Putting Athletics Over the Arts

When I decided to go to Bates, one thing that really drew me in was the complete and utter lack of school spirit. I personally hate school spirit. I love that we don’t care! 

A lack of school spirit is typically also correlated with a lack of turnout for sporting events and general interest in sports teams. I’ve found that to be true at Bates as well; we aren’t really a big “fan section” school. I’ve been to sporting events to support my friends before, as most of us probably have, but it’s just not a weekly occurrence for the average NARP (non-athletic regular person). 

In middle school, I remember everything revolving around sports. All the cool kids were athletes, and we didn’t have a theater department or anything like that. I saw Bates as very different from this, which was one reason I wanted to come. 

I really hated existing in a place that was all about sports, but not because I hate them or anything. I actually kind of like sports, I just don’t like to partake in them myself. I love my athlete friends, and after living with my freshman year roommate on the softball team, I’ve seen how it is genuinely impressive to balance a demanding athletic schedule with a rigorous academic workload. 

However, I am bitterly jealous. Not just of the fact that athletes can run for more than two minutes without throwing up, but of the way Bates’ policies are shaped around them. Last year, while I was trapped in my single, meeting with my a cappella group over Zoom, sports teams were practicing in person. You might be thinking, of course, how can you throw a football remotely? To which I would say, fair point, but how do you sing in a group remotely? Neither are very pragmatic.

While my group was told there was absolutely no way we could sing, even masked, no matter how much distance there was between us, sweaty, contact-filled practices were well underway (though of course athletes still had restrictions that I’m sure were difficult as well). We basically lived in the town from “Footloose” for a year. 

Then, this past semester, things were almost normal. We eventually had masking restrictions lifted so that we were able to rehearse and perform without masks in a cappella and in theater. It was still a little annoying that we weren’t allowed to receive school funding to go on tour while  sports teams went on training trips, but I was feeling mostly content with the situation.

When we received notice of new COVID-19 restrictions for the winter semester, my eyes frantically scanned the page for any mention of performances or rehearsals. Right away I saw that masks would be required indoors, except for when actively participating in indoor athletic events. There was absolutely no mention of rehearsals or performances. My a cappella group is technically a club, so I’d guess it counts as social programming, which was supposed to be all remote. But as for the theater production I’m currently involved in, I had no clue. 

What is the public health justification for this exception? Is COVID-19 allergic to basketball or something? Or, are we simply recognizing that it’s incredibly difficult to engage in athletics with a mask on, and acknowledging that uninhibited athletic performance is important to our community?

As I suspect the latter rationalization is more accurate, I’d like to see McIntosh try to belt an E4 with a mask on, or deliver a Shakespeare monologue. It’s not impossible, but it’s certainly difficult. That being said, it stands to reason that we don’t get the same exception because we just aren’t as important to the community. Are the arts just “social programming?”

I’m not trying to establish a rivalry between the arts and athletics. Many students are involved in both! Athletics are not the enemy. The enemy is a way of thinking that values athletic programming over all other activities. 

To be clear, I don’t know what the rules will be for performers entirely. Since that original message, restrictions have been lifted and my a cappella group will be able to meet in person, masked. So you may think all of this self-pity is for nothing. But the point is that we weren’t even included in the original message about the restrictions. I still don’t know if masking will be required during theater performances.

There’s a straightforward explanation: We do not matter as much to Bates. Athletics are simply more important. When there’s a hole in the Schaefer Theatre ceiling leaking water onto the stage while you’re dancing in heels, you realize this pretty quickly. However, living with COVID-19 restrictions has shed even more light onto Bates’ priorities.