Yale’s apology for printing old Dartmouth program covers was an unnecessary concession to student activists

This Yale-Dartmouth program cover featured images from past programs that are sensitive to Native Americans.
This Yale-Dartmouth program cover featured images from past programs that are sensitive to Native Americans.

The following is an editorial opinion by the writer

By Joel Alderman

Almost immediately after the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program went to social media and voiced criticism of the recent Dartmouth-Yale game program cover, Yale Athletics offered its regrets and an apology. Since then, lines have been drawn in support or opposition to the publication.

The apology from Yale

”We apologize for yesterday’s football game program cover that included historic artwork of insulting portrayals of indigenous people, images that we have long considered to be a violation of our values of mutual respect, equality, and decency. We did not intend to perpetuate these portrayals or condone them.

“Our intention was to recognize the 100-game relationship between Dartmouth College and Yale University. We are truly sorry for the hurt this program cover caused, particularly for those from Native American communities. Yale Athletics is committed to representing the best of Yale and upholding the University’s values, especially respect for all.”

Why apologize for history?

 A typical Yale football program cover of a Dartmouth game in the 1950s.

A typical Yale football program cover of a Dartmouth game in the 1950s.

The apology missed the very point of the cover and fed into the thinking of the critics.

Having grown up in New Haven as a Yale sports fan, and continuing so as a student and alumnus, I must have seen more or at least as many of the Dartmouth contests in the Yale Bowl as anyone today who is fortunate as I am to have reached his mid-80s.

I go back to when they were known as the Dartmouth Indians, an appellation encouraged and promoted by the college itself. Often, during pre-game and halftime entertainment by the Dartmouth Band, it would be led by a student wearing a feathered headdress, stripped to the waste showing his bronzed skin, perhaps waving something like a tomahawk or bow and arrow, and marching up the field from the north goal line, mimicking a war dance, while the band struck up its familiar fight song, “Dartmouth’s In Town Again.”

Those were stirring and inspiring moments for the big crowds and especially for the many thousands of Dartmouth alumni who came to the games when they were always played in New Haven and served as annual reunion events.

Charley Loftus, Yale’s pioneering and innovative sports information director and editor of its award winning football programs, often used the Indian mascot, along with the Yale bulldog, as symbols of he rivals.

The Dartmouth programs, as well as those he produced for games involving other opponents, have become collectors’ items. They are still sold through the internet at premium prices, and for good reason.

Pictures of the program covers can be seen and downloaded through search engines such as Google. A few years ago they were featured on calendars. Moreover, actual copies of the original programs can be perused page by page at the Manuscripts and Archives room in Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library.

These programs are kept in the library for a purpose. They are valuable sources of information and offer historical glimpses into the past, good and bad.

Loftus was not a racist

Knowing Charley Loftus well, I can state with certainty that he was not a racist. One of his great accomplishments was promoting and publicizing Levi Jackson, the first African-American to play football for Yale and its first black football captain.

He created those program covers with “tongue in cheek” and without any intention of disparaging Native Americans. He was proud of the programs, and rightly so.

He made much telling of a funny incident involving Yale sports photographer George Weber. He had Weber pose in an Indian costume for one of the Dartmouth programs. George dressed at home and was going to the photo shoot when he drove through the former toll booth in Wallingford on the Wilbur Cross Parkway.

The startled attendant was dumbfounded when he saw Weber looking like a storybook Indian. Weber, who was a comical and good natured person, went along with the gag by questioning why he should pay the toll.

Why deny history?

The fact that today such caricatures of Indians shown on the programs in the 1940s and 1950s are no longer politically correct does not mean they should be hidden in antiquity and be denied to current and recent generations.

They have become historical and educational, which is why the montage on this year’s Y-D program cover has made the issue a modern collector’s item.

This is not the same as the illustrated window in Calhoun College that was smashed by an African-American worker. Neither is this like Calhoun College itself, which still bears the name of a staunch slavery advocate, and which Yale still ironically defends as being an educational tool.

In fact, Eli Yale, after whom the university is named, was himself claimed to have been as owner of slaves.

The old football programs are a part of Yale’s history, and should not be watered down to appear as they never existed.

The context of the programs has been lost

Perhaps a good number of the critics are too young to appreciate the context in which the recent program cover was presented.

For this football season it was decided that a similar format be used for the covers of Yale’s five home games. This was a unique and welcome decision, making collectors of nostalgia eager to obtain copies.

The recent Dartmouth program took on added significance because it celebrated the 100th anniversary game in this great rivalry.

Although some of the program covers would not be PC (politically correct) today, that does not mean they should be omitted (censored) from what the editors are conveying and will continue to convey in the other game programs (Penn and Princeton).

Objections were counterproductive

Going online with Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program’s objections has been counterproductive. It caused more publicity and circulation of the pictures than the relatively few programs that were sold at the game would have created. There were about 9,000 people in the Bowl, and no doubt much less than that number bought programs.

Now, because of the furor, the program covers are all over the internet. If the aim of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program was to minimize the impact, it actually worked the other way.

A letter to the Yale Daily News (from MotoRiderX) included the following, which in this writer’s opinion properly explained and justified the program cover:

“I thought Yale was an academic institution. Should Yale apologize for using imagery from Nazi Germany to educate students on the horrors of war? Should Yale stop educating people on slavery so they don’t offend? Does Yale have to hide all historical media that depicts any race, religion, creed, color, or gender in a potentially negative way, although it can be educational and insightful?

“I highly doubt that the people that put the current program together had any racial bashing agenda in mind. These covers are part of Yale’s history, like it or not, and showcasing them in this way helps people learn about the crazy stereotypes of the past.”

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