For as long as I can remember, sports have been an integral part of my life. I was, and still am, the kid that obsessively played, watched, and read about every event or sport from basketball to tennis to football to the king of all, futbol.
I’m convinced that the first thing my parents gave me when I was born was a soccer ball, because I’m crazy about the beautiful game. Growing up in Mexico for the first five years of my life, I was immediately exposed to a passionate view of the sport and even when I moved to Utah, I retained said passion.
I would make my dad go with me to the local park when he got out of work so I could kick a ball around and do drills. I played for a long time before injuries kicked in and I’d beg to go to Real Salt Lake games, especially when Mexican clubs were visiting. To this day I still love watching soccer, waking up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch whatever games are on.
So naturally, when I joined The Crimson, I had my eye on covering soccer and by junior fall, I was the men’s soccer beat writer. Despite getting what I wanted, however, I can’t help but be disappointed.
No, not because of the team itself. Harvard coach Pieter Lehrer’s team has played well since he came in my freshman year and is in the midst of a five-game unbeaten streak right now. I’m frustrated because of the lack of fans.
One of the most exciting aspects of sports is the fanbase that electrifies the venue. Relating back to soccer I think of The Kop and the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” chant at Liverpool’s Anfield, the massive tifos at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfaldenstation, Roma’s infamous CUCS and many more. These traditions make every game a chilling experience and intimidate the opposing team mercilessly.
At the last men’s team’s home game versus Cornell, it was practically a home game for the Big Red, whose fans outnumbered the Crimson’s about 4 to 1 by my calculations. Despite the addition of two new stands at Jordan Field, no game has seen students fill in the original stand let alone the new ones. I could tout Harvard’s 4-0 victory in that game and people would likely continue to not show up.
Unfortunately, this isn’t isolated to men’s soccer. Across the board, Lavietes, Bright-Landry, Harvard Stadium, the MAC, Blodgett, and many other locations are full of empty seats. It’s ridiculous that aside from parents, events will often be dominated by opposing fans that travel or are alumni living around the area. The memories of ice hockey, football, and even basketball games where the opposing fan section drowned out ours are still fresh and, as a sports fan, I find them bewildering.
Whenever I bring this up to friends, the most common argument I hear back is “people here just don’t care that much about athletics, they don’t think it’s a big deal.”
I find it hard to believe that out of a student body made up of about 6,700 students there aren’t at least a few hundred if not, say, maybe a thousand interested in sports. With about a fifth of the College participating in a varsity sport, there’s clearly an interest. That number doesn’t even take into account people like me who don’t play a sport at the varsity level but still enjoy watching them or play club sports.
But Julio, why should Harvard students care about athletics? Surely they have something better to do with their night like work on a p-set or catch up on all the readings they haven’t done.
What makes sports great is their ability to bring a community together. There’s been plenty of talk lately around campus about making inclusive communities and social spaces that everyone can be a part of and hang out in without any pressure to behave in a certain manner. Why can’t those social spaces be Harvard sports?
Every year, people look forward to Harvard-Yale because, aside from being an excuse to drink early, it brings the feeling of a community to the undergraduate population. That weekend it’s Harvard versus Yale and we’re all a part of Team Harvard. You get to see friends you may not have seen in months and share a few too many drinks before ending up in hospital beds next to each other. It’s a social space and activity everyone can participate in as much as they wish.
Why can’t this extend to the rest of Harvard sports? All you need to get into most games is a student ID or a ticket you can get for free. The athletics department has made an effort in distributing tickets at the Houses and providing tailgates with free food, entertainment, and other incentives (including some dope Nike shirts at basketball last year) open to everyone before the game. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you know about the sport; at the end of the day everyone is there as a Harvard student supporting the team.
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