DebAte-T-Q: What is Appropriate Fan Behavior?


Fans have always been a major part of any sporting event.  No one knows this better than Duck fans who get to enjoy all the benefits that Autzen Stadium and Matthew Knight Arena provide.  The raucous sold old stands, the sunken field with the crowd basically on top of the game, the knowledgeable fans who know to cheer and scream until their throats are raw for 3 days afterward.  But at what point do fans cross the line?

It could be completely harmless like chanting overrated, or booing the officials, or it could verge on the ridiculous when you're talking about fans interrupting a game or booing actually injured players.  Let's take a look at a couple of situations: booing players, booing refs, chanting overrated, chanting obscenities, interrupting play by being on the field and rushing the field after a win.

Matt:  Personally I think fans need to know their place.  You're there to be fans.  That means cheering on your team, screaming as loud as you can to distract the other team and make it difficult for them to perform, and helping sway opinion to the home field.  That means you need to boo when calls don't go your way.  That means you need to cheer when your team scores.  That means you need to be as loud as possible when the other team has the ball (both in basketball and football) so that it makes it hard for the other team to communicate in such a noisy environment.

I think booing players is never acceptable.  These are student athletes, not paid, to entertain you.  Booing them for fighting for their school or trying to play to the best of their abilities is irresponsible.  They're kids.  And most of the fans are adults and should know better.  Booing refs is ok to a point.  Unfortunately, too many fans think the refs control too much of the game and take it to the next level by throwing things on the field/court, or making death threats to refs after the fact (Oklahoma anyone?).

Chanting "overrated" or obscenities is just childish.  It's demeaning to the fans and shows just how immature they really are.  "YEAH!!! You weren't as good as others thought you were and we're now better than THAT!!!"  Or my favorite "BULLSHIT - BULLSHIT!!!"  Great, you have nothing more useful to do than make me spend the next 5 minutes explaining to my kids why 4-5k college students think that cursing together will be helpful.

As for rushing the field.  Are you kidding me?  Act like you've been there before.  If it's during the game, I hope no one would try and defend that (I'm looking at you Arizona fans).  If it's after the game?  It better have meant something.  If you rush the court after beating OSU to prove you're not the worst team in Pac 10 history, that's just embarrassing.  If you rush the field because you just beat OSU to go to the Rose Bowl... that's something different.  That's unbridled joy welling up and expressing itself in uncontrollable physical exertion and trying to find the nearest large patch of earth to run around on. 

Anything other than that is disruptive and doesn't a shine a positive light on the fan base.  Think about the list of the worst fans, and I'm sure some of the things I mention are consistent through each.

Gorbachav5:  Fans do need to know their place.  They need to know that their place is at a sporting event being entertained.  And if that entertainment involves yelling things, so be it! 

My guiding principle on sports fandom/spectatorship is: Sports are supposed to be fun.  These guys aren't out there manufacturing cars or treating illness or teaching or anything like that.  They are out there to entertain people.  Which is fine!  Watching sports is interesting and enjoyable.  It gives us bonding experiences with our friends and family.  It shows us how many amazing things the human body can do.  It gives us suspense and drama and elation.  Sports are fantastic!  But it's all for fun, and, as an added bonus, it's interactive fun!  Where else in life are you allowed to be this vocal about your raw, unfiltered reaction to an event? 
 
I'll start by addressing your comment about booing.  Part of being an athlete in a spectator sport is that any action you take is immediately analyzed and judged by thousands of people.  It comes with the territory.  Fans have an emotional attachment to their team and the players on that team.  So when one of them lets you down, how do you let them know?  How can you communicate that your are frustrated with their performance?  It would be great if we could get together with Player A after the game and have a real heart-to-heart about why exactly he decided to try a backwards lateral while surrounded by six defenders in the final minute of a tie game, but that's just not possible.  So, as fans, rather than bottle up that frustration and angst to take out on our innocent families later, we do the healthy thing.  We yell a harmless word: "Boo."
 
Oh, I'm sorry princess.  Can the big man who spends half of his waking hours lifting hundred of pounds of weight and running into other large men like charging rhinocerii not take a bit of criticism?  Of course he can!  And some even thrive on it!  Oh, and let me head this one off at the pass - it is irrelevant whether or not I would like it if people came to my work and booed me.  I am not in the entertainment business.  I am an accountant.  I'm sure if you actually watched me do my work everyday, you would be tempted to throw a lot of negative commentary my way.  "BOOO!!!  You call that a spreadsheet?  Your vlookups SUCK!  My dog could produce a better trial balance than that!"  And so on.  It just doesn't work.  I have chosen to ply my trade outside the public eye; these guys haven't.  That comes with criticism.
 
As for some of the extra stuff - again, I point to the fact that fans at a game want to have fun.  I will never forget the first time I heard the over-rated chant.  It was 2000, my first year at Oregon and one of the first football games I'd ever attended.  The crowd was electric.  We yelled and hooted as our defense stifled Tuiasaaisaiasaiasasidsaisasiasopo over and over again.  Who are these whelps that dare enter our house?  What's that you say?  Ranked #6?  Ha!  And thus the "O-Ver-Ra-Ted" chant begun.  And it was glorious.  In retrospect, does it make logical sense?  Not really.  Saying they're over-rated devalues your own team's performance.  Should that matter when you're standing in a crowd of 50,000 screaming fans trying to demoralize your bitter rivals?  Not in the least.  It's fun.  I fully support people coming up with logical demoralizing chants.  But those are often clunky and boring.  A stretch in logic is okay as long as you get your point across with rhythmic derision.
 

