a, Opinion

Considering the harms of sports culture

Last week, the Tribune ran a feature titled “Why McGill can’t ‘Pack the Stadium,” which discusses the lack of a sports culture at McGill. It argued that the numerous other entertainment options in Montreal, a shortage of athletics funding, and a few specific features of McGill’s athletic facilities, were the reasons why more McGill students aren’t McGill sports fans.

The question of “why don’t people at McGill get involved in athletics or become fans?” is a valid one. However, last week’s article ignored the structural, institutional, and cultural aspects that might alienate McGillians from a sports culture. Furthermore, it seems to propose that such a culture is a good thing, while failing to recognize the negative side-effects of sports culture.

It’s obviously possible that if McGill Athletics advertised more effectively they might be able to get more people out to the games. But maybe it’s not the cold or the overwhelming other entertainment options in Montreal, but rather the perceptions of athletics and athletes themselves that keeps McGill students from becoming sports fans. Perhaps McGill students don’t go to sports games because they, for very legitimate reasons, were dissuaded from coming to an athletics game long before they ever arrived in Montreal, or at least, before game day.

Perhaps they were dissuaded by previous negative experiences with ‘jocks’ in their high schools. Or maybe it was when they walked into the McConnell Arena and had a ticket checker call them a “fag” and maliciously suggest that they wanted to be “pat down,” as happened to a student earlier this year. Maybe it’s because they find the members of McGill sports teams that they know personally to be misogynistic and sexist. Maybe it’s the separation of sports teams into ‘male’ or ‘female,’ which leaves no space for their gender identity. Or that they were alienated by the sign in the Athletics facilities put up—and eventually taken down—this summer that said “Be a Man!” and then listed sexist stereotypes about what ‘being a man’ entailed.

Maybe they were put of by the team name “Redmen” which, yeah, okay, maybe is named after a Scottish kilt or something, but still seems kinda racist, and is kind of like naming a team “the Rapists” after an author with the (unfortunate) last name Rape and then defending the team name by saying “No! Wait! It’s not offensive! It’s a reference to a famous author! Don’t get so worked up!”

Some of the above listed are not the fault of McGill Athletics. Others are. In any case, they underscore a pretty major issue that was unexamined in last week’s piece: maybe people at McGill aren’t going to games because sports, organized athletics, players, etc. have been excluding them for most of their lives, and this doesn’t make them want to go to games and cheer on these athletes. This culture of exclusion in sports at large is not the specific fault of McGill Athletics, but the onus should be on McGill Athletics to prove to people that unlike athletics at every university in the world, the one at McGill is not oppressive nor exclusionary.


Do we want a culture of athletics on campus?

I also wonder what people have in mind when they envision a ‘strong culture of athletics,’ and particularly how they would see it manifesting at McGill. Obviously, it would include a stadium packed with fans for every game; but are those fans drunk fans? Do they host post-game ragers in packed (frat) houses? Does it include a culture of adoration of athletes on campus? In short, are they envisioning—and idealizing—a McGill-ified version of the culture of athletics that exists at many of our institutional cousins south of the border?

If so, I think this should give pause. In addition to packing the stadium with fans, “strong culture[s] of athletics” such as these tend also to have other unfortunate correlates. These include a culture of binge-drinking that alienates the many people on campus who choose not to imbibe (at McGill, 10.2% of students at our school report never having drank according to McGill’s 2013 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment survey). They also valorize athletes (especially hyper-masculine male athletes) which gives them a near-mythical status that allows them to get away with crimes like sexual assault.

Another way of saying this is that I don’t think that anywhere on earth there exists a positive “strong culture of athletics.” As such, if the McGill “culture of athletics” is going to look anything like what it’s like at other schools, I don’t want it at my university. I only want a strong culture of athletics here if it’s going to be inclusive, positive, and non-oppressive. If my friends and aquaintances’ past experiences with McGill Athletics and sports teams are any indication, this doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario. Considering the unfortunate incidents mentioned above, McGill Athletics—though well-intentioned and trying hard to be more inclusive—is simply not ready for a bigger role on our campus. It has alienated and hurt McGillians despite its minimal relevance, and I can’t imagine that these types of incidents would somehow decrease in frequency if sports and athletics took a more prominent place in campus life.


This commentary was printed in abridged form in the October 22nd issue of the McGill Tribune.

