“The giant has been slain!”
“You guys are fast-paced downhill now!”
Why do these comments hurt so much? Why am I so offended?
At the University of Southern California, the student body is drawn from a variety of different backgrounds.
Living through adolescence and trying to answer the ubiquitous question, “Who am I?”, we are suddenly sent to college as young adults to expect to find an answer there.
With the past seven years of expected wins and championships, it has been easy for us to identify with our football team to fill the “who am I” void, to finally say, “I am a Trojan,” knowing that people will automatically think “amazing football team.”
With this newfound identity however, a loss by our football team produces pain and depression, and a harsh remark brings offense and anger. My team’s shortcomings are my shortcomings; their failures are my failures.
Speaking with a therapist whose husband attended USC about this identity issue, she said, “Pete Carroll represented a paternal figure for students. He represented a belief system,” — referring to Carroll’s strong and active stance that everyone deserves a chance. All of his players competed every day for their jobs, just like we have to compete in life. Carroll displayed this belief system in his recruiting, team practices and charity work. His faithful manner was something we took pride in, something we embraced.
Now, as he leaves us, we face uncertainty with the future of our football program, and we find ourselves dazed and confused, even abandoned. Imagine USC returning to the high school quality of the ’90s.
We could always fall back on our academic reputation, but will that be enough for our collective identity? The uncertain future of USC’s reputation was furthered when President Steven B. Sample announced his resignation in the fall.
Though it’s unlikely for USC’s academic integrity to fall, and our football team (though more unpredictable) still has potential, the reality is that changes in leadership at USC or any other university determines the ability of the university to provide a reliable identity for all of us.
I was curious to see how students identified themselves during the inglorious Paul Hackett years, so I phoned a USC alumnus who attended the university in 1999 when the Coliseum was filled with “Fire Hackett” signs.
On students identifying strongly with the team, he quickly replied, “No, of course not! It’s never like that when your team isn’t great.”
Regarding the students’ identities, he said, “For the past several decades, the Trojan family really has served as a family for students. They come to ’SC, and after a semester of settling in, they realize they are a part of something larger than themselves.”
He also remarked that although students were a part of the Trojan family during his years at USC, they were much more “individualized,” and they did not rely heavily on football, but sought out who they are and how they contributed to the family.
Carroll departs USC after a disappointing season, leaving an uncertain future for our football program. but his departure also presents us with an interesting opportunity.
The loss of Carroll and a declining football team gives us the opportunity to seek out a fuller identity — something stronger, steadier. This is our chance to broaden our perspective. Perhaps football has been a diversion from developing a more complex and differentiated identity, one that will serve our futures better. What else do we want to be known for? What else do we want to be proud of?
Carroll, we have appreciated and respected you and are grateful for your leadership. But we will stand on our own feet and make choices as we seek our potential as human beings while still remaining part of the Trojan family.
In this microcosm of the world we call college, we have the unique freedom to pursue activities, receive training and live life before we hit the post-graduation real world. A wise man, Dave Martinelli, once told me, “College sets the trajectory for the rest of your life.”
This is a great moment to find our own way and seize our destiny in the world.
Jensen Carlsen is a junior majoring in mathematics and economics. His column, “The Bridge,” runs Wednesdays.