Fun behavior, sportsmanship and change

Big crowd at a college basketball game, full of noisy anticipation as tip-off approaches.
The public address announcer presents the starting teams: “And now, for YOUR (insert home team’s name)!” Crowd goes wild.
The last ritual before the game starts is the P.A. announcer reading a statement that urges “good sportsmanship . . . and cooperation by supporting participants and officials in a positive manner,” and indicates that “profanity will not be tolerated.”
Which of course is promptly violated. As soon as a referee’s call goes against the home team, a chorus of “Bulls**t, Bulls**t” erupts from the student section.
This is what happened at the NESCAC basketball tournament finals at Amherst College last month. On occasion, fans in the student section also chanted “a**hole, a**hole,” directed at particular opposing players.
The night before, in the semi-finals of the NESCAC tourney, a collection of Wesleyan student fans outdid themselves in excess, spending most of the game abusing opposing fans and family members of players with personal comments which were “beyond abusive” said one parent, “nothing but f-bombs.”
Many fans believe that the price of admission, even when the game is free, purchases for them the license to behave exactly as they please, no matter how offensive to others. As fans, they are somehow inoculated from the consequences that such behavior would inevitably incur elsewhere.
Baiting the opposing team’s fans and gloating at your team’s success is what student sections now do, part of the home court/field advantage.
Middlebury College Athletic Director Erin Quinn is keenly aware of this issue. “At practically all athletic directors’ meetings I attend,” he says, “the agenda includes a discussion of ‘fan behavior.’”
Over the years, Middlebury has not been exempt from incidents when student fans violated standards of sportsmanship and acceptable behavior at big games where partisan emotions ran high.
Quinn’s job is to deal with these incidents in the moment. He’s also committed to preventing them from occurring in the future.
At the recent NCAA tournament games in Middlebury’s Pepin Gymnasium (four consecutive sellouts), the Middlebury athletic staff, mostly coaches, 10 in all, were very much in evidence, in official capacities, augmenting public safety and hired security officers. Primary among their responsibilities was to monitor fan behavior and to intervene if necessary.
At every Middlebury contest, a Middlebury coach of a different sport, out of season, will be at that event, specifically to maintain an appropriate competitive atmosphere. Coaches do not hesitate to tell students when they are out of line.
But that, Quinn says, is hardly enough. “Adequate security at a game is the end point of a process, the last stage. I’m interested in establishing conditions where there is no need to intervene.”
He believes getting there has three stages, the first of which is education. “The irony is that it is often members of other teams at the school, athletes themselves, who behave badly at games.”
“Why is it OK to behave as a fan in a way that wouldn’t be tolerated if you were a participant in the game?” Quinn asks. “In fact, it would get you kicked off the team.
“This has to translate. The paradigm has to shift,” he says. “Fans should be held to the same standard as players. Our playing fields are our classrooms. How we behave and perform is how we express what we are about to the community.
“We want our message to be consistent and positive. We want our athletes to demonstrate respect and integrity all the time.”
The second key in this process is “bystander intervention.” Quinn believes that it’s crucial that students buy in to the values of sportsmanship that underlie appropriate fan behavior.
The athletic department has a Student Athletic Advisory Committee, one to three athletes from every team that meets twice a month, with women’s tennis coach Mike Morgan as the faculty liaison.
Harris Huguenard, a football player (and junior history major from Texas) is on a subcommittee of the SAAC on sportsmanship. “We promote a discussion of sportsmanship on and off the field,” Harris says. “We emphasize ‘bystander intervention.’ We focused our attention on particular games this winter — the two Williams basketball games and the tournament games.”
Harris provided an example of an actual peer intervention. “In the second Williams game, a Middlebury fan made a personal comment about a Williams player, and we said something. He stopped.”
Another junior, Grace Doering, a track athlete and English major from Darien, Conn., lives in a “theme house” on campus whose special interest is “Ethical Issues in Sports.” Residents take on the issues of sportsmanship and hazing.
On the evening of the first NCAA basketball game the house sponsored an alcohol-free event, a barbeque, and gave away 20 tickets (to the sold-out game). “A hundred people showed up, we talked about sportsmanship and fan behavior, and all walked to the game together.”
“I believe there has been a big improvement,” Grace says. “I like to think it’s because of some of the things we’re doing.”
“It’s a hard thing to do,” Erin Quinn says, “but I’ve seen it happen.”

Share this story:

More News
Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Op/Ed Uncategorized

Hector Vila: The boundaries of education

There is a wide boundary between the teacher and the student, found most profoundly in col … (read more)

Naylor & Breen Uncategorized

Naylor & Breen Request for Proposals

Naylor and Breen 042524 2×4.5 OCCC RFP

Share this story: