Friday, February 29, 2008

Fanaticism Gone Too Far

Our televisions capture the foreign images of European soccer hooligans, and the fires and flares of South America. At home, we watch tape of a drunken father and son attacking an MLB first base coach. In the NBA, we see a brawl erupt in Detroit, because a fool decides to toss a cup. But a step down from your professional leagues, we see something growing more large and ugly. It’s fanaticism at the extreme.

In college sports, your home surface represents a point of dominance. Its make up, aura, and student body can allow even the most average hosts to compete with the greater visitors. But more and more, the stories and images of fan hostility are taking precedence over the actual games played. This again stands true, as I recently watched USC mopping up a road victory in Tempe, and in the waning seconds, a full water bottle crashes at the feet of a Trojan player. But even with the danger posed by that incident, and the potential to spark a melee, the action of that one disgruntled fan is minor to the incidents already reported this past year.

The most recent incident to be publicized is that of UCLA’s Freshman Kevin Love. Love is a native Oregonian that snubbed his area to play in the basketball tradition of UCLA. Last month marked his first trip back to Oregon, as his Bruins faced the Ducks. He was greeted with hostilities, for which the University of Oregon made an official apology. But more has surfaced about his Oregon road trip, and it makes you question the mentality of the fans and how they’ve forgotten that it’s just a game. It was reported that Love received death threats, and screaming fans called his grandmother and 13 year old sister “whores”. I am unable to grasp that type of mentality, because though I have a love of team, and love of sport, I can still understand that it’s just a four year decision to play a child’s game elsewhere. Florida quarterback, Tim Tebow, received death threats during the 2007 season, and for no other reason than being “great” at what he does.

The University of Illinois also had to apologize for the hostile reception given to another freshman sensation, Eric Gordon of Indiana, when he made his first appearance in Champaign, after not staying true to a promise to play for the Illini.

Another publicized incident was the occurrence at the end of an amazing contest played between No. 1 Memphis and unranked Alabama Birmingham. The one point, down to the wire, victory by Memphis was quickly forgotten, and fan violence took center stage. As you can see in the following clip, as the officials were checking the monitor to determine if a last second game winning shot should count, the Memphis players are getting pelted by any trash the UAB fans could find.

Death threats aren’t exclusive to players, as a teary eyed Michigan coach alerted the nation last week. Rich Rodgriguez spoke of the threats against his family in West Virginia, and against his young niece, simply because her uncle “took a job”. Before the Mountaineer football team even suffers any ill effects of the Rodriguez departure, some West Virginia fans have taken it upon themselves to make his family suffer in fear. It shouldn’t be surprising or unexpected, considering WVU’s place kicker received death threats after the Pittsburgh game, being blamed for the loss that cost the team a spot in the National Championship game.

In Indiana, security has been increased, following the resignation of basketball coach Kelvin Sampson. The University’s action is a precautionary measure, hoping to prevent a repeat of campus disturbance that followed the school’s firing of Bobby Knight. In that incident, police in riot gear were needed to disburse the angry crowds.

The college football season also featured outrageous acts, when Rutgers fans welcomed Navy to the field with chants of “Navy Sucks”. Entering the field for the second half only allowed an encore performance of the chant, and the Scarlet Knights’ fans weren’t done. As an injured Midshipman limped from the field, the crowd chanted “You got f*cked up! You got f*cked up!” And in the direction of the uniformed section of Navy fans in attendance, the chant was “F*ck you, Navy! F*ck you, Navy!" In the aftermath, Rutgers’ President made a formal apology to the Naval Academy, but again I’m confused about what would not only bring a person to begin such chants, but for others to also tag along. The boys from the Naval Academy are not only serving as Saturday opponents, but are also serving their country. Following graduation, some will find themselves on battlefields, defending our right to chant. I think that alone deserves respect, regardless the depth of your fanaticism.

Chants are a thing of old, as I can remember former St. Joe’s basketball player, Delonte West, who has a birth mark on his face receiving chants of “Herpes! Herpes!” I also remember Duke’s J.J Reddick being so hated by ACC foes that their chant of choice was “F*ck U Reddick!”. There is no enforcement, so it continues. A fan can be removed from the building for tossing items on the court, and the home team can be penalized, giving the visitor technical free throws, but how do you enforce the harsh chanting and profanity that potentially comes with it? For the NCAA to clean up the language, they will have to penalize students by suspending home games, forcing their teams to play only on the road. For severe offenses, they can wipe out the home games for an entire season. That would be the simple plan, but it’s more difficult when you look at the financial loss. How many school presidents, who already can’t control their student bodies, are going to agree to a punishment that hits them in the wallet?

As a player, it only took one road game for me to realize how hateful some fans can be towards a program. It’s more apparent in basketball, when venues shrink in size, and the gap between yourself and the fans decrease. As a player, you stand on the hardwood, and you know that a handful of officers could never hold back an entire student section and any intentions to cause harm to their visitors. The road can be a scary place, but it’s only because of a few enticing idiots, and greedy NCAA executives that allow it to be.

Fanaticism has already gone too far, and year after year, the bomb continues to tick. When, and if, there is that great explosion, we will see the “powers that be” addressing the media of the seriousness, as if they never saw it coming. I see it now. Don’t you?

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