Author: Andrew Harris

Bullying by any other name would be just as destructive

I was nine years old when I was first bullied. It was pretty standard playground fare: name-calling, a little shoving, some jokes at my expense. The main perpetrator, who will remain unnamed, saw weakness in my relative tininess. I wasn’t big, so they said I wasn’t a boy. I could and did deal with their physical and verbal offenses. What I could not deal with, and what has haunted me for many years since, was the solitude of being the victim.

I can only imagine what both Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both offensive linemen for the Miami Dolphins football team, are feeling. In case you haven’t heard, Incognito has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team.” “Conduct” here means Incognito’s continued harassment of Martin he apparently intended to “man up” the rookie, ultimately causing Martin to leave the Dolphins.

Responses have varied, with some calling for an end to hazing in sports and others stepping up to defend Incognito on the grounds of preserving the “culture” of the National Football League. In fact, many in the NFL actually support Incognito. For many of those who are close to the game, hazing seems to be just another custom in the NFL’s warrior culture.

What I’m trying to say is that whatever happens in an NFL locker room will probably be incomprehensible for the rest of the us, no matter how many hours of play we’ve seen. Can we really expect perfect civility from men who are encouraged to physically harm other men, whose very livelihood depends on how well they can tackle?

We, as spectators, have limited insight into the inner machinations of the NFL’s warrior culture or the athletes who participate in it because we have not experienced their lifestyle. However, when “to be a man” means to endure physical and mental anguish with a smile on your face, to stifle your emotions in the name of being “tough,” they have crossed the line. Hazing has been defended as a part of NFL life, but it cannot go unchecked. In a sport with a pattern of suicides – 11 have been recorded in the 2000s alone – a warrior culture which labels expression of emotion as “weak” can be deadly. We need to do something. The NFL needs to do something.

That’s why I am here. I’m writing to fight the hyper-masculine – more specifically, the hyper-masculinity for the sake of being “a real man.” Unfortunately, Richie Incognito doesn’t know what a “real man” is. His life has been all about being the biggest and the strongest and how to use his size and strength to flatten other boys and men. He is a warrior, but he is not a warrior for anything other than proving himself to us. It is quite sad, really. Incognito, and all bullies, engage in hazing for a reaction. Maybe Incognito doubts himself more than he doubts Martin. Maybe he’s just as much of a victim of the NFL’s warrior culture.

Still, people need to realize that hazing, a form of bullying, is never appropriate. I doubt Incognito or Martin will ever play professional football again. But what about that nine-year-old on the playground being called “girly” or “tiny?” The saga of the Miami Dolphins reaches beyond football and into the warrior culture of the United States itself. We idolize men who can fight through the pain and be a real trooper and never back down. No pain, no gain, right? Wrong.

When you are forced to win by repressing your emotions in name of “manliness,” you can only lose. What Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin teach us is that we don’t need any more warriors who fight for themselves. What we need is a warrior culture of love, peace and acceptance. Until then, we fight.

Andy Harris ’15 is from Minnetonka, Minn. He majors in English and political science.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Senior recitals showcase masterful talent

They are a time-honored tradition at St. Olaf, rivaled only by Christmas Festival, the Cereal Bowl and the 100 Day March. First years will come to know them, and seniors, well, some seniors are the participants in them. Senior recital season has arrived.

What is a senior recital? To be honest, I didn’t know much about them myself. I took to the Internet and learned that, according to the St. Olaf Music Department’s website, senior recitals are really two things rolled up into one: a requirement for the Bachelor of Music degree in performance, church music, education and theory/composition and a public demonstration of musical mastery of an instrument. Apparently, audiences have been so entranced by the sheer skill of the artists in senior recitals that it has become necessary to introduce the guideline, “Flowers on the stage and presentation bouquets are not allowed. There are to be no encores.”

Clearly, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill rock concert. Senior recitals are art in the highest form. If you watch the streamed recitals archived on the St. Olaf website, classical giants such as Beethoven, Bach and Berlioz are often covered, along with more contemporary music ranging from jazz to hip-hop. Twins Maggie and Katie Burk ’13 performed an hour-long operatic exhibition that was particularly notable. The twins’ samplings ranged from Mozart to Britten, with one sister soloing occasionally. The recital was, however, more of a masterclass in the art of the duet, with the sisters working together to create music. The talent and hours spent in the practice room are clear – masters of music walk among us here at St. Olaf.

I had not attended a senior recital until the second semester of my sophomore year. I honestly only went because a good friend of mine was the accompanist for the senior performer. I was pleasantly surprised at what I encountered, and the striking music, the sheer command of tone and timbre and the unrivaled “wow factor” all draw me back to senior recitals.

They are, perhaps, the purest representations of the talent we Oles have. They are done by students, for students. You won’t see many classical connoisseurs in the audience at a senior recital – recitals are simply an incredible way to infuse some culture into life. You are missing out if you don’t go, and if you do, you will not regret it.