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  1. Great piece, but I must admit I was thoroughly unconvinced by the “Redmen” criticism (this name simply refers to the colour sported by McGill athletes). That the team name “seems kinda racist,” is perhaps understandable, but its doing so is incidental and speaks not to the oppressive nature of institutionalized university athletics in general. Critical articles such as these should focus on the distinct issues at hand and attempt not to overreach analytically in this way.

  2. Adam Sadinsky

    The excellent points in this article are well taken but this argument seems to be one against organized sports in general and (mostly) not against McGill Athletics. If one considers the number of McGill students who would describe themselves as sports fans, the question is still begged why they don’t come out to support their fellow students.

    I wrote an article in an issue of last year’s Tribune (full disclosure: I am a former sports and managing editor at the Trib) which points closer to that question. Let me add it to the discussion (which is a great one and speaks volumes on the level of discourse at McGill, which I dearly miss now that I have graduated).


    [I’ll post with my full name. If the author of the piece has their name on it, it only seems wrong for the rest of us to comment on their ideas and take no responsibility for those comments.]

  3. Your average McGill student

    This article is judging McGill athletes based on a few individuals who do not reflect the McGill sports community as a whole. It also fails to mention any positive aspects that an increased presence of sports at McGill could have, such as an increase in school pride. Getting people to cheer for those who represent their school and to encourage one another in competition is something positive it brings the masses together for a common cause. And in general McGill athletes are extremely thankful for those fans that come to see them compete and are very welcoming and inclusive no one is not welcome at there games or there social events.

    As to the comparison of the name the “Redmen” to the name the “Rapists” is a ridiculous leap. The Redmen is in referance that our teams wear Red, just like how Harvard are the Crimson. Should a team not be named the Cougars because it may be taken as a negative reference to women who choose to date younger men?

    As to the comment about the post game ragers at frat houses I have a few things that need to be addressed so that readers can realize the context of these. 1. I have been to some of these events and yes they are sometimes held at frat houses, this is because those houses are larger than an average students apartment and the teams wish to be welcoming to there fan and let them join in on the celebration. 2. This article is obviously seeing fraternities at McGill to be a bad thing when in reality McGill fraternities do not fit in with the negative stereotype you are perpetuating. Fraternities at McGill do a lot for the community as many of there members are leaders of many organizations on campus and they do quite a bit of community service and charity work on campus. 3. There was drinking at everyone of these celebrations held by athletic teams, but in no way were those who chose not to partake alienated, many McGill athletes that I know do not drink at all but still enjoy celebrating with there teammates after all their hard work results in a victory.

    What I am trying to get across hear is that the author of this article is making mass generalizations about university sports culture and assuming that if athletics are more pronounced at McGill that the school will become like those football crazy schools in the united states. If the author does read this comment i would encourage him to think of McGill not as an American state school but rather to get to know more McGill athletes and learn about the sports culture at our school. I would also like to encourage the author to see that the lack of support for sports as a lack of school pride and community at McGill. Many other schools’ students show much more support for each others endeavors, and McGillians could use the support of other McGillians.

    • Tyler Michaels (Author)

      I read your comment.

      1) Don’t speak for other McGill students, please; speak only for yourself. If you have opinions, please be proud of them enough to stand behind them w

      • Your average McGill student

        Re 2) If the sports culture at McGill gets larger more people will be involved and of course there will be more, for lack of a better name, “bad-eggs” in the batch but an increase in any population will increase the number of “bad-eggs”. I do not believe that the concentration of those people will rise as long as negative attitudes and actions are not ignored (aka as long as there are individuals like yourself who do argue this side of the coin, don’t think I do not support articles such as this)

        Re 3) Just because someone has not been put down as much as someone else does not make it ok to put them down.

        Re 4) Anything can be offensive taken out of context.

        Re 7) Supporting any of McGill’s clubs/teams/organizations does = school spirit. I dont know how it came across that I didn’t. McGillians supporting McGillians should be encouraged weather it is the athletics teams or anything else, an increased sports presence is a part of that as is support for ckut and other student organizations. I am an advocate for a better McGill community and that includes more presence of all organizations.

      • Redmen Student Athlete

        2) you contradict your article… in your article, you mentioned discussing school spirit for every other organization at McGIll yet you say, “I think that an increase in the level of “sports culture” OR “McGill
        Pride” on campus is very likely (although not necessarily) going to come
        with a concurrent increase in all of the negative things associated
        with these things in other schools in Canada and the USA”

        so are you saying that if we increase the level of McGill pride in all of clubs, teams, programs, associations, etc. will increase in negative aspects that coincide with school spirit? Yes I understand you specifically said sports culture but how would increases in the level of sports culture be any different than an increase in pride based on those clubs and associations? School pride is school pride regardless of how you look at it.. If you support your school in any way, shape, or form you are increasing McGill pride. That is not associated 100% with athletics.

