On this much, everyone can agree. When it comes to the halftime protest at the 2019 Harvard-Yale football game, the protesters chose their time and venue well.
Students and other activists drew widespread attention Saturday for marching onto the field at halftime of The Game, the annual Harvard-Yale football showcase, refusing to leave and delaying resumption of the contest. That turned out to be important from an athletic standpoint as Yale stormed back from a first-half deficit to send the game into an eventual double overtime.
With no lights at Yale Bowl and late fall days getting shorter, there was a real risk the game could be called for darkness. But Yale managed to pull through in what has been called one of the best games in the long history of the rivalry.
Still, there was outrage from many corners. How dare these protesters get in the way of a sacred tradition? Don’t they know there was an Ivy League title at stake? Have they no sense of history?
But all the bile thrown at the protesters overlooks a vital point. Whatever the history of Harvard vs. Yale, it is, after all, a football game. It’s an important one, no question, and something that players and fans look forward to and may reminisce about for decades. Still, it’s not something on which lives depend.
Climate change is something on which lives depend. The goals of the protest included calling on the universities to divest their enormous endowments from fossil fuels companies, as well as companies that hold Puerto Rican debt. These are worthy goals and the schools should take the demands seriously. Sometimes it takes a protest that is guaranteed to draw attention to gain traction on important issues.
Clearly, it’s not enough. Yale and Harvard could do everything the protesters ask and climate change would continue inexorably. But global problems demand global solutions, and everything matters. Without forcing change anywhere, the situation truly does become hopeless.
The reactions to Saturday’s events weren’t all angry. Many people supported the protesters, both their cause and their means. A number of players from both schools spoke positively about the sit-in, and they, more than anyone, would have a right to complain about their moment being overshadowed. But they understood that, as important as athletics can seem given how many people base their lives around such contests, there are some things that matter more.
Yale and Harvard have seen some athletics successes over the years, Yale most recently with its NCAA champion hockey team. They have been football rivals for more than a century. Even considering they are two of the premier academic institutions in America, their on-field clashes will always generate interest, from fans and general observers alike.
And there’s nothing to top The Game. Organizers knew the eyes of thousands at the stadium would be on them and millions more both nationally and internationally. They planned carefully and properly judged the stakes involved, for both football and their cause. They executed their plan to perfection, and deserve to be recognized for doing some good in the world.