Column (Michael Zipf): Fan behavior crossing the line in college basketball

Michael Zipf

A 6-year-old child enters an arena mesmerized by the 20,000 people that surround him. He tightly clinches his father’s hand, appearing overwhelmed by the atmosphere, yet his heart is pounding with exultation and a glistening smile slowly appears before his face. The teams enter the court, and his father points out his old college basketball coach as his child stands with a hot dog in one hand and an Oregon Ducks basketball in the other, still awestruck by this tremendous spectacle. The crowd lets out a raucous and vibrant chant: “Let’s Go Ducks! Let’s Go Ducks!” Shortly, the child joins in unison with the crowd.

The euphoric atmosphere that is depicted in this story is reflective of Kevin Love’s experience as a child. Love, a freshman and Player of the Year candidate at UCLA, returned this year to the same stadium where he used to chant in unison with the crowd. As Love entered the stadium of his father’ alma mater, he realized the situation would be quite different then the day he sat in the stadium for the first time as a 6-year-old child. Love anticipated fans would be upset by his decision to chose UCLA over his hometown Oregon Ducks. However, the vulgar comments and ghastly actions directed toward Love and his family would even bewilder the “devil” himself.

A day before the intense showdown between the Bruins and Ducks, Love glanced at his phone and noticed he had 30 messages. As he listened to the first message, he realized that fighting for a rebound against Oregon’s forward Maarty Leunen would pale in comparison to the battle he would endure against the Oregon crowd. Love recognized that he would literally be fighting for his life and his families’ security as he received numerous death threats from unruly Oregon fans.

During pregame warmups, Oregon fans delivered a chorus of homophobic chants directed at Love. Yet the barrage of dehumanizing and berating chants that Love experienced were second fiddle to the deplorable and unfathomable comments directed toward his family. Throughout the game, Love’s parents, grandmother and uncle were pelted with popcorn, cartons and empty cans. As Stan Love, the sixth-best scorer in Oregon Ducks history, watched his son battle for a rebound, he noticed a young child holding a sign reading “Kevin Love Sucks.” To Stan Love and others, this child’s sign is emblematic of the deleterious effect that vulgar and unruly fans are having on America’s youth.

Tyler Hansborough, Gerald Henderson, Eric Gordon and Greg Paulus join Love in the litany of players who have been abused by abrasive fans. Gordon, like Love, experienced death threats from Illinois fans after Gordon rescinded his verbal commitment to Illinois and joined Big 10 rival Indiana. Stan Love and Eric Gordon Sr., as well as NCAA activists, are urging universities to crack down on offensive fans. Players recognize that boisterous fans yelling at them is just an aspect of the game they have to accept. However, when family members who come to a game are unable to support their child without having items thrown at them or being surrounded by security guards, that’s where the line is crossed and dangerous situations arise.

While incidents of racism and anti-Semitism in college arenas have dissipated over the last 40 years, college arenas still seem to evoke many of the social, racial and ethnic injustices that universities and colleges try to mitigate. Players, coaches and officials, who receive the brunt of the brutal comments inflicted by fans, are flabbergasted by the irony of such actions, as they blatantly contradict the stated mission of universities who serve as pillars of enlightenment and equality. Universities have tried to remind fans to conduct themselves in a respectful manner; however, their attempts are often futile. During the game against Indiana and Eric Gordon, a “Hoop Scoop” pamphlet circulated throughout the Illinois student section, reminding fans to refrain from vulgarity when Gordon entered the arena. That lasted about two seconds before a barrage of malicious comments were cast up on Gordon.

Sadly, there have been few challenges by either universities or fans to the brash actions and vulgar comments proliferating college arenas. A few schools, such as Washington and Florida, have implemented a zero-tolerance policy for improper language and codes of conduct in their basketball areas. Yet, every year, disruptive fans seem to continue to ruin the purity of college basketball. Although a majority of fans exhibit genuine school spirit, there are a growing number of rogue fans, whose bombastic, often intoxicated and vulgar behavior is ruining the atmosphere of college basketball. Ultimately, the main question should not be why these incidents are occurring but rather how and when will this debauchery stop? It needs to be answered before the line is crossed and more 6-year-old children carry signs into stadiums reading “Kevin Love Sucks.”

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Michael Zipf is a junior accounting major from Cedar Knolls, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]