Lin’s accounts of racist behavior continue disturbing trend in Ivy sports

Former Harvard guard Jeremy Lin (2006 -10) was interviewed by his Brooklyn Nets teammate on the “Outside Shot with Randy Foye” podcast on May 10.  After discussing the early part of his basketball career, Lin was asked if he was subjected to racial slurs when playing on the road.  The NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent stated that he suffered more racist abuse during his time in college than in the pros.

Lin recounted several examples, which included a fan at Georgetown yelling “chicken fried rice,” “beef lo mein” and “beef and broccoli” at him, as well as a coach at Vermont who shouted “Hey ref!  You can’t let that Oriental do that!” when Lin was raising his arms during a Catamount player’s free throws.  These types of comments occurred during Ivy League games as well.  At Yale, fans yelled out, “Hey! Can you even see the scoreboard with those eyes!”.  His most damning story took place at Cornell where he was called a ch–k by players in front of the referees who did nothing to stop the derogatory comments.

Mr. Lin’s accounts of disparaging behavior from Ivy League fans and players is the latest example of abusive and/or insensitive behavior from those in the athletic communities directed to players, students, and/or citizens across the conference that have been revealed over the last 15 months:

February 2016: Yale men’s basketball team wore t-shirts supporting a former teammate who had inexplicably withdrawn from the university.  Later, it was noted that the player was expelled due to a violation of sexual misconduct.

March 2016: A first-year member of the Cornell men’s basketball team was arrested on charges of rape, sexual assault, and strangulation

April 2016: Six Yale athletes create a LGBTQ student-athlete support group that in-part seeks to tackle the :locker room culture”  that can be harmful to LGBTQ athletes.  Also, one of the group’s founders mentioned that his former rugby coach had used homophobic language and slurs on a regular basis.

October 2016: In commemorating the 100th edition of the Yale-Dartmouth football series, the Yale Athletic Department printed a racist program, which was a collage of eight former posters including cartoon caricatures of Native Americans, a bulldog chasing a Native American up a tree, and a football player lighting a Native American on fire.

October 2016: Several former and current members of the Harvard women’s rugby team inform the school that the Athletic Department does not provide enough recruiting spots or equitable compensation for their coaches.  In meetings and letters to administrators over the past year, these athletes have told administrators that there is not enough support for women’s sport, in general.

November 2016:  The Harvard men’s soccer team was suspended for the remainder of its season after it was discovered that the team had been producing a document, over the last several years, that had been explicitly rating members of the women’s soccer program on their perceived sexual appeal and physical appearance.

November 2016: Several members of the Columbia wrestling team were suspended after an investigation revealed that they had sent racist, sexual, and homophobic texts in a group messaging app.

December 2016: The Harvard men’s cross country team was placed on “athletic probation” after a school review of a 2014 spreadsheet made by the team found it contained “”crude and sexualized statements” about members of the women’s cross country team.

December 2016: The Princeton men’s swimming and diving team was suspended for the remainder of its season after the university was alerted to several materials, including content on a school sponsored team listserv, that were vulgar, offensive, misogynistic, and racist.

March 2017: More than half a dozen former and current members of the women’s cross country and track team complained that the long distance running coach had “created a culture characterized by an expectation of total devotion, unhealthy training habits, and deep divisions about the direction of the program.”

In the wake of earlier revelations, Princeton swimming and diving reacted by educating its team on “rebuilding a strong, positive culture within its program”.  Harvard Athletics has started to work with consultants to review the culture of all its teams as well as an internal evaluation of its significant wage gap between men’s and women’s team coaches.  According to a recent report in the Harvard Crimson, the entire results of the reviews will not be made public, but a “high-level summary” will be provided to athletes in the fall. While Columbia Athletics has not discussed any specific programs for its wrestling team, it did continue its partnership with the school’s Office of Student Life for an annual sexual assault prevention program.

While the involved Ivy League coaches and the conference’s executive director Robin Harris have not reacted to Lin’s recent comments about racism, some athletic departments or teams have attempted to deal with the troubling actions noted above.  Instead of selective involvement, conference and school leadership need to investigate and respond to all of these allegations.  If they want to truly change the culture of Ivy League sports, however, it will be even more important for these people to be proactive.  Officials from the Ivy League, as well as the presidents and athletic directors of its member institutions, need to immediately review all aspects of their athletic programs in order to find divisive and dangerous behaviors.  

Then, they need to publicly share that information, as they work with athletic, campus and alumni groups in order to educate its students, fans, coaches, in-game officials, staffs and team members on respect, civility, tolerance, inclusivity, diversity and non-abusive behavior.  Without that level of commitment, these harmful actions will continue and league “stakeholders” will have to accept their share of responsibility.