At today's spring practice, we got our first real glimpse of what the Pat Fitzgerald and a select few Northwestern players think of the union idea. Not surprisingly, Fitzgerald is against it, and he plans to "educate" the players on why they should vote no. Starting quarterback Trevor Siemian is also against it, and he gave a reason why:
I'm not a big fan of columns, because I think #hottakes are
relatively completely useless. However, I've seen this point out there from a lot of people, and I think it's important to point out that, no matter how many cliche artists say this, there's really no evidence that it's true.
At this point, some of you will probably point to the "you've never been in a locker room" excuse, but hear me out.
Back in my high school days, I was a pretty good rower. I shouldn't have been a very good rower, since I'm not all that athletic or strong, but thanks to a coach who made us practice like we were a Division I program, the boats I was in finished first in my region three out of four times and placed fifth at the National Championships twice.
My senior year, I was in the lightweight double, and despite having relatively bad times on the rowing machine — which is a common indicator of strength — my partner and I had realistic expectations of finishing in the top three at Nationals. We made the finals, but missed out on a medal, though fifth is still a pretty good accomplishment. As skinny kids from Iowa, we beat some of the top prep schools in the country.
How, you ask? The average onlooker wouldn't know it, but rowing requires an incredible amount of chemistry. You have to have your oars in and out of the water at the exact same time as your partner. My partner and I rowed really well together, so we were able to beat rowers that had scholarships to some of the best teams in the country — ironically, we both ended up going to Northwestern, but neither of us row there.
That would seem to back up Siemian's argument that chemistry is super important, but here's the thing — my partner and I hated each other. We didn't really want to row together because of our issues off the water. However, it became pretty clear that we were a good team, and despite our tenuous relationship, we were a pretty good and overachieved for our abilities. On the flip side, I know people who rowed together that were really close friends and had strong times on the rowing machine, but weren't as successful.
The fact that teammates are friends off the water/court/field doesn't make your the better. In fact, despite what the cliches tell you, there's no evidence to back up that being friends leads to better or worse athletic results.
If you take some time to think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense. Players are still forced to show up to practice whether they like each other or not. (The cliche argument also assumes pro-union players will hate anti-union players, which seems like a big leap.) Whether they want to be in a union or not, they still probably want to win. They're not going to throw that away.
If you don't buy my argument, former NFL receiver Donte' Stallworth had an interesting series of tweets regarding the "distractions" that could arise with a gay player in the locker room.
Northwestern football will probably lose some games this year. Heck, Northwestern football could have a losing season again, though I don't see that happening. When the first loss comes, someone is going to blame it on the union.
However, consider this argument instead: If Northwestern loses a lot of football games, it will be because the Wildcats aren't all that good at playing football. Fans always want to try to tie in outside factors, but sometimes, it's just not that complicated.