Members of the Cornell football team denounced the disqualification of cornerback JT Baker ’21 from the race for student-elected trustee on Tuesday and Wednesday. Baker was disqualified for an email sent by a Cornell Athletics official to athletes and coaches during the campaign.
The disqualification on Tuesday was followed by statements from Cornell President Martha E. Pollack and Board of Trustees Chair Robert Harrison ’76 saying they disagree with the committee’s disqualification of Baker from the race, but that they would abide by its ruling.
“If anyone deserved to win, it was JT,” said sophomore linebacker Erik Andreasson. “He put in maximum effort to his campaign, sacrificing time he could have spent on school and football … and has nothing to show for it because they took it from him.”
Due to the use of a ranked-choice voting system, it is unclear if Baker would have won the election had he not been disqualified. Jaewon Sim ’21 was announced as the winner on Tuesday.
Cornell football players agreed with Pollack and Harrison that the committee shouldn’t have disqualified Baker. But some student athletes called on Cornell’s top two officials to go further and reinstate him. Baker did not respond to a phone call requesting comment on Wednesday evening.
Soon after Baker’s disqualification, dozens of football players and other student-athletes took to social media to support Baker. Many posts decried the choices of both the committee and Pollack, and some said race may have been a motivation for the perceived injustice against Baker, who is black.
“It’s clear that the repeated efforts to silence [Baker’s] Voice is an example of an unready, corrupt inner circle at this school. The Voices of Undergraduate black men and student-athletes have been silenced far too long here at Cornell,” cornerback Jake Watkins ’19 wrote on Twitter.
“If you turn and face the other way when one is being bullied, you might as well be the bully” Where was this energy during the TRIAL that led to disqual?This is a sad attempt to save face by our Pres. Our own ‘liberal’ institution is not prepared for a real democratic voice. https://t.co/62DGeAxZMD
— watt (@JakeWatkinss) April 17, 2019
Some accused the committee of another form of discrimination, alleging that the committee and the administration have a vested interest against a student-athlete holding a position of such influence. Athletics officials had told students that Baker would have been the first Cornell athlete to hold the position, which carries full voting power on the Board of Trustees.
In interviews, several student athletes said that Baker ran a campaign that challenged the status-quo and threatened common perceptions of what type of student should hold the position. There’s no evidence that Baker was disqualified due to his being a student athlete.
“I think that it isn’t a coincidence that no student athlete has held the position,” senior running back J.D. PicKell told The Sun. “I think everyone involved and even those who weren’t involved in this campaign knew what was happening and that JT was receiving an overwhelming amount of support and that was the reason his candidacy was protested so heavily.”
Some members of the football team were angered by Pollack’s and Harrison’s calls for internal reform rather than alteration of the outcome. The decision by the president and chairman not to formally challenge the committee’s ruling prompted several football players to criticize them for expressing their concern without taking any concrete action.
“While the statements from the president and chair are appreciated, they are just putting a band-aid on a gashing wound,” junior safety Jelani Taylor told The Sun. “Our school and the world we live in are great at acknowledging that something is unjust while failing to correct that very injustice.”
Some football players expressed their disappointment that a student-athlete who they viewed as having a legitimate chance to win the election was disqualified on a technicality, preventing members of one of Cornell’s largest communities from finally getting their voice on the board of trustees.
“It’s tragic to see the decision [Cornell has] made for someone who justly won as a result of a great campaign based on who they deem is appropriate for the position,” linebacker Malcolm Chaka ’19 tweeted.
This is terrible. Cornell only wants a certain profile of person to hold executive positions. It’s tragic to see the decision they’ve made for someone who justly won as a result of a great campaign based on who they deem is appropriate for the position. https://t.co/gB0wUiJ92s
— Top Lad (@Mxlcvlm) April 16, 2019
“I also want to make sure it’s known that the reaction from the athletic community to this election is coming from a place of support for JT and not anger or any other negative emotion for Jaewon Sim,” PicKell said.
On Wednesday, some athletes told The Sun that statements by Pollack and Harrison — which said the committee erred in disqualifying Baker — didn’t go far enough.
Pollack and Harrison both said that while the committee shouldn’t have disqualified Baker, the president and chairman will seek to reform election processes rather than invalidate the committee’s decision, The Sun previously reported.
A number of players also expressed their belief that Baker should continue to fight against the committee’s decision to disqualify him.
“I definitely think he should [continue to push back on the decision],” senior offensive lineman David D’Amelio told The Sun. “Change only happens if people make their voices heard and this reflects really badly on a school that claims to have the values of a liberal institution. But I don’t think it will change their decision.”
As of Wednesday night, neither the committee nor the administration has indicated any plans to reconsider the disqualification in any way.