By: Ben Robinson

The issue of when the law should involve itself in the world of sports has always been contested, but perhaps never so much as it has of late. Over the past decade, high-profile athletes like Michael Vick and Ray Lewis have gotten into legal trouble that has had major consequences for them professionally.

This debate about when off-field actions should affect on-field actions has recently surfaced again, as five NFL players have been involved in domestic abuse incidents in the past month. When the video of Ray Rice abusing his wife surfaced on the internet at the beginning of the month, the internal quarrel of the NFL was palpable. They were caught in the dilemma of being a for-profit corporation that makes its money from having stars like Ray Rice continue to play games, but also wanting to at least appear to be concerned with moral issues for the sake of public relations. Being so torn, the league stumbled through the process, sending mixed messages by initially suspending Rice for only two games, before extending the suspension indefinitely. What eventually swayed the commissioner toward stronger disciplinary action was public opinion.

In general, major sports franchises and large corporations want to maintain good public relations. It’s not necessarily because teams like the Baltimore Ravens have particular personal convictions about being anti-violence, but when it comes down to it, maintaining a certain image of morality for these teams can be a cold and calculated economic decision. And yes, it is lamentable that organizations like the National Football League do not champion causes like anti-violence unsolicited. However, this desire of corporations to “look good” presents an interesting opportunity, as social media makes it easier than ever for the public to make their opinions about said companies known to the world instantly. Platforms like Twitter made it possible for Roger Goodell and the NFL to assess public opinion within minutes of details being released about Ray Rice assaulting his wife.

And so we learn from this whole NFL domestic abuse debacle that, if only for reasons of self-interest, what we think about giant international corporations matters to them. They long to be in good standing with the public in hopes that it will increase profits. Being perceived as a “moral organization” becomes smart business practice.  As such, this affords the general public a great deal of power in the ways that we interact with these businesses. The public has the power to ensure that morality does have some place in big business, as we essentially function as stockholders in these organizations – despite the fact they we may not actually own any shares on paper. That's why Nike dropped Rice and Wheaties dropped Adrian Peterson. Whether or not Nike has a policy that they will not support criminals is irrelevant if public opinion is so strongly against domestic abuse that they have no choice but to assent. The same goes for the NFL team in Washington and the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. In an era where a negative public image can destroy a company in less than 24 hours, the public has a great deal of power.

It has been said before that you can vote every day with your money, but in this instance we need to be sure that it’s about more than money. We now have the ability to utter a collective “shame on you” to companies that once seemed larger than life itself, and you may not realize it yet, but they’re listening.

However, the influence social media has on public opinion also has the potential for negative consequences if it goes unchecked. Because social media is oriented towards the optics of an incident – what people perceive as having happened versus what actually happened – there is a chance that what truly happened might matter less and less. I bring this up not to suggest that Ray Rice was actually innocent, but rather to suggest that in other circumstances, there is a dangerous opportunity for people to be wrongly convicted by the notoriously merciless jury that is the world wide web.  The high-speed nature of social media requires that companies act fast when scandals arise, sometimes so fast that they may be forced do so before they have all of the facts, or even worse, being forced to let someone go who you know to be wrongly accused in order to save face.

Wherever you stand on the spectrum of social media’s power to form public opinion, and consequently illicit action from corporations, it is clear that more than ever, public opinion is a force to be reckoned with.

Another week, another success.

Seven months ago, that success was anything but certain.

After controversy and close scrutiny fell on the McMaster Redsuits for a sexist and degrading songbook connected to the organization, Welcome Week has come and gone with little issue for the Engineering reps. But that's just fine with Shane Zuchowski, one of the Redsuit planners alongside Jose Mercado, who already had their hands full with the ups and downs of the week.

Even after an improbable train of setbacks that includes mixed-up bookings, rain, fire alarms, and losing two buses for faculty night due to accident, Zuchowski has had a good attitude about it all.

"Someone should have just told me to wear spandex - the chafe is real," he said, laughing.

In terms of the first years, it's been one of the most successful Welcome Weeks the Redsuits have had.

"[For faculty night] we had a record turnout of 600 first year students,” he said. “The biggest problem was getting students to go back home. We had to get students back on the bus that were like, 'I don't want to go yet.’”

Of course, it hasn't been all rosy, and it certainly hasn't been easy. Shifting the culture of a group whose identity has been at times associated with drinking and promiscuity was going to receive some pushback. But despite a formal investigation and a rigorous selection process, the responsibility for changing the attitude was largely entrusted to the new Reds by the university.

"We never really had to have a conversation [with the university] about what we can and can't do because we both understood where that line was. Obviously, [things like] glorifying alcohol... and over-sexualizing everything the engineers have done in the past; that was something Redsuit culture was shifting [away from]," Zuchowski explained.

They've had to be creative, but small changes like changing a cheer from "smoke and drink and fool around" to "joke and think and fool around" have helped adjust their approach without neutering the brash and irreverent attitude the group is ultimately known for.

Zuchowski said, "For old Reds, at the very start, there was still the soreness from what happened because for people, Redsuits are a family. We've all been through Welcome Week together, we've all been sleep-deprived, but we've also all gone through the same program, we've all had the same struggles during exams... your friends are right there to support you."

