Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wright Words: Stay classy, San Diego State

Has there ever been a better time to be a Brigham Young University basketball fan? Currently BYU stands at No. 3 in the polls and looks poised for a rare run into the NCAA Tournament’s second week.

You can’t turn on ESPN these days without seeing a clip of BYU All-American Jimmer Fredette launching a 30-foot 3-pointer, or a live interview with “The Jimmer” or a hoops guru breaking down game film. Even more likely, you’ve seen all of the above. If Jimmer were a stock, he’d be Google at $610 a share with room to grow.

Indeed, it’s been quite a season. I only wish I’d seen more of it. Living in the East has not afforded as many opportunities to watch games as my friends in the West. Just imagine how thrilled I was that BYU’s game with then-No. 6 ranked San Diego State University last Saturday would be televised coast-to-coast on CBS. It was only the second game all year I watched from tip-off to final buzzer.

Thankfully, the game was nearly everything we’d been promised. It featured physical play from both teams, timely offense and good coaching from two of the best. It was entertaining and competitive until roughly the 10-minute mark of the second half. For the rest of the matchup, BYU answered every SDSU mini-run with huge shots from plenty of players not named Jimmer.

As the clock ticked down, the only real suspense was whether or not SDSU fans, desperate for a win over their much-hated league rival, would stay classy or repeat their embarrassing behavior from previous meetings.

SDSU coach Steve Fisher sent an e-mail earlier in the week asking all fans, especially those in SDSU’s famed student section dubbed “The Show,” to behave appropriately.

Among other things, Fisher wrote, “We cannot cross the line into topics that are out of bounds and distasteful, particularly making fun of one's religion."

Maybe some SDSU fans have junk filters blocking Coach Fisher’s e-mails.

It’s obvious that if you’re watching premium cable and your children walk in the room, you better be prepared to explain the profanity, innuendo, etc. To a slightly lesser degree, the same is true if your little ones wander in while watching any number of primetime sitcoms on NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX. But should that be the case if you’re watching a college basketball game on national television?

During the final minutes of the SDSU-BYU game, my daughter popped in to check on the score and enjoy a quick one-on-one chat with Dad. I was explaining a foul against SDSU when the crowd, obviously disagreeing with the call, began to chant a popular two-word phrase connoting disbelief. “Dad, are they chanting what I think they’re chanting?”

“Yes, dear, they are.”

“Can’t they get in trouble for that?” she asked.

“Apparently not.”

Basketball is a sport that encourages fan involvement. We sit close to the court and have easy access to players. We’re often referred to as the “sixth-man” and, perhaps more than in any sport, we can feed a team’s momentum.

Everyone wants to win the big game, right? That’s why we buy tickets and that’s why we scramble around on a busy Saturday morning to be in a position to devote two hours to a basketball game. It’s not a crime to want your team to perform well and to beat your rival. But when is too much too much?

Perhaps it was poor taste that hundreds of SDSU students dressed as missionaries in white shirts, ties and fake nametags, but most would argue it was harmless. I thought the efforts to distract BYU players at the free-throw line with giant heads of pop culture figures was quite clever. I saw Woody from Toy Story, Marilyn Monroe and Donald Trump. Nothing offensive there.

But what about the sign that read, "Wives-for-Rent"? Or the signs that carried vile slurs aimed at Jimmer’s girlfriend? What about the fans who threw candy on the court? I’d call it elementary school stuff, but that’s not fair to little kids who actually know better.

If you were the athletic director at BYU or any other school that endures religious taunts, dangerous playing conditions or any other behavior that crosses the line of good sportsmanship, wouldn’t you find other places to play? After all, there are 344 other Division I basketball teams in the country.

It’s certainly acceptable and encouraged to cheer and chant and to hope with all your heart your team wins. In the proper spirit, sports can bring people together and bridge differences in cultures, wealth and religion. What’s happening at “The Show” at SDSU shouldn’t be encouraged and is completely unacceptable.

To be certain, this inappropriate, childish behavior happens on other college campuses around the country and BYU has its own share of fans that have probably crossed the line. If BYU treats Notre Dame or anyone else this way during a visit to Provo, I’ll gladly reboot this column and let the Cougars have it.

Rivalries are wonderful and good-natured ribbing and passionate competition is part of sports. Chanting obscenities, mocking religion and denigrating players and their families is not. No one should ever have to apologize to a child for a sport’s broadcast.

I anticipate many SDSU fans will call me prudish, self-righteous and other derogatory names. I just wish they could follow Ron Burgundy’s advice to “Stay classy, San Diego.”

1 comment:

  1. As my husband, 12 year old son, and I watched the same game, we had all the same thoughts. However, it was just a great game and an even better opportunity to explain to our son a few things. Mostly, what not to do in regards to some of the fans behavior. We are trying to teach our son to be a good sport. In everything he does.

    We live in the East with hardly any LDS members, and in a strong Catholic community. Nothing has prepared my children better in this life, than the experiences they have had in learning to accept other religions and their teachings.

    Thanks for such a great post.