By Pat Brozynski

Athletes should not have to tolerate "ugly" fans

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Every student, parent or fan who attends a high school sporting event should read page 26 of the boys volleyball state tournament program. So should every administrator, official and student-athlete.

Then they ought to read it again.

A short time ago, student-fans from a high school that had been recently in the news because of an incident involving taunts aimed at two minority athletes from their school embarrassed themselves, their school and their community while directing their venom at a foreign exchange student on an opposing team.

Students waved American flags and chanted "U.S.A., U.S.A." every time the student approached the service line. In between points. When he made an error. When he tied his shoes. When he wiped his glasses.

This was not a display of fervent patriotism. It was taunting. It was attacking the student-athlete's nationality under the guise of patriotism. Trying to demean him and his country, hoping that he would lose his focus and perform badly so that their team could win.

Of course, I doubt these students have ever thanked a veteran for his or her service or are intelligent enough to know who wrote the "Star Spangled Banner," where the melody came from or that it was written 117 years before it became our national anthem.

But there they were, waving the American flag, chanting "U.S.A." and mocking the student just because he happens to come from another country. I got the feeling these students would have been rooting for the lions at the Coliseum.

And, of course, these hooligans followed the student-athlete when the teams switched sides, and the parents in the stands gladly accommodated them by moving out of the way. Maybe they were too frightened of their own children to say anything or do any differently.

Or maybe they condoned the behavior.

A parent of a former student-athlete from this same school, who I respect very much, told me that his son experienced the taunting and derision of student-fans from opposing schools when he played major college volleyball.

"It happens all the time in college," the parent said. "He (the foreign student) should just get used to it."

With all respect, is that the best we can do? "Get used to it." So if a child gets bullied in school, our answer is "Get used to it?" If somebody is discriminated against because of their race, religion or orientation? "Get used to it." Taunted because of the way they look or dress? "Get used to it."

That is not an answer. That is part of the problem.

I have been covering high school sports for more than 30 years. People often ask me what my fondest memories are. I tell them the best time I ever had covering sports was the year I covered Public League boys basketball on the west side of Chicago.

Why?

Because those games often started between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m., too early for most adult fans to attend and well after most students either went home, went to work or were busy participating in other activities.

It was just the athletes, a few adult officials and scorekeepers, me and the coaches. No yelling of obscenities from the stands. No taunts directed at players from the other team. No jingoism. No rudeness. Just athletes doing what they did best and what they worked so hard to do.

Boys volleyball, like many other "minor" sports - soccer, badminton, tennis, swimming, gymnastics - is often played that way. A few parents in the stands. The freshman and junior varsity teams rooting their classmates on.

But as the games become more "meaningful" and more parents and students become involved, the level of civility diminishes exponentially.

Take a recent conference championship match, for example. Some of the home team's students in attendance chanted "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand" every time a particular member of the other team went to service line.

The player was an outstanding baller and a very effective server. He just happened to have an unusually long ritual he performed before each serve that took a few extra seconds.

He never broke the rule limiting the time a player has to serve. But the point of the chant was not to remind the officials of the rule. The students obviously hoped to distract the player, accelerate his ritual, force him into an error and therefore help their team win.

I had never seen this tactic employed before or since. And I wonder how these students, who probably never saw this player before, were made aware of his service ritual. Do you really think they came up with the chant on their own? Do you think they even knew the rule?

And if any of them were volleyball players from the lower levels, would you not expect them to obey the same rules of sportsmanship that they would expect from opposing players and schools?

I will be the first to admit that I enjoy cheers like "there's a net there" when a serve sails low into the net, or "who was that to?" when a pass goes awry, or "roo-fee, roo-fee, roo-fee-oh" when a kill attempt is blocked. They are humorous and most players expect to hear them.

But those cheers are not personal attacks directed at one individual because of their race, religion or national origin. They are not taunts leveled at a player before he even serves, sets, volleys, hits or wipes his forehead. They are not racially or jingoistically motivated.

My daughter graduated from college recently. But two years ago, she visited Krakow, Poland during her study abroad trip to England. She was overwhelmed by the friendliness and kindness she encountered in Poland.

I don't think the same can be said of Americans. Not until we learn to respect people who may be different than us, may wear different uniforms, may speak different languages or may play for another team.

Not until we learn how to put our flags down, our hatred aside and our hands together.

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1 Comment

Great article Phil. That sort of fan support has no place in high school or college sports. Time for everyone to show respect for "everyone".

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This page contains a single entry by Back Row published on June 9, 2011 3:50 PM.

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