It seems like blasphemy to even ask this question, the sort of uneducated heresy more likely to be uttered by a student from that university across the Bay, but: Is Stanford evil?
It can’t be, right? I love this place. I honestly struggle to get dressed in the morning and not find myself wearing something Cardinal. Out of 14 football games last season, I missed just two away games, and I shudder to think how many days of my life I have spent in my second home, Maples Pavilion.
There are few sports teams that I live and die for: Reading FC, the England soccer team and now the ensemble of Stanford Athletics too. It wasn’t always that way, I used to find the whole concept of “school spirit” rather distasteful, but reporting for this publication, chatting with athletes and coaches alike and simply sharing far too many happy memories alongside other Stanford fans eventually wore me down.
It can’t, then, be evil. I’m one of the good guys, right? When I missed my bus home from Los Angeles on Presidents’ Day, I ended up buying two tickets. One for me and one for another passenger in a similar predicament, except with an empty wallet. Not because he asked—I didn’t even give him the chance to do that—but just because it was the right thing to do.
So I wouldn’t support something that was downright evil, right? Surely someone or something that I like and have respect for can’t be that bad.
But then Stanford—admittedly not the athletics department—goes and sells out us students over the summer, letting Starbucks invade Tresidder, does its best to kill off a popular and charitable food truck, banishing NetAppetit from the Farm (though it has since been allowed to return under heavy restrictions), and now threatens to poison the lifeblood of Suites, handing control of its student-run eating clubs over to outsiders.
Wait, that can’t be my Stanford, can it? My Stanford—seen through my rose-colored glasses—is the good guy, the quirky little school that has made it to the top without compromising its identity and idealism. Not the sort of place that would just roll over for the first corporation that comes knocking, that values profit above anything else.
A lot of debate on campus centers around the Israel-Palestine conflict and whether Stanford, an incredibly rich and influential organization, should divest from certain companies with dealings in the Middle East. The main idea being that investing in these companies supports the status quo and indirectly leads to flagrant abuses of human rights, and thus by removing this money, the university could enact positive change.
Whether that will work and exactly who is and isn’t responsible in the first place probably isn’t a topic I should be subjecting you sports fans to, but I wouldn’t be scribbling this down if I didn’t see some thing in common here.
I can’t blame the athletics department directly for the sins committed elsewhere, but like it or not, there is a deep connection between all the various subsidiaries of Stanford Inc. I also have a lot invested in Cardinal sports—not money, of course—but something worth far more: my hopes and dreams.
So should I—could I—divest—myself from all this? Even though attendances at football games aren’t exactly multitudinous, I doubt a single fan would be missed, and since most of my tickets I get for free, I wouldn’t exactly be cutting off a lucrative revenue stream. But regardless of the futility of it all, is it the right thing to do?
Reading FC is a soccer minnow struggling to stay alive in the world of the Premier League. Though technically now owned by a Russian billionaire—or at least a consortium including him—it has not let this go to its head, valuing the team ethic over expensive and extravagant superstar players or managers.
Even the England team doesn’t appear too bad. Yes, the Football Association—the governing body of English soccer—is poorly run and makes some terrible decisions, but it looks like a shining example in comparison to FIFA. England is also helped out by its repeated and catastrophic failure on the international stage; it has not won anything in 47 years. It is far easier to love a bad loser than a bad winner.
Stanford, though, lays claim to one of the most successful programs in the history of collegiate athletics. Winning might never be easy, but it certainly comes naturally here. All of that I could live with, if it wasn’t for the creeping fear in my heart that Stanford is becoming a bully. If money is power and power corrupts then things don’t look good for a school that raked in a billion dollars in fundraising last year.
Turning away from the people and teams in Stanford colors that have been a major part of my life for the last few years would be impossibly hard, but maybe it would be worth doing.
If your wallet is empty, Tom Taylor will give you lunch money as long as you promise to avoid Starbucks. Tell him why that makes him a good person at tom.taylor ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.