A Former Yale Soccer Player Reflects On Recent NCAA Scandal

Former Yale soccer player Adele Jackson-Gibson reflects on her experience as an athlete under Rudy Meredith.

It’s been hard to make sense of the past few days.

I guess that’s natural when someone you respected is accused of something that seems out of character.

When I heard that my former soccer coach, Rudy Meredith was charged in the recent college admissions scandal, I was unsettled. Confused.

Friends, former teammates, family members and journalists reached out to me and asked if I was okay. And to be honest, I wasn’t clear on how to answer.

In trying to piece together my scattered feelings, I couldn’t help but think of an old article I wrote right before I graduated college. I needed something to ground me in how I felt about Yale Athletics when I was an athlete before I could really say anything.

The article was published in the Yale Daily News (the print edition) on the day I put on my cap and gown back in 2013. An editor had asked me to write an op ed about why athletics were important on campus. I could tell my heart was glowing because it was “dripping with cheesy” sports metaphors.

I wrote that piece in part because some of my best memories of Yale came from being a part of the varsity women’s track and soccer teams: I thrived off of being one of the top sprinters and jumpers in the Ivy League, and by my senior year, I had become a starting goalkeeper.

https://twitter.com/nytimes/status/1106736893323026432

 

I traveled all over the globe to compete with women who became some of my closest friends. I was privileged to have been offered such an amazing opportunity: to play the sport I loved and study to my geeky soul’s desire.

On the other hand, there was also a sense of defensiveness in that article. As I re-read it, I remembered how much I felt like I had to justify my existence as a Division I student-athlete at Yale because it seemed like every year there was someone grumbling about college admissions and athletic recruits. I felt as if athletes weren’t entirely embraced at the school.

Sometimes other students would talk about how athletic recruits were taking admission spots from most other prospective students who had to apply in a more conventional way.

Typical Division I schools are allowed to offer athletic scholarships to get the best recruits. Whereas Ivy League Schools cannot offer any sort of scholarship to field their teams.

In order to be somewhat competitive with their DI counterparts, Yale coaches are allowed by admissions to send “likely letters” to recruits who have applied through the regular early decision process and have passed strict academic standards.

In other words, they are dubbed “most likely to get in” before they receive official acceptance letters in the fall. At least, that’s how I was told things worked when Rudy recruited me in 2008.

Students who criticized this process often said that these “likely letters” were an unfair advantage that cheated other talented high schoolers out of their chance to become an Eli.

The way I saw it at the time, these students thought that athletes couldn’t contribute as much to society as say an aspiring scientist, doctor, lawyer or artist would. Therefore, we didn’t belong at an institution that valued academics above everything else. It was the whole dumb-jock stereotype playing out on the movie screen. I couldn’t (and still don’t) subscribe to it.

But this whole NCAA travesty has turned my sense of reality for a bit of a loop. It’s an unsightly stain on what I thought Ivy League — specifically Yale — athletics is all about. And I am disappointed to see that my soccer coach is at the center of many of these recent headlines.

I suddenly felt like those dissenters were trying to expose this the whole time. Just one big “I told you so”.

I began to sympathize with those who I used to debate with, and part of me now understands their frustration. If these briberies could happen so easily, then the recruiting process definitely needs to be more carefully vetted and monitored. Restructured, even. Coaches need to be more carefully evaluated.

I’m not happy thinking that there are people out there who are trying to cheat the system, especially if that person was someone who helped me to develop as a player.

I knew Rudy to be an nice guy and a determined coach. Under him, our team’s objective was clear: to win an Ivy League Championship and make it to the NCAA tournament. He often went the extra mile to do so — sometimes in his own goofy way.

 

One year, he had us wearing heart-rate monitors throughout practice and games to track our training intensity so he’d know exactly when to push and when to pull back. And I’ll never forget the time he hyped our team during a pregame rally with a blaring saxophone solo. He has this infectious chuckle that made everyone smile (which happened a lot because he laughed at everyone’s jokes). And so naturally, he was someone that many loved having around.

We never won that Ivy League championship while I was there, and there were many times I didn’t agree with Rudy’s coaching style. But what I liked about him was that he truly believed in me as a player and a leader. So much so that by my senior year all I wanted to do was become a professional soccer player.

If these accusations prove to be true, I will not and cannot defend his actions. But as someone who knew the guy for four years, I still believe he has a good heart.

So, for me, this all begged the question: why do good people do not-so-great things?

I can’t speak for Rudy or any of the other coaches, parents, administrators and Full House moms involved in this scandal, but I can’t help but think about the societal pressures that could’ve fueled them: The prestigious ideals of higher education and how it’s touted as the best path towards money, success, influence, power and reputation — words we often pose as synonyms for “happiness”.

Humans will go to extremes to achieve “joy” thinking that the answer to inner peace is outside of them. We chase after it in fear. Some people are willing to sacrifice their integrity. To lie. To hurt people. To accept bribes.

Me? I was more willing to sacrifice sleep (my health) to study, neglect my social life to focus on extracurriculars and throw my body onto the field again and again to show how dedicated I was to the team. In some ways, it was worth it. There were many days I had fun living life. I’m blessed and privileged to have achieved what I have achieved.

But underneath it all, I’m still rewriting this narrative of thinking that I’m only worthy of happiness when I live up to this Yale name — when I’m a black girl who can talk to white people about Proust. That I’m only deserving of joy when I’m working “hard enough”, when I have “X” amount of dollars in the bank or living the “successful” life that American media likes to dangle over all of our heads. It’s an illusion.

I’ll never condone the behavior of those who decide to cut corners in life, and we are each accountable for our own actions.

But I see how we all get lost within the same fog.

"I'm a sports writer who writes about badass women in sports, and I'm currently the co-host of Rule Breakers. I'm also a CrossFit coach and fitness model so I'm all about the #BlackGirlStrength. My mission is to empower women through all things sport and fitness.