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THE MALCOM X-FACTOR: Yale Coach Misses Chance To Educate

Stop me if this story sounds eerily familiar.

An esteemed school in the Northeast, known far more for its academic reputation than its athletic prowess, braces itself for the backlash as a number of its athletes face legal charges stemming from an off-the-field incident.

National media outlets that often shy away from the I-AA bubble, especially the Ivy League, jump at the change to cover the story.

Although it surely sounds a lot like the saga that has plagued the football program on this very campus in recent months, this time it has absolutely nothing to do with Harvard.

Early last week, five Yale athletes were arrested outside a market in downtown New Haven and charged with breach of peace after an alleged fight.

Three are hockey players still in the midst of the final weeks of their offseason, but the other two are Yale football players—starting quarterback Matt Polhemus and starting running back Mike McLeod.

Well, there goes some of the intrigue of The Game, I thought. After all, without their starting quarterback and running back, there’s no way they’ll be able to beat us on our home field when we play the 123rd edition of The Game in just over five weeks.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I heard that McLeod had run for 198 yards and two touchdowns against Dartmouth last weekend, while Polhemus had 138 yards through the air.

Since when could suspended players put up stats like that?

But the thing is, neither McLeod, Polhemus, nor any of the hockey players have been disciplined by their respective coaches.

Despite the fact that they were arrested and charged by local police, they’re all still practicing and/or playing.

I’m all for innocent until proven guilty, but I’m also for swift, responsible justice.

Maybe it’s because of what I’ve seen happen here—a player commits a crime, faces a bit of legal trouble, or even breaks an undisclosed team rule that nobody outside the football program knows about—and they miss time, no matter what.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the team captain, the starting quarterback, or a wide receiver low on the depth chart.

At universities with some of the highest standards of admission, similarly high standards of behavior are expected to be upheld long after the acceptance letters have been received.

Is it unfair that athletes here are expected to keep their proverbial noses cleaner than those of the athletes at bigger, I-A schools? Of course it is.

But did anyone pull any punches when they laid down the recruiting pitch in getting guys to come here to play sports? I doubt it. Guys know what they’re getting when they go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Dartmouth. They have a name to uphold—on and off from the field.

As much as people might be willing to turn a blind eye to the indiscretions that happen at a stereotypical "big state school," where the football program is integral in bringing the university important alumni contributions and bowl-game dollars ever year, that’s not what Ivy athletics are about.

So when, after Yale’s recent arrests, Bulldog coach Jack Siedlecki chose to take no action pending the completion of the legal process, he sent the wrong message to his athletes.

Unlike the swift and direct “Murphy’s Law” that has (unfortunately) had to be exercised far too often recently around here, Siedlecki is telling his players that he’d rather win football games than send valuable messages.

And while his job title is ‘head coach,’ that doesn’t mean Siedlecki is only allowed to coach his team via X’s and O’s.

College is a time for growth, and his job is to help spur that growth athletically as well as personally. And that only happens when he holds his players accountable when an excursion into downtown New Haven gets out of hand.

I’m not out to chastise these players for making a mistake. It’s happened at Harvard, it’s now happening at Yale, and realistically, it can happen anywhere. But if it does, then that’s when coaches are given their greatest opportunities to do what they’re there to do: lead.

Besides, what’s the worst that can happen if a few guys get suspended? The team loses a few more games, the players in question finish their seasons with a few less stats, and Yale is a bit deeper down in the Ivy League’s final standings.

But look at the upside: guys like McLeod and Polhemus will more fully understand the value of the institutions they represent, the comrades who depend on them, and, most notably, the importance of their actions.

They’ll give up a few career yards in exchange for a myriad of life lessons.

And when it comes down to it, that’s what’s most important.

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.

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