Jim Harbaugh's Orphanage
The Michigan head coach lives in a bubble (full of unplanned children) and he doesn’t know why you don’t live there, too.
SITE STUFF: Alright, the cat is out of the bag. On Monday, I’ll be launching Meet at Midfield alongside DJ Byrnes, Ryan Donnelly, Taylor Fulton, Patrick Mayhorn, and a mystery contributor to be named soon. We couldn’t be more excited to unveil the new project, which will be the home for the best Michigan and Ohio State coverage you can find, especially in one place — plus we’ll have Big Ten and national content, including the coverage the Group of Five deserves.
I’ll have a separate post over the weekend with a full explanation of the new site and what it means for The Bucket Problem. The short version: all of the writing is moving over to Meet at Midfield, while the podcast will stay in the same place with the same group of hosts. I’m finding a hosting home for a second, MaM-subscriber-only podcast feed that’ll run during football season to replace going through Substack.
The main thing you need to know: subscribers will receive a prorated refund from Substack for unused subscription time when I move operations to the new site next week. You won’t need to do a thing, though you might want to bookmark this page.
Without further ado, here’s a look at just some of what you can expect with the new site: Taylor Fulton ruminating on Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh attacks each day with an enthusiasm, and an obtuseness, unknown to mankind.
If you live under a rock, quite like the Michigan head coach himself does, you may have missed that Harbaugh continued to hammer home his anti-abortion worldview with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski.
"I've told [them] the same thing I tell my kids, boys, the girls, same thing I tell our players, our staff members,” Harbaugh said. “I encourage them if they have a pregnancy that wasn't planned, to go through with it, go through with it. Let that unborn child be born, and if at that time, you don't feel like you can care for it, you don't have the means or the wherewithal, then Sarah and I will take that baby."
Normal stuff, right?
This doubling down came after news broke that Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, appeared at a Right to Life event in Plymouth, where Harbaugh emphasized, in a keynote address, to have the “courage” to carry a child to term.
“My faith and my science are what drive these beliefs in me,” he noted. At Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis, Harbaugh told ESPN that abortion is “the most horrendous thing I could possibly conceive.”
Nice! Cool. Cool, cool, cool, coooool.
The stance, and the ways Harbaugh goes to bat for it, are disappointing, at minimum. His beliefs run counter to U-M’s stated – and decidedly pro-choice – position on abortion from interim president Mary Sue Coleman and Michigan Medicine CEO Marschall S. Runge.
Tensions nationwide are understandably high, including in Ann Arbor, where first-year medical students walked out of Hill Auditorium in protest of anti-abortion physician and faculty member Dr. Kristin Collier’s keynote address. Though Harbaugh’s devout Catholicism has certainly shaped his beliefs, he’s not reading the room among a student and young alumni base with broadly progressive social views.
You could argue most college football coaches (and most wealthy white men like Harbaugh) live in a bubble, and have some political views that I’d, uh, disagree with. I’m not a betting woman, but I imagine a hefty chunk of these coaches believe things similar to Harbaugh on the abortion front. I’m sure if you dug into donation records, you’d find several of these guys putting money behind some reprehensible candidates or causes.
The difference is that not many of them will put their public weight behind it. All of these men live in a very insular bubble, but Harbaugh seems, more than others, to believe that the rest of the world could, and should, be the way he knows it to be.
With someone like Harbaugh, it’s critical to recognize just how much he lives out loud – when he says anything, he believes every word. He wants to bring as many people as he can under the umbrella of the fantastical, privileged life he lives, and walks the walk to do it.
Take, for instance, naming Colin Kaepernick honorary captain at the Michigan spring game after his wrongful, public exile from the NFL, or traveling to Washington, D.C., to advocate for equity in legal aid. He donated his bonuses from his bridge contract in 2021 to staff members who took pay cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This potpourri assortment of beliefs and actions does have a thru-line: he sees something he thinks is just, and champions that cause, for better or for worse. There’s almost a quaintness to his egalitarianism; the poor person in need of legal services, the underpaid staff member, the Black person subject to police violence, and ugh, I suppose, the fetus full of potential, need equal playing ground. I do not doubt for a moment that Harbaugh and his wife would raise an unwanted baby if one got left at his door.
While I don’t know the man, I would posit that Jim Harbaugh does not seep the same miserable bile as, say, your Clarence Thomases or Amy Coney Barretts of the world (or, if you want an equally repugnant Michigan alumna, your Ann Coulters). He does not hide bigotry or malice behind a politic that pretends to champion the “oppressed” – in fact, I’d argue the opposite, based on the other aforementioned issues he champions proudly.
That said, as he becomes more and more vocal about his anti-abortion beliefs, Harbaugh is honeypot for bad actors to swarm. He is now the face of the abortion debate in Michigan, while more insidious folk push policy behind the scenes.
Though I think he’ll drop the issue once the season is underway, he’ll be front of mind for more than a few when voters head to the polls on November 8th to vote on the Michigan Reproductive Freedom Initiative, which, if passed, would enshrine abortion into Michigan’s state constitution. He is the spokesman for a larger game with implications he doesn’t fully see, particularly not from that ivory tower full of orphans he’s raising.
I don’t mean to infantilize or defend Jim Harbaugh; that would be unfair. Despite his eccentricities, he is still an intelligent man with agency over his beliefs and choices, and he fully grasps his means and influence. It’s beyond disappointing that he is going to bat for an issue that largely does not affect him.
Dave Zirin critiqued (rightly, in my opinion) that despite Harbaugh’s eagerness, his family is not actively fostering any of the 10,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system. The “we will raise your baby” mindset common to Christian discourse on abortion oversimplifies and shames anyone needing to make an informed decision on their pregnancy, be it for health, economic, or deeply personal reasons, and Harbaugh is perpetuating that in a public way.
My whole point in discussing this, a sensitive issue for many (and one I’m not sure you want to read about in a sports newsletter), is to help the socially-conscious Michigan fan lay out the map of Harbaugh’s world. It’s a world where Bo Schembechler is still a hero. Where all should have an equal playing field, despite the obvious false equivalencies he holds for “the unborn.” Where, shit, we don’t eat chicken. It is a simple, idealistic world that the rest of us don’t live in, devoid of reality.
Fans who disagree with him shouldn’t treat him with kid gloves, but understand that when he wants to debate or discuss this publicly, his world is so secure that no one’s going to actually change his mind. He’s never going to get fired or publicly reprimanded for his stances by the university, because unless his views (or slew of new children) become such a distraction that Michigan football loses games, he’s untouchable.
I applaud and stand with anyone who heads to Hoover Street this fall ready to protest his beliefs, as I’m sure students will, but for the rest of us who have to sit with the icky feeling of all this? Unless he does something truly egregious to prop up his anti-abortion views, we’re stuck with him. He is simply another shade on the infinite spectrum of moral gray areas in college football, living in a fantasy world the rest of us will never understand.