Without a football team our school spirit is crippled. Instead of raucous tailgates, we have Freebirds. Instead of a stadium seething with pride, we have a street -Del Playa Drive – seeping with grime and garbage. We definitely have spirit, but only the pluralized kind that comes in kegs, cans and bottles. Alcohol can only create a spurious and fleeting solidarity among students. It rouses most of us together on Friday and Saturday nights, awakening Isla Vista in a crepuscular wave of flirting, fucking and lurching, but by Sunday the convivial lube is dry and our ties are loosened.
For an instant, however, the same National Collegiate Athletic Association fanaticism that pervades the culture of so many other universities united ours and it came from soccer – not football – which is unusual for anyone who doesn’t call soccer “football.” Once Nick Perera, Bryan Byrne, Eric Avila, Andy Iro and the rest vanquished UCLA’s strutting army of midgets, the campus and Isla Vista pulsed with excitement. The victory elevated our pride from perfunctory to passionate and students were riled enough to hurl a goal from the bluffs. Finally we had something more tangible than magazine rankings on which to anchor our displaced school egos.
But sadly, behind the glory and repute of our national championship lurks a scandal. The achievement, which has been lauded, should be censured: UCSB men’s soccer is fat prejudiced. Their roster includes not a single chubby – let alone morbidly obese – defender, midfielder, forward or goalkeeper. The team is a monolith of muscles and striations, and each player’s flesh clings to him like a jumpsuit. Where are all the rolls, the jiggles, the love handles? In my mirror, yes, but not on the soccer field where they belong.
Some would argue that fat people don’t belong in college and professional athletics: They lack the stamina and physical ability to effectively compete. I ask, then, these petty dissidents to explain softball. It cannot be denied, at least rationally, that fat athletes, or “fatletes,” can provide a multitude of benefits to any sports team, whether it be in swimming – where floatation is key – or in soccer. If our goalie were exceptionally large, for instance, and brandished layers that could rival the Grand Canyon’s stratigraphy, he would undoubtedly be capable of defending more area than our current keeper, the undernourished and muscle-laden Kyle Reynish. And for the fans, the spectacle would be priceless.
But discrimination against the overweight is as old a social phenomenon as any. With the likely exception of the Donner Party, fatties have never been valued very highly. Although one might expect our modern, ostensibly tolerant society to be different, it isn’t. In her Harvard “WebWeekly” column – “Fat Bias: A Barrier to the Treatment of Obesity” – Tarayn Grizzard, writes that “nearly 1,000 men and women enrolled in weight-gain prevention programs, 22 percent of women and 17 percent of men reported discrimination and prejudice related to their size.”
We can only imagine the torments and cruelties that these subjects were reporting. The possibilities range from slanderous nicknames, to being rejected by the opposite sex. One might not expect the overweight community to be discriminated against because they comprise the majority – not a minority, – in our country. In fact, getting fat is the only type of expansion America is good at. American fat people include both men and women, and come in all colors, classes and ethnicities. But some groups are statistically fatter than others. Thus, by being fat prejudiced, our men’s soccer team risks being inadvertently racist, classist or sexist and what was in the minds of many an exclusive social problem, becomes far more inclusive.
Currently there are no student organizations on campus designed specifically to combat fat prejudice, but we can create them: “Men Against Fat-Prejudice,” or “Hermanos Unidos Against Fat-Prejudice,” or “Young Republicans Against Fat-Prejudice.” These entities could effectively expose the grave injustices that the overweight endure daily, and could propagate the idea that all flesh serves an important, irreplaceable purpose in our community.
The soccer team, along with most of UCSB, needs to be put on a diet of tolerance and understanding. Eventually with hard work, support and determination, they can shed their unseemly discriminatory pounds.