It’s Time to Let the Women’s Basketball Team Play in the Max Stern Athletic Center
Imagine the following: You are a college basketball player devoted to your sport. Much of your time is spent practicing to improve your skills. The time you spend practicing is on top of the time you spend studying and takes away from your sleep and social life. You put in this time and effort to represent your school on the collegiate level. Despite all of your time and effort, you are told that you can neither practice nor play in your school’s basketball gym and are instead forced to practice and play in other schools’ gyms. This would be quite frustrating, right? The least your school could do for you for representing them on the national stage is let you use its gym.
Well, dear reader, there is no need to imagine. This scenario is real. It actually happens every day, right here in Yeshiva University. The women’s basketball team, for years now, has not been allowed to practice or play their home games in the Max Stern Athletic Center on the Wilf Campus. Instead, they have been forced to practice and play at Baruch College. Team Captain Chana Boltax (SCW ‘20) informed me that because of the irregular availability of the Baruch court, the team has not really had a home court over the years. During the 2017-18 season, the women’s team “could not practice or play at Baruch because they had filled their schedule with other teams.” Instead of allowing the women’s team to practice and play in the Max Stern Athletic Center, YU tried to find other schools where they could use a gym. After that proved unsuccessful, YU finally allowed them to practice at the Max Stern Athletic Center.
Notice that they were only allowed to practice in the gym. So, where did the women’s team play their home games? Not in YU, of course. Boltax told me that they actually had several different home courts, such as CCNY and Fordham. The latter, Boltax explained, they were told was a “present” for them for playing so well, since it is a Division I (DI) gym.
This volatile schedule is present even in years that the Baruch court has availability. Remember, Baruch is its own school and has to plan events around its own students’ schedules. This means that there are times when the women’s team will have to relocate to a new home court. Boltax told me that last season, for example, they once again played some of their home games in CCNY. They even played a home game against Sarah Lawrence College in their gym in Bronxville, NY. Yes, you read that correctly: They played as the home team on the opponent’s court. If that is not the pinnacle of absurdity, I don't know what is.
The team has been in talks with the administration about what it would take for them to practice and play in the Max Stern Athletic Center, but they have been so far unsuccessful in their efforts. The time has now come for YU to allow these women to play their home games on their actual home court. They have played there this season due to the current pandemic resulting in stricter rules from all schools for using their respective facilities, and it has worked out just fine. Of course, this was not before YU attempted to find another place for them to play. Indeed, even during a pandemic, it was thought more logical to have the women play basketball somewhere else. While they were fortunate to play their home games in the gym this season, it remains a mystery if that policy will continue. I strongly believe that it should.
Let me be clear: I am in no way dismissive of those who object to the women’s team playing basketball in the gym. I recognize that there are valid concerns about allowing the team to play there. By no means do I think that those who object do so in bad faith. What I do think is that those who object have been unwilling to recognize that this situation is not impossible to solve. Their concerns can be accounted for while still allowing the women’s team to play in the gym.
The main objection to women playing basketball in the Max Stern Athletic Center is the attire they wear while playing. Many of the players on the team, as well as those of the opposing team, play in shorts and sleeveless jerseys. YU is a yeshiva just as much as it is a university. This institution is home to many observant Orthodox Jews. For them, this would pose an issue of tzniut. This is an honest concern that should not be dismissed with haste, but addressed with careful consideration.
There are several ways to resolve this issue. One is to not go to the gym when the women’s team is there. Those who wish to avoid seeing women dressed in athletic attire can simply avoid going to the lower level of the Rubin building. Of course, this solution works well during the current pandemic, when the campus is not as busy. What about when campus life — hopefully very soon — returns to normalcy? There is also the fact that the lower level is where the cafeteria and laundry room — the latter of which is right next to the gym — are located. What are those who wish to go to the cafeteria or wash their clothes supposed to do if they do not want to see women who are dressed in athletic attire? These too are legitimate concerns that can be resolved.
During their final home game of the season against Sarah Lawrence College this past Sunday, there were several measures taken to ensure that tzniut was not an issue. First, the windows to the gym were covered up, so nobody could see inside. Second, the doors to the gym were locked with a security guard outside. The guard would inform anyone who wanted to enter the gym that a women’s game was taking place and refuse them entry, unless they were performing work of some kind for the game. The person would then enter through the side door from the locker room, or, if the women were changing there, call for someone to open the doors to the gym. These measures prevent the possibility of someone having to look inside or walk in by accident. If someone needs to go to the lower level for whatever reason, he can be assured that he will not run the risk of seeing the women dressed in shorts or sleeveless shirts.
The dilemma is almost resolved, but there is one more point to address. The aforementioned solutions are useful so long as the women are in the gym. What about when they finish practice or a game? At this point, they are free to walk around, and the measures taken are useless. For those who have this concern, there may be a solution. However, let me emphasize that this proposal does not reflect my views about what should be done. The proposal would be the following: Institute a policy that the women must wear long sleeves and sweatpants or skirts when they exit the gym. Some of the players will, no doubt, be annoyed at this requirement, but I am sure that they will have no trouble complying if it means that they would have access to the gym. If it were up to me, the women would be able to play in the gym with no strings attached. Alas, it is not up to me.
While the women’s team does not get the same attention as the men’s team, they still represent our school at the collegiate level just as much as the men’s team does. Unfortunately, they have not received the same treatment. I will reiterate that I reject the assertion that this disparate treatment has come from animus. Although there will still be those who object to the women’s team playing basketball in the gym, I hope to have outlined reasonable solutions that will respect the religious atmosphere on the Wilf Campus while also allowing for the women’s basketball team to play in the gym that is rightfully theirs.
Photo Caption: The women’s basketball team, for years now, has not been allowed to practice or play their home games in the Max Stern Athletic Center on the Wilf Campus.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva Athletics