A packed Levien Gymnasium from spring 2016's CIT tournament.

A spectre is haunting Levien…

Staff Writer Gloriana Lopez and Guest Writer Abby Rubel have seen a lot of basketball at Columbia, and they’ve seen a lot of fans. The two of them discuss the divide perpetuated between athletes and their fans.

Luke Petrasek is flawless.
He has two Fendi purses and a silver Lexus.
I hear his hair’s insured for $10,000.
I hear he does car commercials… in Japan.
One time, he punched me in the face. It was awesome.

Obviously, none of these things are true. (Luke Petrasek, men’s basketball’s points leader, has a red Lexus and does Nike commercials in Holland.) When a sports team does well, as the men’s basketball team has been doing for the past few years, the athletes who are having that success can come to seem a little more than human, just like Regina George.

In 2013, the Columbia Daily Spectator published an article called “The Dodge Divide.” It explored the relationship between athletes and the greater Columbia community. The bulk of the article focused on athletes’ relationship with their peers. Many people expressed resentment that athletes, who they perceived of as bad at sports and bad at academics, filled up so many slots in their class. But in 2013, Columbia’s most popular sports stunk. The football team hadn’t won on the road since 2009, the women’s basketball team had gone 5-23, and the men’s basketball team had finished in last place in the Ivies.

Four years later, the situation has changed quite a bit. The football team won homecoming for the first time in sixteen years and finished 2-5 in the Ivies, the women’s basketball team will likely finish 13-13, (depending on how things go today at Yale), and the men’s basketball team is currently the CIT Champion and has a better than 50% chance of making it into the first-ever Ivy League tournament.

The men’s basketball team in particular suffers from a divide between the players and student fans. It’s much harder to see someone as your peer when you’re watching them dominate on the court every Friday and Saturday night. (And sometimes not dominating so much. What happened at Brown, guys?) And the way Athletics markets the team, as if they were any other professional team, only serves to create the impression that the men’s basketball players don’t actually go to school here.

This is compounded by the fact that a successful athlete has the kind of star power rarely replicated on college campuses. Sure, Rafael Ortiz posts a lot in Buy Sell Memes, but it’s still easy to see him as a person who could be sitting next to you in class ignoring the professor by creating internet humor. It’s much harder to picture a successful athlete as a normal person.

But this dynamic is ultimately damaging to both sides. On the fans’ side, it’s important to recognize that the athletes are actually our peers, even though we may feel disconnected from them. You could run into them at Mel’s or 1020 or see them on Low steps doing their CC reading. And when they practice and compete, they’re taking time away from their studies. Athletes: they’re people too!

And the athletes need to see the fans as fellow students, not just fans. The recent Athletics video where team members talk about how much they appreciate the fans is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we love knowing that the team appreciates the energy we put into rooting for their victory. But on the other hand, it makes us feel pandered to. If the team wants to appreciate us, they could start by coming over to the student section after the games, like they did last week at Penn, but hadn’t done since Harvard. Having Athletics put out a video where they say how much they appreciate fans, without the action to match, makes us feel like they’re making it up for the camera. They’re likely not (what athlete doesn’t appreciate playing in a full stadium?), but the fact that we see so little evidence of that appreciation during the games is discouraging. The team should recognize that we’re taking time out of our studying to cheer them on. Fans: we’re people too!

The success of the men’s basketball team has only served to widen the gap between them and the rest of the student body. We all go to the same school and face many of the same challenges because of that, so it’s stupid to see anyone as fundamentally separate. It isn’t doing anyone any good. It only serves to widen the Dodge divide.

basketballers via Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin