Shouldn’t we all have the right to proudly wear the colors of our favorite team and safely cheer them on to victory…regardless of the venue?

And consistent with this right are we also obligated, regardless of the outcome and emotional impact of the game, to treat those who freely choose to root for our opponents with respect, particularly if they wear their colors in your home stadium?

It is called civility…something that is an endangered species in American society and we are not just talking about football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer or whatever sport immediately comes to mind.

And while we are embarking in this discussion are we really better people if our team wins? And conversely if our team comes up on the short-end of the scoreboard is that our personal defeat as well? After all it is only a game. We are not the ones tying on the cleats, applying the sun glare black or rubbing on pine tar. And yet to some fans…

Almost DailyBrett is exploring this subject because college football will be underway in about six weeks. This blog argues that college football is America’s most emotional game because in many cases the rivalries go back a century or more and the respective teams play a grand total of once in a given year. There are no best-of-sevens in college football.

Certainly good-natured ribbing and cajoling between fans of respective universities is just as much of a feature of Americana as tailgating, fight songs and cheerleaders. But what happens when the kidding becomes taunting? What happens when the effects of alcohol combine with rising testosterone levels? And what happens when violence seems to be the way to settle a score?

Take Alabama vs. Auburn, two schools separated by less than 200 miles. The so-called “Iron Bowl” between the two schools goes back to 1893. In the State of Alabama, you are either “Roll Tide!” or “War Eagle!”  Alabama won the BCS National Championship in 2010, and Auburn followed with a national title of its own this past January.

Growing up, I read about legendary Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, one of the greatest in the history of college football. Which brings this discussion to the stately oak trees at “Toomer’s Corner” in Auburn, Alabama. One of the traditions at Auburn is to “roll” the trees with TP to celebrate victories by the Auburn Tigers.

auburn

Following Auburn’s come-from-behind victory in this year’s Iron Bowl, an Alabama fan Harvey Almorn Updyke, 62, called regional sports radio host Paul Finebaum to complain that Auburn students allegedly rolled Toomer’s Corner upon hearing the news of Bear Bryant’s passing. When the host doubted the story, Updyke then announced that he had poisoned two of the Toomer’s Corner 130-year-old oak trees with a deadly herbicide, Spike 80DF. “Do you think I care?” Updyke asked. “Roll Damn Tide!”

updyke

Updyke’s attorneys have entered an innocent plea to criminal mischief, but their client’s crowing about his misdeed on sports radio may be all the prosecution needs to put his crimson backside behind bars. Meanwhile, the trees are in mortal danger.

Even more revolting than the poisoning of defenseless trees that just happen to grow on the Auburn campus is the sickening attack this past March against a San Francisco Giants fan, Bryan Stow, in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Dodgers beat the Giants that day, but that did not preclude a brutal attack on Stow, who ironically works for American Medical Response. Stow suffered significant brain damage and recently was upgraded from “critical” to “serious” condition at San Francisco General Hospital. A man with a prior felony record, Giovanni Ramirez, has been arrested in connection with the incident.

In this case, we are discussing baseball not football. We are also talking about one of the most long-standing and intense rivalries in professional sports going back to 1890 when the Giants were located in New York and the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

It may be easy to try to dismiss the Toomer’s Corner and Chavez Ravine (home of Dodger Stadium) incidents as criminal and isolated. Yes and No. The real question is whether they are representative to the loss of civility in American society?

As I grew up, I occasionally heard the phrase, “Magnanimous in victory; gracious in defeat.” If you follow sports, politics, business etc. long enough you will celebrate your share victories and endure your share of defeats. Being able to respect the feelings of the “losers,” while at the same time offering congratulations to the “winners” is a sign of maturity.

When the actual contest is taking place, it is a wonderful release from the pressures of daily life to be able to cheer for your team. And you should be able to wear your team’s colors anyplace, anytime you want…and to accept with a smile good-natured ribbing. Having said that, there is no excuse for insults, violence and certainly no justification for criminal behavior. Here’s to hoping that (if guilty) Mr. Updyke and Mr. Ramirez each spend a long time in a very bad place (this is not equating trees to a human life, but criminal behavior with criminal behavior).

My biggest concern is what happens if criminal behavior, masked as fandom, gets completely out of control? Will someone bring a gun to a stadium and shoot a fellow fan or a player or coach on the field? I am sad to say this is not the first time this thought has crossed my mind. I have many times wondered how many of my fellow fans are armed and will intoxicants provide them with liquid courage? Can we imagine having to walk through magnetometers in order to go to a game? Preposterous? Just think about how airport security has changed in the last 10 years.

One way to cool everyone’s jets and reduce this awful possibility is to simply enjoy the game, and remember it is only a game…not life or death. And if your team wins? Great. And if your team loses? Oh well. Remember: You personally did not win. And you personally did not lose. The team that you are rooting for, won or lost. It’s not personal.

Sometimes we seem to forget that.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/sports/pro/baseball&id=8205448

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/sports/pro/baseball&id=8200676

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodgers%E2%80%93Giants_rivalry

http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=6129272

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeW1ECI3PVE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm8AqL9FV-o&NR=1

http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2011/04/20/1547031/toomers-corner-tree-poisonings.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Bowl

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