penalty shouts: CMU apolitical, Yale-Harvard political

This is Penalty Shouts, The Tartan’s sports column inspired by the The New Yorker’s column Daily Shouts. This satire-fueled column will focus on anything and everything funny in the sports world that is deserving of our comedic attention.

Imagine walking around campus on a cold November Saturday. Maybe you’re going to the Cohon University Center to get some homework done, or you’re on your way to Hunt Library or the Gates-Hillman Center for a group project meeting. Say you pass the Cohon University Center and hear some commotion outside. It’s the football field, also known as (but rarely referred to as) Gesling Stadium. A group of students have taken to the field with banners demanding that Carnegie Mellon divest from fossil fuels, that the university must do this to combat climate change.

The football players are along the sidelines, helmets off, confused about whether half-time is over and wondering when the student protestors will leave the field. The small crowd, mostly players’ family members, a couple friends, and some athletes from other sports teams, is also confused about what is going on. Perhaps one dad yells out that he wants football, and for the students to get off the field. Perhaps a mom is explaining to her younger child what the students are protesting about.

The students are ushered off the field, and the football game resumes after a 48-minute delay. Was the protest successful? Well, at a school like Carnegie Mellon, who knows if a majority of the student body will even know this happened.

Now, this is all hypothetical — this did not occur this past Saturday at the Tartans’ final game of the season. It actually did happen at the historical Harvard-Yale football game on Saturday. Students from both Harvard and Yale took to the field at half-time to protest the schools’ continuing investment in fossil fuels and to call the schools to begin divestment. Climate change protests are all well and good, but the real genius of this plan was that it happened at this particular game. The protests invaded the only popular Ivy League football game of the year and "divested" the focus from football.

In the immediate aftermath, the protest seems successful. The Harvard-Yale game is the most prominent football game in the Ivy League and regularly has sold-out crowds wherever it is played (which, this year, was in New Haven). The game was broadcast on cable television and the protest was featured on ESPN. Yale was trending on Twitter, which I guarantee is the only time the school will ever trend for anything related to sports. The response ranged from complete support to conservatives blasting the students for being "elitist fake news nuisances" to a vast majority of people confused as to why an Ivy League football game was showing up on ESPN and their socail media timelines.

I can only imagine what something like this would look like at Carnegie Mellon. We don’t have a storied Harvard-Yale game, and we definitely aren’t ever going to be on television. The closest team we have to a rival is Case Western, but only people like sports writers for the school paper and actual football players know that. And unlike the Ivy League, which is Division I, we’re Division III, with no athletic scholarships and little chances of players making it to the NFL. You would have a better chance of reaching people for a protest at the black chairs on a given weekday than the small number of people who show up to football games on Saturdays.

Carnegie Mellon is a relatively apolitical university — indeed, I’ve had many friends wonder why there isn’t anything going on prominently on campus related to climate change or military investment in research. There have been some protests and political messaging on campus this semester, such as protests against Palantir and ICE in Gates and the China-Hong Kong discourse at the Fence, but overall, this activity is minuscule when compared with any liberal arts school you can think of.

Let’s go back to the opening scene, to a hypothetical protest at a football game at Gesling Stadium. Perhaps the Tartans are playing their biggest rival, Case Western, or maybe it’s Grove City or Geneva. Students on campus might look over to Gesling Stadium to see what’s going on, but will continue walking to their destinations. Such is the nature of a relatively apolitical university student body. If it were me, I’d just laugh at the absurd choice to do it at a Tartan football game.