University students rallied together against a common evil this week: University Athletic Director Dave Brandon. Controversy over Michigan Coach Brady Hoke’s decision to continue to play sophomore quarterback Shane Morris after he’d shown obvious signs of a concussion — combined with frustrations over consecutive losses — prompted hundreds last Monday to protest against the leadership of Michigan athletics, Dave Brandon, calling for his immediate resignation. The on-field decision and its subsequent student protest have since garnered national attention, having been featured in such news outlets as The New York Times and ESPN.

Austin Davis

It’s clear that the decision to keep Morris in play by Hoke was both dangerous and wrong; Morris was noticeably sluggish and limping after sustaining injuries during the Minnesota game. According to the Mayo Clinic, a second concussion within such a short timeframe of a first could have led to fatal brain swelling. I’m sure everyone can agree that the chance of a player’s death outweighs the winning of a football game, no matter how badly an athletic program needs a win to uphold its prestige.

Drawing awareness to this distinction is of course important for reviewing the University’s treatment of its athletes and, in general, for protecting athletes everywhere. Despite this, the oddly vicious and personalized outpour of emotion over the decline of Michigan football took precedence over the more general issue of athletic safety at the protest. This has me feeling a bit unsure about why students chose to organize themselves in the first place.

While I’m all for having an impassioned discussion via protest, I’m left unconvinced by the reasoning behind screams for Brandon’s resignation. It seems as if students are pissed off merely by the fact that their precious, often-bragged-about football team is experiencing its worst season in recent memory; the true issue at hand — namely the ignored safety hazards of Morris’ continued play — seemed a mere afterthought in comparison to students’ anger that their team has been losing. Because of this, I find myself wondering if students banded together last Monday for a common cause, or rather to conveniently use the events of two Saturdays ago to create a scapegoat for their pent-up frustrations with the University’s football program.

Regardless of their reasoning, students did indeed congregate on University President Mark Schlissel’s front lawn in order to decree their shame in the University; they wanted to “have their voices heard” on this issue. At many points throughout the University’s history, students have attempted to have their voices heard regarding other problems that they felt brought shame to the University as well.

In the 1960s students and faculty members alike joined forces in protesting the Vietnam War. Male students publically burned their draft cards and professors organized a “teach-in” in which all participators locked themselves inside a lecture hall on campus to discuss the moral fortitude of continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In more recent history, only last year, students rallied in dissent of the University’s handling of rape allegations against former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons, whose process of reprimand was controversially kept under strict confidentiality by the University for approximately four years before his eventual expulsion. During the same term, Black students stood together in the freezing Michigan winter in order to call attention to the racially homogenous demographics on campus. I would argue that the public discussion of these issues is of far more importance than the loss of football games, the price of student tickets or even the mistake on the part of the coaches to place an injured player back in the game; however, none of the aforementioned rallies garnered nearly as much publicity or student involvement as Monday’s protest.

Protests can destroy institutions of subjugation and dispel tyrannies. Twenty-five years ago this year, the world saw this happen as thousands of Germans of the former East and West Germanies ripped apart the physical symbol of the Iron Curtain — the Berlin Wall — with hammers and hands in order to be reunited with their countrymen, some for the first time in 28 years. Protests are powerful because they take many voices and compile them in one salient shout in defiance of a reality.

Students on Monday were indeed attempting to defy an inconveniencing reality. But if the reality of overpriced football tickets and a lackluster football program is what students are truly so vehemently against, they’ll find their hundreds-strong shout for change met with a louder laugh of ridicule based on the hilarity of their argument.

Austin Davis can be reached at austchan@umich.edu.

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