Saturday, September 23, 2006

Harvard Can't Handle the Truth!

Before its opening game every season Harvard's football team holds its traditional Skit Night. Harvard is not alone in this sort of tradition (We had one on the track team at Williams, for example, as did several other vrsity teams), and participants and viewers learn quickly what to expect: Not much actual talent, a lot of broad humor, and more than a little ribaldry. Some players and coaches will come in for abuse. It is all in a spirit of good fun, and if someone crosses a line, well, that's sort of the nature of the beast. There are lines, of course, that cannot be breached -- racism would be a prime example -- but otherwise, everyone involved knows that hypersensitivity won't serve you well if you attend one of these affairs. They are intended for a very select audience involving the team and its inner sanctum.

Apparently no one told Harvard head football coach Tim Murphy, despite that fact that he has been Harvard's head coach for 13 seasons. At this year's Skit Night, Keegan Toci, a twenty-one-year-old senior wide receiver from Tucson, Arizona, performed a skit in which he gave twenty reasons why Harvard will never make the jump from Division I-AA to I-A (a pemise that, far from being offensive, is irrefutably true). Several players who were there have acknowledged that several other skits were more offensive -- including one that more than implied that a player had orally serviced Murphy.

How did Murphy reply to Toci's skit? By dismissing the wide receiver from the team. According to the Boston Globe srtory:

Harvard players have long believed they enjoyed immunity from discipline for their performances on Skit Night, an irreverent, sometimes raunchy, ritual that was considered part of their social bonding during the run-up to the season opener. But this year's event ended like no other, with Murphy later announcing he would abolish the Skit Night tradition because of Toci's performance and a number of racy, off-color acts such as the one portraying Dawson and the coach.

Murphy declined to state publicly why he believed Toci should be ousted from the team while players who engaged in suggestively lewd performances should not be disciplined, other than to characterize Toci's remarks as unacceptably malicious.

Efforts to reach Harvard athletic director Robert Scalise last night were unsuccessful.

After Murphy announced Toci's dismissal, he asked the 110-member team whether it supported his position. An uneasy silence ensued, then one player after another rose from his seat until about 20 stood in protest, with others apparently poised to follow, before Murphy abruptly ended the meeting and left the room, according to one witness.

Another witness said Murphy departed only after determining that a vast majority of the team supported his decision.

This last assertion seems highly unlikely. It is clear that Toci had the support of a number of his teammates -- otherwise why would Murphy have cut short the meeting at just the moment when players were starting to exercise their protest? -- and that Murphy was surprised and taken aback by the opposition to his stance. Furthermore, his capriciousness is stunning. Harvard has already had a rash of disciplinary suspensions this season. The latest ought not to have happened. The coach's thin skin will scuttle a longstanding tradition and Harvard's reputation for taking itself far too seriously will remain intact.

Toci has appealed to the university's administration, which I'm sure was the last thing the solons at Harvard needed and which is put in a rather uncomfortable situation: Reinstate Toci, who almost certainly will never see the field again and whose reinstatement will fuel dissension, or else back Murphy despite the demonstrably erroneous nature of his decision. I would not be surprised if Murphy does not find himself on a short leash at Harvard, where football should be seen and not heard, and where athletics should enhance and never detract from the mission of the university.

In the Boston area people sometimes refer to Harvard as the World's Greatest University (or "WGU"), usually with equal parts irony and admiration and always in a tone acknowledging Harvard's self importance. But the fact is that Harvard probably is the WGU, or at least holds a place of prominence in any discussion of the world's greatest universities, and it is beneath the university to have to deal with this sort of nonsense simply because the football coach is a bit too touchy. The administration should reinstate Toci forthwith with a clear message to Murphy: This is the end of this tempest in a teacup. There should be no more ramifications for Toci, and the season should go on as if it had never happened, as if Murphy had never let his own ego and weirdly delicate sensitivities get in the way of good judgment. Harvard does not need to be in the business of metaphorically fellating the coach, even if he believes that to be the job of his players.


GoodLiberal said...

And despite all this turmoil, Harvard did manage to beat my Ivy-Champion Brown Bears on Saturday. Still, we lost last year and went on to win the big prize, albeit I am less confident on that happening again this year.

dcat said...

I'm a bit surprised they came out and played so well. At the same time, the phrase "Ivy-Champion Brown Bears" is even harder to wrap my brain around!


GoodLiberal said...

Can I say it again? 'Ivy-Champion Brown Bears'.... ahhh! That feels so nice. Anyway, here's hoping that our running-back from last year, Nick Hartigan sticks with the Jets and gets some playing time. He is quite the epitome of the scholar-athlete.

dcat said...

I always root for Ivy 9and DIII) guys. And I love to brag that since my freshman year at Williams, which was not THAT long ago, we've had four guys get at least a cup of coffee in the NFL, with two sticking, and one, my buddy Ethan, stick for many years. I went to a D-IA MAC program for my PhD that has had one guy make it in that time and he's a punter.

Anonymous said...

Keegan Toci is one of the most well rounded true gentlemen left in the world, & he got completely blind sided by Coach Murphy. It should have been done in an appropriate manner instead of in front of the whole Team leaving the team members to choose sides. Now everyone gets to have all the embarrasing media scrutiny which by the way makes Coach Murphy look like a child whose had his feelings hurt, because he can't handle true facts, but he does approve of oral pleasures from the players.

dcat said...

It certainly seems as if this whole affair was handled terribly, and most of the blame falls squarely on Murphy's shoulders.