        3) “One prods at a group that has been historically successful, privileged,
        and generally pretty advantaged, while the other reinforces negative
        stereotypes that have been historically used to marginalize groups of

        I resent that statement beyond belief.

        I am a McGill student athlete on a varsity team on a high level of McGill athletics. I work in the athletics department and I know a large amount of people who are student athletes and the stereotypes are in no way true. On my team alone, I could list you about 75% of them who are definitely not successful in life, not advantaged in any way, and definitely not privileged. We have people coming from all aspects of life just like anything else in the world. We have people who can’t afford to buy food for the week and you call that privileged? or people who can’t pay rent and have help from our team. You call that privileged??? I know one of my teammates was homeless for a time because he couldn’t afford to live anywhere. Privileged? Have you even met or talked to anyone on these teams? Mine is just an example but I know so many student athletes here who don’t have any resources that you or I have at any point in their lives. They worked and earned their way into a CIS sports team and that shows character, which you fail to mention as being a huge part of being an athlete.

        On that note, how dare you generalize like that. We athletes are not at all like the classic “jocks” from previous times. We are human beings who care about our school life and treating others with respect just as much as anybody else at this school. And yes this is perpetuating stereotypes and you contradict yourself again. Before you do that you should have done your research instead of jeopardizing your journalistic integrity.

        5) THat poster of Be a Man, was not a sexist poster to put up. Those happen to be the team’s saying. It belongs to them and was placed in their hallway. How many people go down that hallway regularly? Do you? DOes it bother you? Why can’t that team have their saying? THat team is a male team isn’t it? WHy is that bad when they want their players to be proper men of society? When I saw it I thought it was fantastic because it goes against the classic jock stereotype. I know many women who saw it regularly and were not offended, why were you? It had nothing to do with you at all

        Before you decide to post an article attacking the McGIll Sports complex and the athletic department and everything that goes with it, you need to get your facts straight. We are not a generally privileged group. Granted, there are many who come from great backgrounds but majority don’t and have worked their way into the depths of this level of sport. To say that we are associated with drinking is partially true but if it was solely associated with alcohol, why would alternative options be available at concessions? Finally, I don’t think you realize how much money the school brings in based on athletics. A lot of sports lead to professional ranks and it brings a ton of publicity from those ranks and thus generates a lot of money from other sources (every time a game is broadcasted somewhere, Adidas gives us a ton of money because we are sponsored). Working in the athletic department, there are some facts I know about where that money goes.

        1) That money is not only given to the sports teams, but it is given to the athletic department that includes the Sport Medicine Clinic (which gives doctors the chance to experience a new setting and gives them experience in an atmosphere that is not always available to them

        2) The money also goes to improving our fitness center

        3) It goes to improve the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
        (which actually does a lot of research to improve the general populations health and well-being)

        My final statement is simple. Get your facts straight.

  4. Athletics at “every university in the world” is “oppressive” and “exclusionary”. Huh.

    It’s richly ironic that a piece that clearly values inclusion and positivity also engages in such vicious stereotyping of athletes and sports-lovers.

  5. Great article – very effective in generating discussions.

    Having graduated from McGill, and am now at a “Big 10” sports university in the US, this is a topic that highly interests me.

    For background: At MSU, there’s on average a big football game every other weekend, and when that happens, the entire city is painted green (our school color), and turns into a huge festival. People of all ages/backgrounds come out to tailgate: students, professors, alumni, families, kids, babies, all the different “possies”, etc. So to simplify sports “parties” to the “frat house” image, is, in my opinion, naive. Also, to attribute binge drinking to the culture of sports, in my opinion, is also naive (Binge drinking can occur in any collective group of people/alone – Personally, the most I’ve ever drank was at our Floor Fellow retreat…).

    Tyler, you hit home some of the systemic issues that surrounds sports culture (gender binary, homophobia, racism, oppression, etc ); but systemic issues should be addressed, in my opinion like they are, systemically. There are plenty of athletes that represent the oppressed group of people that you mentioned – and it would be unfair to fault those athletes for being a part of the systemically established sports culture. Maybe if we celebrated these underrepresented athletes more, we could address more of the systemic issues that surrounds sports.

