ROMAN: Sports rivalries spark unnecessary violence

David Roman

A little 7-year-old boy looks around at the filled seats with wide, awestruck eyes as his father looks down at him and smiles. In the third inning, he puts on his first foam finger and laughs at the absurdity of its size. By the seventh he fumbles on the words to take me out to the ballgame, but the woman behind him helps by telling him the lyrics. Finally, as the ninth approaches, the father leans over and whispers something in the little boy’s ear. Looking out at the field, the little boy puffs out his chest, takes a deep breath and yells, “Yankees suck!” The kicker: this isn’t a Red Sox-Yankees game. Even worse: they are in Baltimore.

Rivalry has taken over sports in today’s culture. Whether it is Red Sox versus Yankees, Cowboys versus Redskins or Ohio State versus Michigan, it seems every team has at least one opponent they genuinely despise. However, it isn’t simply based on American sports. Ask a Liverpool fan what he or she thinks of Manchester United, and odds are the response would make your grandmother red in the face.

While rivalry has intensified our love for our teams and even the love of the sports, it is taken far too seriously nowadays. The Yankee organization ripped up parts of the new stadiums floor after a construction worker placed a David Ortiz jersey within the concrete, hoping to curse the team. Thousands of Packers fans planned on burning Brett Favre jerseys in reaction to his signing with the Minnesota Vikings this past offseason. While these acts may just sound like harmless, albeit crazy, displays of affection toward a team, they can often be stepping stones to much more serious, disrespectful actions. While it can be exciting to taunt other players while they attempt an extra point or a free throw, what is said can often be taken too far. During a Duke and UNC game at Chapel Hill, UNC fans made derogatory comments against Duke guard J.J. Reddick’s sister. Similarly, during the playoffs last year, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, made inappropriate remarks not about Kenyon Martin, the center of the opposing Denver Nuggets, but Martin’s mother.

What is frightening is that often it doesn’t stop at taunting and evolves instead into violence. After fumbling in a tough loss against the New England Patriots this year, the Buffalo Bills’ return-man Leodis McKelvin found his lawn vandalized by an angry fan. In what would come to be known as the Heysel Stadium Disaster, 39 Juventus supporters died tragically when a wall collapsed as they were being chased by “football hooligans” rooting for Liverpool during the 1985 European Cup final. Every week we hear of more stories of assault involving fans from rivalry teams, some ending in bar scuffles and others ending in fatality.

In a world where we often judge others based on skin color or religion, it isn’t surprising that we can hate based upon our sports teams. That doesn’t make it any less worrisome.

What makes it worse is that we often consider athletes on our favorite teams as part of our family. Mention to a Yankees fan that Derek Jeter is overrated for his position, and odds are you’ll end up needing a mix of ice and heat to fix the black and blue on your eye. At the same time, you hear fans everywhere say that the star of their team is a “true” player for them. For example, Andy Pettitte is a “true” Yankee and Tom Brady is a “true” Patriot. However, we forget that most of these players are on the team by chance. Pettitte was drafted by the Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1990 MLB draft, and Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. While both have certainly showed loyalty to their teams, by simple chance, we could have been saying that Brady is a true Seahawk or Pettitte is a true Dodger. The point is, we become so emotionally involved in our teams and our rivalries that we resort to anger, and even violence, against others. We forget that sports are supposed to bring people together, not tear people apart.

So have fun watching your sports team play your rival. Take a small jab at Syracuse forward Kris Joseph when he’s taking a free throw, but only base the insult on his play on the court. Unless, of course, you’re watching the Yankees, because even though they could have won their 27th championship by the time you read this, as a Red Sox fan, I must say they suck.

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David Roman is a junior psychology and sociology major from Windham, N.H. He can be reached at [email protected]