Booing student section behavior

Appropriate conduct doesn’t have to compromise passion for team.

Andrew Johnson

Violence, rape and cannibalism: These are things the student section cheers about at University of Minnesota sports games.

I could list all our inappropriate chants, such as what weâÄôre shoving up where and whose babies weâÄôre eating, but weâÄôre hopefully already aware of how tasteless and immature they are, even if we donâÄôt want to admit it. Those images and chants can be graphic, but this sort of conduct screams louder volumes than the Barnyard does.

At last weekendâÄôs basketball game against Illinois, I watched the Gophers eke out a victory. Amidst the excitement and while standing in the, well, stands, I noticed our earliest Big Ten championship banner from 1906 in the rafters. I wondered what our turn-of-the-century counterparts âÄî our fellow Gophers âÄî would think of our behavior as we cussed at the refs, the other team and their fans. Did they envision enthusiasm and pride for our shared, beloved University reaching such an inexcusable level? Chances are they didnâÄôt, so whatâÄôs changed over the past 100 years in supporting our schoolâÄôs squads?

Campus athletes have become significantly less amateur since then, going from open tryouts to fill a roster to offering full-ride scholarships after intensive nationwide recruitment. This more glorified and distant relationship between players and fans may justify cursing more freely at the players. In our eyes, by exulting these athletes, weâÄôve made them borderline professionals that can handle the insults thrown their way.

Yet, at actual professional sporting events, like NBA or NFL games, you rarely hear the same appalling offenses that come from a student section. In fact, even at a college game, the slurs really only come from the student section. Alumni, parents, faculty and other attendees arenâÄôt participating in the crude chants, and who can blame them? ItâÄôs more debasing for the deliverer of the insults than the recipients. I doubt when football head coach Jerry Kill shows up in the student section during basketball games, heâÄôs eager to use his own surname in a chant that includes âÄúâĦmaim, pillage, burn.âÄù He, along with most everyone else there, holds himself to higher standards, ones that, as students at an institution of higher education, we should too.

IâÄôm not alone in this thinking; in the past two seasons, Tubby Smith has sent an email to students asking them to be more mindful of their language during the games, and has said he is âÄúdisappointedâÄù in their behavior. Even if you sift past the savage rhetoric, relying on the unimaginative chants reflect poorly on our intellect and creativity. I mean, we shout, âÄúWho hates Iowa?âÄù when weâÄôre playing Penn State, two schools that are 800 miles apart. After nearly two decades of schooling, canâÄôt we be more clever? ThereâÄôs also a particular irony in ardent animal rights activists enthusiastically yelling about eating badger or wolverine kin or self-righteous history majors, who are always quick to point out the U.S. governmentâÄôs treatment towards Native American populations, suddenly crying out to inflict injury on the Illini.

 âÄúLighten up,âÄù a temporarily subdued boisterous fan may retort. âÄúWe donâÄôt always have to be well-mannered, goody two-shoes students. ItâÄôs okay to be  brash at times, especially in that type of atmosphere.âÄù Yet, itâÄôs a bit contradictory to disassociate yourself from the reason youâÄôre enrolled in the University while at the same time spiritedly supporting that University. Even if the argument is that you are visibly standing by your team, itâÄôs hard to make that case when youâÄôre shouting whatever vulgarity you think of as you hide behind the facelessness and anonymity of the crowd. ThereâÄôs a reason fans donâÄôt say these comments directly to playersâÄô faces, and itâÄôs not just because of âÄî but does have to do with âÄîthe fact that playersâÄô faces are a good foot above most of the studentsâÄô.

Keep in mind, this isnâÄôt coming from a startled onlooker taken aback after attending just one game; my sample size for these observations is much wider. IâÄôve bought football season tickets for each of the past three seasons, gone to multiple basketball games every year and even popped in to a hockey game or two. IâÄôve played, watched and coached in rec-leagues, high school, intramurals and even served on a practice squad for a university in Spain.

This is where I propose we look if we want to improve on fan behavior. SpainâÄôs premier soccer league, La Liga, has the Fair Play award, where teams are ranked based on their sportsmanship, where player penalties and suspensions are taken into consideration, along with audience behavior. The award is more than just a symbolic pat on that back for being a standup organization; it serves as a tiebreaker in overall league standings. To an extent, it holds the fans partly accountable to their teamâÄôs success. If the NCAA or the Big Ten implemented a similar policy where fans saw consequences for their behavior, it would serve as the restraint students donâÄôt seem to have, especially if television appearances and national polls were affected.

Ultimately though, IâÄôd prefer students monitor themselves rather than a conference commissioner doing so. In 1909, when the âÄúMinnesota RouserâÄù was first published, one of the original lyrics was âÄúLoyal to thy standards, WeâÄôll never be untrue.âÄù While that line may be gone, we can still be âÄúloyalâÄù to the UniversityâÄôs âÄústandardsâÄù and make the experience enjoyable and appropriate for all. ItâÄôs more than a matter of self-respect; itâÄôs about respecting everyone else too.

In our 1906 championship season, MinnesotaâÄôs only conference loss came to Wisconsin, falling 31-24. On Thursday, the archrival Badgers come to Williams Arena. The game will be heated and intense, and rightfully so, but whether the result is victory or defeat for the Gophers, I hope weâÄôll be equally proud of the performance by the players on the court as well as the fans in the bleachers.