I love sports. I grew up playing them. I grew up watching them. I grew through stages where sports were my entertainment and sports were my identity, where the baseball fields and the tennis courts were my home. I grew up inseparable from sports.

David Harris

I also grew up in Michigan Stadium. I went to Michigan football games before I could walk. I grew up wearing different Michigan shirts to school every day in elementary school. The son of two Michigan alums, the maize and blue way was ingrained in me from a young age, and I would never look back until I set foot on campus as a student.

My freshman year I walked into the MDen and picked up my student football shirt, and on the front was emblazoned “THIS IS MICHIGAN,” with a graphic of the players running out of the stadium tunnel to touch the banner. From a team led by Michigan men to the Michigan Difference that’s so often touted, there’s a distinct Michigan way that the University prides itself, the way that makes Michigan, Michigan. And as I watch the University take leading spots on everything from ESPN to ABC’s “World News” and even Al-Jazeera this past week, it isn’t hard to look at all of these events and transgressions and say: this is not Michigan.

This is not the representation of the top public school in America that deserves to be in the news. This is not the true portrayal of a university that accomplishes so much in the classroom and out. A Michigan shirt worn in public shouldn’t elicit questions about why the football team doesn’t care about its own players or why the University’s Athletic Department administration seems inept. Michigan is walking through the Diag to get to the library, trees and leaves full with the colors of fall, backpack full of books, all while avoiding stepping on the M. Yet the Michigan we see is one where hundreds of students instead flood the Diag in protest to call for the firing of the Athletic Director.

Upon his hiring at the University, University President Mark Schlissel made his opinions on athletics at the University clear. “Athletics isn’t part of the mission statement of the University,” Schlissel said. “We’re an academic institution, so I want to work on the appropriate balance between athletics and academics.” The events that have transpired this past week have shown a failure to realize this statement.

But as well-meaning as Schlissel’s purposes for his statements are, it fails to recognize that athletics is Michigan too. Whether the name of the school is stitched onto a basketball jersey or printed on a diploma, it is Michigan, defined not only in the classroom, but also on the field and court. Just as I wouldn’t claim that sports were my only pursuit growing up, athletics too are not the primary mission of Michigan. But sports are and were a key piece to my own character and they are an integral component to what Michigan is.

Last year I would sit outside in below freezing temperatures to wait in line for basketball games. With basketball games on weekday nights, I’d bring textbooks to read and math homework to do while in line and sitting in the stadium prior to the game. Because that is what Michigan is; striving for the academic vision of the University while having pride in the school name, wherever it may be.

This is why the events that have put Michigan in the national spotlight this past week have elicited such a big response. One could be cynical and take the unwarranted and contemptuous position that people who care about sports are wasting their time, or instead recognize the ability and role of university athletics in establishing the national pedigree of this University as well as its culture. And it is weeks like these when we say that this is not Michigan — not because the attention is on athletics, but because we know that Michigan is better.

I love “Michigan sports,” but it’s more because of the former rather than the latter. Legendary former football coach Bo Schembechler once said, “When your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing.” Michigan has lost a lot on the field, but it has lost more off of it. Yet at the end of every game without fail, the band plays “The Victors” and the last words that echo through the stadium are “the leaders and the best,” even after a loss. Because that is Michigan.

David Harris can be reached at daharr@umich.edu.

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