If you take the time to search “senior recitals” on the St. Olaf website, you will find that the schedule is packed from now through second semester. Another thing you’ll find, if you watch the archived recitals, is a lot of empty seats. St. Olaf is renowned for its community, and having sparse crowds at capstone events like senior recitals does not reflect well on that renown.

Even if you can’t make them all, don’t fret – there is certainly a recital that will suit your taste. If trumpet doesn’t fall soft on your ears, check out a vocal performance recital, a string recital or even a dueling string-trumpet duet. And, okay, maybe the last one doesn’t happen, but you never know, right? You never know what you are going to get at senior recitals. The only thing you can expect is that it will be fantastic.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Sports economics lecture raises questions

Supposedly, living in Kildahl Hall’s close quarters in the mid- 1990s taught Victor Matheson ’99 how to manage scarce resources effectively. Matheson, in his talk “Stadiums, Mega-Events and Public Finance Follies,” demonstrated the influence professional sports have on economies. Matheson centered his talk around two questions: Is commercial sport a wise use of taxpayer money? And why do we build “factories” for the NFL?

Many Minnesotans are familiar with the recent Vikings stadium deal. According to Matheson’s calculations, the total cost of the stadium will amount to about $975 million, with the public paying $498 million of the cost. Zygi Wilf, the owner of the Vikings, will pay a net amount of $72 million.

Soon after the ink dried on the stadium contract, the value of the Vikings jumped almost $200 million, and the team is now valued at just over $1 billion.

“Owners certainly benefit from new stadiums,” Matheson said, “but probably not the fans… [and] almost certainly not the cities.”

Matheson then went on to decry “Economic Impact Studies,” which are used by professional sports and other mega-event organizations such as the International Olympic Committee to “sell” their services to cities. To Matheson, such studies are nothing more than false research “commissioned by groups with a vested interest in the results” and ignore economic dampeners like “substitution effects,” “crowding out” and “leakages.”

In a stark contrast, Matheson estimated an 85 percent agreement among economists that “spectator sports result in little or no measured economic benefits on host cities.”

So why do teams get subsidies? Matheson pointed to special-interest groups as his prime suspect. In professional sports, “a small number of people stand to make huge profits, while a large number of people stand to lose a small amount over a long period of time,” he said.

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, spent over $1 million lobbying the Texas populace to approve the then-new Cowboys Stadium in 2006. Essentially, Matheson saw the rising cost of stadiums as evidence of “pro leagues exerting their monopoly power to pit city against city and neighborhood against neighborhood.”

Matheson asked the audience to remember the discussion about the Vikings moving to Los Angeles. He said that he saw that threat as extortion for the near billion dollar investment in the new stadium. In reality, Matheson said, “the NFL doesn’t want a team in L.A.” The threat to move there makes far more money than actually basing a team in the second-largest city in the nation.

For Matheson, the sports leagues’ monopoly on professional sports in America lies at the heart of both the problem and the solution for mega-events’ effect on local economies. He offered three possible courses of action in his talk.

First, Matheson wanted to see reform at the federal level, namely the “repeal of the leagues’ anti-trust exemptions related to TV rights if we see any more significant requests [for capital] at the local level.”

A second solution Matheson gave was municipal ownership of teams, a notion grounded in “taxpayers deciding how much they want to spend on their team,” because then fans would own control of the front office. Matheson noted that municipal ownership of professional teams is banned in every major sports league in the United States.

Matheson based his third solution on the soccer leagues of Europe, quipping that the “capitalist United States has the most socialist sports leagues in the world.” In Europe, the two best teams in a minor league take the place of the season’s two worst teams in the major league for next season.

“Success,” Matheson said, “then depends on local support of the league and the team.” For Matheson, solutions are all about balancing the never-ending game between owners and fans.

“The new Vikings stadium really should be the people’s stadium,” said Matheson, and not merely because “the people will be paying it off for another 30 years.” Professional sports leagues have more control over local economies than most people realize.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Alternative diets become more mainstream

Okay, St. Olaf, full journalistic honesty here: I don’t eat like a lot of you. I follow, with varying degrees of strictness, the “Paleo Diet,” which attempts to simulate what hunter-gatherer Paleolithic people would have eaten. This means no grains, no dairy, lots of vegetables, lots of meat, some fruit, nuts and starches and no beverages besides water.

Paleo is founded on the claim that humans have been genetically programmed to eat a certain way. Because genes are very slow-moving, humans have not adapted to the new foods that came with the rise of agriculture around 10,000 years ago.

I have been eating this way since sophomore year of college. However, because St. Olaf is a quaint, Midwestern, liberal arts college, people are bound to have a wide range of eating habits. Alternative diets are just part of life for most of us, even if we ourselves don’t subscribe to any particular methodology of eating.