    Humans are social beings – undeniably. Sports culture, for the time that I’ve known it for (22 years so not very long :), has been one of the ways to foster that sense of community. Therefore, I think sports can do wonderful things for inclusiveness, if done right***. (Think back to “Flo Tracys”, “Floating Tracies”, “Throw Tracies”, etc etc etc – it was one of the ways for the Floor Fellows at McGill to get together once in a while to celebrate our “togetherness” – now whether you agree to that or not is another discussion).

    Lastly, maybe it’s my science background, but I think physical activity is really, really important. Now, a lot of the times, our culture skews the perception of “exercise” and “sports” to one that’s more harmful, like “aesthetics” and “binary gender roles”. That, in my opinion, is an issue of education (and very systemic), and not a fault of sports itself.

    Perhaps instead of discounting sports, and saying “I don’t want it at my university”, we can say: “Hey, let’s embrace the fact that sports is important for some members of our community, and perhaps if we worked together, we can make it a positive experience for all that’s involved & affected by it”.

  6. Great article buddy!!1!!
    I think you might have some problems with your father-in-law in the future though… Sorry about that.

  7. I could potentially argue by referencing phrases from your article and pulling links from other web sources, etc., etc…. but, ain’t nobody got time for that! So, I’m just going to go ahead and say that this is probably one of the dumbest articles McGill Tribune is yet to publish. Evidently, you have a very misled view of society and the world – I’d suggest you grow up, step away from your extremist views, and realize that your opinion is in no way reflective of reality.

    … Lol. I can’t wait to see how folks like yourself fare in the real world; when your warped view of how things should be will culminate in you bagging my groceries.

  8. I feel the arguments in this article are unsubstantiated and alarmist; representative of the author’s dislike for university sports based on his own prejudices rather than as a true analysis of McGill’s culture.

    Also, you shouldn’t argue with the commenters on your own article. It makes you look petty. If you need another 800 words to restate your positions to a comment you disagree with, then you didn’t do a good job arguing in the first place.

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  10. Sarah Kehler

    I can appreciate a couple arguments put forward in this article. I know that there are negative stereotypes associated with athletes, especially in high schools. However I think this article propagates those stereotypes unfairly.
    I was the president of McGill’s Red Thunder last year and involved with the club for the three years prior to that. As such I have devoted a very substantial amount of time to a club whose sole purpose is to get McGill students out to support their athletes; it’s something that matters a lot to me.

    As a club we did our best to be inclusive, offering events ranging from sports trivia nights, running intramural teams (open to all), charity promotions, to yea, the above mentioned pre-drinks and after parties. What we came to terms with was that events where alcohol was involved were the events where the most people showed up. As a marketing strategy we went with that… but that’s not to say we forced drinking on anyone.
    Our athletes travel the country representing our school. They are the face of our school – whether we like it or not. And having worked with, and become friends with a lot of those athletes I want to stand up for them and say they are some of the nicest, most generous and humble people I have ever met.
    I was not an athlete at McGill but because of my love for sports I was welcomed into the McGill athletics world, I’ve never felt more welcomed anywhere. So I am sorry if other people have had more negative experiences, obviously a generalization positive or negative about all athletes isn’t possible. But athletics has the power to bring together people that have nothing in common and it is my favourite part of sport, it’s why I dedicated hundred of hours trying to get people to come out to games. To laugh, to cheer, and to celebrate our fantastic university. Drink in hand or not.

  11. Outrageous, what a cynical, negative, miserable perspective. I’m glad this piece is getting some stick on here – no question it deserves it.

    As well as expressing sentiments that are, in my opinion, inaccurate and staggeringly generalized, it completely disregards the overwhelmingly positive influence that ‘sports culture’ has on millions (probably billions) of people it touches from all walks of life, all around the world. Whether involved as an athlete, a coach, a spectator, a referee, a parent, or a fan, it’s absolutely undeniable that sports are an incredibly strong force for good in the world. Look at the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, etc etc. What other types of events are capable of such worldwide unification, national pride, positive support, and camaraderie? While you are busy stereotyping athletes as hateful meatheads you seem to have glossed over the fact that sports and their athletes at all levels have the capacity to blur lines with regards to income, race, sexuality, religion, and to act as remarkable forces for peace-building and acceptance. Famous athletes commonly use their positions of considerable influence to give back to the world in many ways: financially, politically, and socially.

    On a more local geographical scale, the wide variety of ‘sports cultures’ I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to at McGill and elsewhere have been almost exclusively accepting, inclusive, cultured, and open-minded. I want to be clear that everything I am saying can be applied to any level of sports, talent and privilege do not factor in. Professional athletes, collegiate athletes, intramural inner-tube water-polo players, people playing a game of frisbee in the park – there are myriad opportunities for anyone and everyone to benefit from sports. Sports foster a sense of community, and teach participants invaluable lessons and skills that can be applied to all areas of life: boosting self-esteem, acceptance, empathy, friendship, mutual respect, health & fitness, confidence, work ethic, perseverance, and courage to name but a few. I know that teams I’ve played on have used our unity as a large group as an opportunity to do community service such as food drives, volunteering at soup kitchens, and running after school sports clinics for under-privileged children who probably need some positive role-models.

    I’m sure that without the positive influences of sports and the surrounding culture in my life I’d be much more likely to fit the mold of the bigoted jock outlined in the article.

    Of course there are people that feed the generalizations, but you can see any group of people in a negative light by extrapolating the behavior of the few ‘bad eggs’ if that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

    And just because you view most athletes as advantaged (untrue, many of the advantaged athletes you are referencing have gotten to where they are through no means other than earning it) it’s ok to stereotype them but still reprehensibly wrong to stereotype other groups of people?? Come on, you know better. It renders most of your argument as hypocritical.

    I could go on for pages, there is so much flawed about this article, unfortunately I don’t have time. Tyler, I hope that you can perhaps open yourself up to the good that sports do for the world and for the McGill community. I’m confident that your life has been touched in some way by the positive influences that sports can generate, whether you are aware of it or not. I’m sorry if you’ve had negative experiences with athletes/sports or whatever it was but the opinion you’ve voiced is shockingly biased. If you ever have children, I hope you will at least give them the opportunity to be involved in some form of sports, organized or not, and then see them reap the rewards for the rest of their lives.

    P.S. Everything I’ve said was underlined and supported at McGill more than anywhere else, and I credit McGill with making my appreciation of sports culture what it is now.

  12. Disappointed McGill Student

    I can’t believe the McGill Tribune actually posted this. It’s hard to understand sports and sports culture, if, like the author, you’ve clearly never played sports before. Unfortunately McGill is full of un-athletic individuals who cannot appreciate the beneficial aspects of supporting your varsity teams and having pride in your university.

  13. Gay Athlete

    You bring up some interesting points in this article, but I feel like there is an important question that you should answer:

    Why do YOU personally feel marginalized by McGill athletics and sports culture?

    I am a gay, cis, male who isn’t “hyper masculine” who finds much comfort in sports. They are an opportunity to include people and work towards a common goal. Here at McGill, because of our progressive community, we have the chance to change sports culture and make it inclusive to everyone willing to participate. Although there are stereotypes associated with sports culture everywhere, I do think it is unfair to stereotype all athletes (like you haughtily did in your comment above). Where does someone like me fall into all of this, a competitive-at-heart, good sportsperson who includes EVERYONE who wants to play and be part of my team? Generalizations are dangerous, regardless of whom they target, and although athletes aren’t necessarily marginalized, it doesn’t mean they all fit a cookie-cutter schema. Sure, white people aren’t marginalized in this society, but that doesn’t mean we can make broad, sweeping generalizations about them, either.

    Sports CAN indeed have a culture of inclusion, and that’s what I strive for on all my teams. I don’t think it’s fair for you to group me (OR ANYONE FOR THAT MATTER) into the vicious stereotype that you’ve mentioned (OR ANY STEREOTYPE FOR THAT MATTER), since I am an openly gay athlete who is a raging feminist, not hyper masculine, and has never been drunk in his life.

    Attacks on the wide range of people are 1) unproductive and 2) inappropriate. The best way to solve this problem is not just to evaluate the problems with sports culture, as you’ve outlined here, but also to provide solutions with HOW we can change it. Sports and sports culture can unite and include
    athletes of all different presentations, and although in some aspects it may
    need to be changed, it is our job to change it to make it accessible to everyone.

  14. fencer_chic

    … a very timely article, preceding the Gazette’s (nov 1st) on the upcoming hearing on the charges laid before 3 football team members on counts of sexual assault with a weapon and forceful confinement. It isn’t the first time either. In 2005, McGill cancelled the season after degrading hazing rituals were performed by older team members. There definitely is a wider jock-culture problem here.

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