I will concede that there are lines fans shouldn't cross.  Obviously, illegal is illegal.  It's a crime to punch the Husky fan sitting next to you (as much as we wish it weren't).  It's trespassing to run on the field during the game.  After the game though?  Rush the field!  What's all this sanctimony about "acting like you've been there?"  I HAVEN'T been there.  I'll NEVER be there.  That's why I'm an accountant who watches talented people play the game.  At the very least, let me feel good about celebrating on the very field where my team just won a game.  I do agree with you about obscenities.  Sports are entertainment for children as well as adults, and I'd appreciate if my kids weren't bombarded with foul language.  Don't throw things at other people.  Don't get so blindingly drunk that you forget all tact and propriety and do something ridiculous.  When you start impeding other fans' enjoyment of the event, that's when you've taken it too far.  Otherwise, knock yourself out!

Matt:  Booing isn't harmless.  I understand that this is entertainment, but so is my daughter's 3rd grade basketball game.  I would never think about booing anyone on her team.  They'd probably break down in tears and I'd have to deal with big angry Daddy for why I booed their daughter.  And rightfully so.  Why is it different in college?  Because the players are bigger?  Would it be ok at a high school game?  How about Junior High?  It's never right to boo in amateur sports (exception: Unless you're booing the refs.  They're paid professionals and should be held to a standard and if they violate that they should be held accountable by the fans).

You see, I relate chanting overrated to the same thing as chanting obscenities.  It's childish and unnecessary.  It's also incredibly unoriginal.  For how terrible "Your-Son-Hates-You" was to chant at Mike Bibby's dad, "overrated" is just as terrible on the opposite end of the spectrum.  One was too original, too poignant, too hurtful.  The other too unoriginal and too boring.  I'm sorry if being an expressive fan that wants to chant things at games is going to take some thought and creativity.  That's what makes the Darryl Strawberry chant so great.  It was simple, yet at the time really original and got in the head of the player and effected his performance.  It wasn't obscene and it also wasn't demeaning to your own team's performance.

If you're going to be a fan and feel like you just can't enjoy the game without chanting something, or screaming at an individual player, at least put some thought into it.  Otherwise, you're just another neanderthal idiot fan in the same category as the guy who gets too drunk, or the cursing at the field behind me.  Both impede my enjoyment of the game.

Gorbachav5:  I think you're trying to cram all fans into a one-size-fits-all Nike brand, athletic fit Oregon t-shirt.  I hate to break it to you, but we don't all fit that particular model.  At least not any more.  It's the damn baby weight I put on. 

First, to address your comments about amateur athletics - anyone who boos your daughter's third grade basketball team is an a-hole.  And probably a Red Sox fan.  But that's a different scenario - for the most part, people are going to those games to be supportive.  You're not entertained because of the quality of play.  You're entertained because it's your daughter, and it's awesome that she just clotheslined that other girl and stole the ball.  I would say that sort of mindset holds true up through high school.  Everyone watching is there for the express purpose of being supportive.  As soon as these guys get to college, it's a different ballgame.  We expect these guys to act like young men, and they are treated as if they are young men.  We pay, often times A LOT, for the privilege of seeing them play football.  There's an expectation of greater fan involvement.  I think if you ask riled up fans not to express any negative reaction, it would greatly reduce the energy of the crowd, and you'd get a lot less cheering as well.  Fans are still attending to be supportive, but they are also expecting to see a certain level of performance.
 
Chanting over-rated IS childish and unnecessary.  So is getting up at 6 AM, drinking beer in a parking lot for 5 hours, and sitting in a giant bowl with a ton of other people watching large men in tight pants and multi-colored shirts grapple with each other in an attempt to get an oblong ball over an arbitrary line drawn in the grass.  You know why we do those things?  Because during the week we sit at computers and stare at spreadsheets.  It's an escape, and, other than the drinking beer for five hours, it's a healthy way to socialize and get out some pent up energy.  Who cares if it's childish and unnecessary?  If you'd like to come up with original chants that make logical sense, more power to you!  I will be happy to chant along.  But I don't go to a football game to be smart and logical.  That's my job during the week.  And that's what I try to do when discussing my team on a message board.  It's not high on my priority list when I'm actually at the game.  I'm only thinking about enjoying the event, which hopefully involves my team winning.  Any way I can be a part of that (as long as it doesn't cross the line of decency, i.e. obscenities and personal attacks like the one on Bibbby you mentioned), I will do it.
 
[/beats chest]
[/scratches armpit]
[/gnaws on haunch of meat]
[/chants illogical thing at sporting event]
 

Gorby happy.

There you have it.  What is the line of appropriate fan behavior?  Are fans a part of the game for both sides and have the right to chant, berate, and disparage a player, team or referee?  Or should they be more subdued and realize their place is to enjoy the entertainment being provided to them?

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