Still, it seems like food is a more pervasive issue in our lives on campus than most of us believe. We economize our dining. We work our schedules around mealtimes. We make decisions, either conscious or otherwise, about what to eat and what not to eat. That last statement, especially, is a hot-button topic for many around campus, myself included.

Bon Appetit appears to be sensitive to dietary restrictions, helpfully informing the student body as to what has meat or animal products in the meals they prepare for us every day. But should we eat a certain way? What is it about alternative diets that make them so significant to us? Should we all go vegetarian? How about vegan? We need more than information. We need opinions.

In an effort to learn more about the vegan/veggie community at St. Olaf, I sat down with Josh Jacobson ’14, the leader of St. Olaf Alliance of Vegan and Vegetarian Individuals SAVVI. Our talk ranged from our own personal diets, to animal ethics, to the “trendiness” of alternative eating habits.

According to Jacobson, no vegan he knows of is vegan just to say they are vegan. The community is genuinely interested in health and the well-being of the environment. Coincidentally, the same topic came up recently in my Literature and Modern Philosophy class. Most students in my class knew someone who was only eating vegan or vegetarian to “stand out” from the majority. Who is right here? I can’t definitively say, but I know that more and more people at St. Olaf are throwing the USDA Food Pyramid out the window.

The vegans and the vegetarians are here to stay, whether they eat to be different or for more personal reasons. It has transcended “trendiness,” and alternative eating has almost become the norm. You can now safely navigate most restaurants if you are gluten-free, allergic to peanuts or have another dietary restriction. St. Olaf provides us with many delicious and creative foods from our lovely chefs and servers at Stav Hall.

In short, I am completely okay with the growing number of vegans and vegetarians on campus, even though my diet differs quite significantly from theirs. It is more than a fad. It is a movement; it is a cultural zeitgeist of people taking control over what they consume, and one that is largely revolutionary. And if there is anything that St. Olaf needs, it is a bit of fresh air. Or maybe just fresh vegetables.

Andrew Harris ’15 is from Minnetonka, Minn. He majors in English and political science.


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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Boxers knock out athletic competition

I am certain that this column will spark debates during dinner, provide conversation fodder for those long fall walks to class and perhaps even cut into time normally reserved for academic pursuits. My topic – which sport has the best athletes?

Now, the question isn’t really about individual athletes as much as it is about the nature of the sports in which they compete. Take Roger Federer. Obviously an incredible tennis player, he is wickedly fast, a genius on the court and regularly cracks forehands at over 100 miles per hour. But the sport of tennis just doesn’t have the sheer physicality of a game like rugby. Federer, precisely because he plays tennis, doesn’t require the same strength or high pain threshold that rugby players require. It is just the nature of the game.

There are what I call the “extra-athletic factors” of certain sports to take into account. Some sports are simply harder to succeed in than others. In other words, the popularity of any given sport essentially determines difficulty. For example, more people play soccer than the Mongolian equestrian sport buzkashi in which the possession of a headless goat is disputed…seriously. Therefore, the best soccer player has to be the biggest fish in a much larger pond than the best buzkashi athlete.

Furthermore, in my mind, the best athletes must overcome mental as well as physical challenges while competing. Again, popularity determines this “extra-athletic factor.” With popularity comes fame, with fame comes reputation and with reputation comes expectations. All those factors create extreme pressure for athletes. The best athletes come from sports which have, at the very least, pockets of dedicated fans around the world. So athletes from sports uniquely popular in America – like football and NASCAR – cannot be considered the best athletes.

Starting from there, I have added my own metrics in an attempt to answer my original question. First, an athlete cannot feasibly smoke or drink during competition sorry golfers, bowlers, professional eaters…. Second, there needs to be a ball, puck or shuttlecock involved. It, along with the pressure of knowing opponents will contest your possession of aforementioned item, adds another layer of a sport an athlete must master. Third, time spent on the bench must be kept to a minimum. All these lead up to my final decision. In my own humble opinion, boxing produces the best athletes.

But wait, Andy! Doesn’t that choice go against your second qualification that you made just four sentences ago?

There’s no way around it. Yes it does. But, in boxing, possession of consciousness is just as important as possession of a ball. The pressure that possession of a ball poses remains, amplified by the risk of physical harm. Boxers require great strength, endurance, hand-eye coordination, toughness, reflexes and flexibility. Additionally, combat sports are extremely popular around the globe. The weight of your physical condition, mental stresses and possibility of harm all make boxers the very best athletes on the planet.

So, there’s my two cents. The question which haunts all sporting minds has finally been laid to rest. Then again, soccer players do swim in the biggest sport’s pond, and it has a proper ball to contest.

Maybe the question won’t rest after all.


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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote