a controversial Dove commercial that has gotten a lot of public attention recently. This commercial aims to get the general public to stop using the saying “like a girl”. In it, young kids that are asked to perform “like a girl” throw a ball as hard and tough as they can, while older children asked the same thing purposefully throw a ball less far than they normally would. This implies that, as kids grow up, society teaches them to believe that girls cannot perform as well as boys, and even girls have started to believe it. This has become a giant obstacle for all girls to overcome in sports.

It is implied that women’s sporting events are less intense and less exciting then men’s games. As stated in this chapter, there are a lot fewer spectators at women’s sporting events then there are at men’s. It is also said in this chapter that, “no women’s sport is what universities call a “revenue” sport”. Unfortunately, this has a lot of truth to it. It is obvious that a lot of the revenue at the University of Michigan comes from our men’s basketball, hockey, and football team. As a women’s lacrosse player here at the University of Michigan, I can say that we definitely do not get as many fans as any of those sports, especially as a brand new program. Plus, we were only able to create our program because of the revenue that these other sports have created for the university. However, women’s sporting events here at the University of Michigan are exciting.  As an example, we have one of the best softball teams in the country, ranked number 11. Our field hockey team is also ranked number 11 in the country. These sporting events obviously would be exhilarating to watch because these teams are competing against the best as they fight for the Big Ten Title.

Women's basketball game with many empty seats.

University of Michigan women’s basketball game with many empty seats.

Packed arena at a men's basketball game

A packed arena at a men’s basketball game

The fight for women’s equality in the sports world has been going on for a long time and in1974 Billie Jean King created the Women’s Sports Foundation. This foundation was created in order to fight for gender equality in sports. The mission of the foundation is to “advance the lives of girls and women through sport and physical activity”. They support and encourage girls to become more involved in sports and excel at them. Women athletes deserve more credit than they are being given as they do the same amount of training and hard work as men do. Women athletes are driven to succeed and are determined just like men.

WSF-GGG-Logo-General-web600

It is important to try to change the idea that women are not competing at the same high level as men do as well as the idea that these events are not exciting to attend. Society needs to make a change at the way that everyone perceives women’s sports. Although women’s and men’s competitions are different, it does not mean they are any less competitive or intense. Women compete just as hard as men and we should work to eliminate the saying “like a girl”.

Experiencing the Magic Circle

In Homo Ludens, by Johan Huizinga, we are exposed to the term Magic Circle. Huizinga’s definition states that the magic circle opens up a new form of consciousness, allowing players to escape their world and enter into a new one. Here at the University of Michigan there are many different magic circles, such as the pool, the Big House, the baseball field, the field hockey field, the basketball court and so many more.  As a women’s lacrosse player here at the University of Michigan, we are privileged enough to play our competition on the Big House field during the spring. The Big House creates an alternate atmosphere for the athletes on the field especially for football players. Running through the tunnel onto the field into such a big stadium is like no other feeling at all. You are entering into a space bigger than you can imagine as you look up and see all the seats. Although our games do not fill up the entire Big House as football games do, it is still an exhilarating experience to play on such a sacred field.

As an athlete, I can personally say that when in a game of competition, everything else in the world does not matter except for that exact moment. Huizinga does define play as being a freedom from reality. You step onto the field or court or whatever is your magic circle for your play and think of nothing else but what you can do to be successful. The atmosphere within your sport allows you to take your mind off of what is happening in your life whether it is good or bad. You step into a world where you are in the spotlight, the fans and your teammates cheering, your coach shouting, and your mind is focused on the game. You and your team are the only important people out there and you all have the same mindset. You are all working collectively to win as a team.

However, this all changes if someone becomes a “spoil-sport”, another point Huizinga describes. No one likes those who do not follow the rules. Once this happens the entire atmosphere, the magic circle, changes. The new world that the play created is broken. Everyone’s mentality around you changes, even the fans. As we discussed in lecture, the fans are also included as part of the magic circle. The fans add to this unreal atmosphere because you get lost in the noise around you. However, it is not hard to tell when the imaginary world of the magic circle is broken as the fans get rowdy.

The atmosphere within the magic circle while playing a sport allows the participants to escape out of their everyday lives. All stress is forgotten once the game begins and everyone is striving to work together.