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‘Twas the day before The Game, and I, as well as thousands of other Harvard students, sit in excitement, waiting to make the trek down to Yale for an event heralded as one of the “defining moments” of the classic Harvard experience. But, unlike the average student, my excitement for The Game does not stem from my hatred of Yale or some deep-seated school pride — no, it stems from my weird (and very newfound) belief that football exemplifies the dichotomy of social change.
I do not think the average American understands Texas’s love (or borderline problematic obsession) with football. In fact, I don’t even think Texans understand our own obsession with football until we venture outside our state. Just miles from my own home, a $70 million high school football stadium was built a couple of years ago, and eight out of the nine largest high school stadiums in the United States are in Texas — and not a single Texan will bat an eye in reading those statistics. Other states may enjoy professional football and encourage their children to play while growing up, but only in Texas does a single sport have such a chokehold on the local community.
“Friday Night Lights” is known to many as a popular television show that delves into a world of football, community, and life; but in Texas, this phrase leaps out of the pages of the screenplay and, emulating the spirit of the production, perfectly encapsulates the ability of Texas football to bring together people that would not usually be together. Stories and perspectives collide in the grill-saturated air of a tailgate as blinding fluorescent lights illuminate the field the moment the sun sets on a Friday night. Texas football is a microcosm of a messy and beautiful life, bringing a community together in the spirit of celebration and fellowship.
Football looks a lot different at Harvard. For one, attendance to games (and even the desire to attend) is minimal at best — the average Harvard student probably cannot even recall when the last football game was. This is no fault of the football team, who have had a great season so far. Rather, the fault lies in the fact that community is found elsewhere; football is not a dominating social force like it is in Texas. But, football at Harvard does manage to embody something else — a spirit of protest.
In 2019, at the latest Harvard-Yale game either school has seen, hundreds of protestors stormed Yale’s field a little before halftime, demanding Harvard and Yale “divest their endowments from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt.” Football was being used as a tool of social change, of student activism, giving students a platform to call out both Harvard and Yale on their fiduciary role in furthering these two problematic agendas.
To many, these two pictures of football could not seem more different from each other — one is known for its community, and the other is celebrated for its radical spirit. But held in these two images is the spectrum of social change.
Texas football brings together people from all different walks of life. Here, listening, friendship, and fellowship abound. Harvard football, on the other hand, is a stage for protest. Here, unjust systems and institutions are confronted by passionate student activists. While, of course, this is a very simplistic and romanticized understanding of football, an important revelation arises.
Texas football represents the “listening” aspect of change — in order to understand what in a system needs to change, one must listen to those that are affected. Harvard football represents the “active” aspect of change — armed with the knowledge of what needs to be changed, action can then ensue.
Change is only fulfilled and sustained when both are present: when listening is done for the sake of listening and your narrative, or that of another, drives one towards action against a system. Together, Texas and Harvard football exemplify the two extremes of social change. Change requires a marriage of the two, for just listening to a person and refusing to act leads to stagnation, but just attacking a system without the grounding direction of those who are affected leads to performative activism.
Social activism and social change are defined too narrowly at Harvard. Here, we only play “Harvard football.” Change and activism only count if they are in a “registrable” form — they must be something tangible, something you can put on a resume or brag about in an under-the-radar way to your Gov 20 class. We have not yet legitimized the value of activism and change in the form of “Texas football.” No one can put conversations on the sidelines of a Texas high school football game on their resume, nor should they. They’re not an achievement but a standard of respect and love; still, these conversations are a vehicle for social change nonetheless, and one that does not deserve sidelining in social change discourse. Texas football is just as important as Harvard football.
And so, as the great Game approaches, I implore you to infuse a bit of that Texas football spirit into Harvard; change, to be sustainable, requires both.
Ellie H. Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column “From Houston to Harvard” appears on alternate Fridays.
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