The culture and conversation has changed outside of the controversial subjects, too. Traditions like the fake math test were changed to be called a "success portfolio" to alleviate the real stress some students had in advance of the test.

However, while the shift away from the old culture has been largely successful, other issues were bound to come to the forefront, one of which was a complaint that was submitted for a “fuck yeah” cheer.

“I will fully take responsibility for that issue,” Zuchowski said. “Since the start of Welcome Week, what we’ve focused on mainly were the things specifically outlined in the investigation, which were things like glorifying cheers about alcohol and oversexualization.”

“We realized our mistake… we got rid of it,” he said. “We wanted to apologize because we really didn’t mean anything of it.”

He continued, “understandably, everybody has a different level of sensitivity to things like that, especially curse words, but it slipped my mind [to discontinue it].”

When asked how he felt the Redsuits were able to adjust this year, Student Development Manager and member of the Welcome Week Advisory Committee Jeremy Sandor commented that he was “incredibly happy with how the week went.

“The two planners, Shane and Jose, were tireless through the summer in terms of working with staff from the Faculty of Engineering, the Student Success Centre, and the McMaster Students Union [in order] to make sure that the spirit and energy that the faculty is known for during Welcome Week was preserved,” Sandor said.

Although inclusiveness seems to have had a greater focus this year, Julia Clemens, the Welcome Week Faculty Coordinator, maintains that the philosophy has remained the same.

She said, "In some ways, we've refined behavior, and maybe there's a new perspective where a cheer that you think is harmless... and 95 per cent of students would have been ok with it - we're maybe a little more conscious of the five per cent that is made uncomfortable by it."

When looking at the lack of controversy during Welcome Week relative to the firestorm seven months ago, it’s clear that perspective took a new step this year.

Christina Pugliese

The Silhouette

With a season of civil unrest upon us, many have questioned the authenticity of protesters’ concerns. In this day and age, how can we distinguish the agitators from the real deal?

It turns out that the answer, at least in the present case, may be less baffling than one would expect.

The celebratory spirit of this year’s 19th annual Gandhi Peace Festival held on Oct. 1 was highlighted with the unveiling of a Gandhi statue presented to McMaster University on behalf of the Indian government.

A vastly different scene was evoked, however, at Carleton University, which revealed a similar statue of the Indian icon on Oct. 2, despite strong opposition from a demonstration of protesters representing the Organization for Minorities of India.

The group, whose Facebook page ‘Stop the Carleton University Gandhi Statue’ garnered upwards of 150 fans, resists commemoration of Gandhi across North America.

Their convictions hinge primarily upon the belief that Gandhi’s popular embodiment of peace and non-violence are a pretense of his true legacy, outlined on their website (stopgandhistatue.com) as follows:

“Gandhi is a hero only to a select group of upper-caste Hindu Indians.

To others, he remains a man who unashamedly and unapologetically constructed a legacy of racism against blacks, support for racial segregation in South Africa, cheerleading and participation in British colonial wars of conquest, insensitive and anti-Semitic remarks about the Jewish Holocaust, disturbing amiability towards Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, shocking disregard for the psychological well-being of his grandnieces and consistent belittlement of Indian minorities such as Dalits and Sikhs.”

While perhaps unsettling, these accusations come as no surprise to Dr. Rama Singh, professor of Biology at McMaster and Chair of the Gandhi Peace Festival Committee.

“A few years ago, G.B. Singh, [founder of the Organization for Minorities of India], wrote to me asking why I was wasting my time,” he said.

“Rather than engaging, I simply responded by saying, ‘I am going to assume that Gandhi has all those faults, and in spite of them, the fact that he still could become a Mahatma to the rest of the world means that there is hope for you and me.’”

Singh is critical of the organization’s self-imposed title of ‘Minority,’ noting that the group’s agenda fails to address any concern outside the realm of Gandhi tribute, such as poverty, sexism or racism, that often affect these populations disproportionately.

Singh described the factual validity of the group’s views as “misinterpretations of the events of Gandhi’s life,” providing the example of Gandhi helping to save the wounded during the Boer War as ‘evidence’ of his participation in combat.

“I would say that these people are a disgrace to the Gandhian movement. You don’t have to believe in Gandhi, but Gandhi’s ideas are not only Gandhi’s ideas; they are Martin Luther King’s ideas, Dalai Lama’s ideas, Nelson Mandela’s ideas. These people fought for something. That’s what Gandhi symbolizes. So to fight over Gandhi’s faults is a waste of time,” noted Singh.

Singh further promoted the incorporation of the Gandhian ideology on campus, saying “In my mind putting a statue of Gandhi on a university campus is like having a combined course on ethics, morality, and international development, without the teacher or exam. It is a constant reminder of a man who never compromised on his principles and there is no better way to empower students.”

Singh highlighted the importance of Gandhi’s teachings regarding the reciprocal process of learning. He drew particular emphasis to the need for professors to learn from their students, as given their globalized exposure to the world, they “are more in tune with societal needs and change.”

He stressed that a crucial role of the professor is to “promote student engagement through, for example, courses, dialogues, inter-disciplinary programs, and peace centers.”

“In short,” he added, “I would say it is our job to give them a Gandhian empowerment.”

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