“Hail to the victors valiant! Hail to the conquering heroes! Hail! Hail to Michigan, the leaders and best….” (The Victors; University of Michigan’s fight song)
I just spent a weekend with those words, and other folks who associate themselves with those words, and I want to share a few thoughts about a Sportual opportunity available to us all that these words inspire. In the book Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games, I wrote about being in the largest crowd ever to watch a volleyball game. I wrote about the venue, the circumstances, and the feeling of being in that arena in Omaha among a sea of red as Nebraska battled Penn State, the eventual national champion, in a thrilling 5-set contest. I wrote about my hearing-impaired friend seated next to me. He answered my question as to whether he could feel the excitement: “I can FEEL this!”
I tried to FEEL the energy in the Big House during the Notre Dame football game, but I couldn’t get past the fact that as an alumna of one of the greatest universities in the country, I felt dismay and disgust at the lack of respect for our opponent, their fans, and their team. The event lived up to, and actually exceeded expectations, from the largest crowd ever to watch a football game (115,109), to the military fly-overs, to the introduction of Michigan’s other national contenders and legendary heroes, to gratitude for an alumni gift of $200 million, all leading up to an eventual victory for the home team. It was, by all intents and purposes, a great victory for the Victors.
However, if we are truly going to be the leaders and the best, we have an opportunity here to teach and to learn. In a world torn by war and violence, where our students study social work, healing, education, public health, political science, psychology, and so many other issues inside our nationally recognized classrooms, we owe it to ourselves to address the hostile welcome, and behavior toward all Notre Dame personnel during the game. Having spent the last several years of my career as a physical educator and becoming more aware of bullying in the workplace and in the schools, I found the behavior of a great part of that huge crowd to be reminiscent of bullying, which is “the use of force or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or to aggressively impose a certain type of domination over others.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying)
I sat, cheering, as more than 100,000 people loudly booed the Notre Dame marching band–the oldest marching band in the country. They booed so loud that one could not even hear the marching band play. And then as the Irish took the field, the boo-birds came out in force. I am all for the NCAA command, “Be Loud. Be Proud. Be Positive.” The Big House, on Saturday night, was far from positive. Cheer FOR your team. Cheer for good plays by your team. But please refrain from booing and from the negative comments about the opponent, such as “you suck!” or F*** the Irish!” The leaders and the best are better than that.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young told us to “teach your children well” in 1970. The children who attended that game on Saturday night learned that disrespect, negativity, and bullying are ok, and that they actually win games. The leaders and best are better than that. I’ve been admonished by friends not to be too vocal about this, but I can no longer remain silent. I learned to hate as a student in the 70s. We hated Woody and Ohio State. The bumper sticker “ohhowihateohiostate” went viral on campus. Sportuality asks that we would honor our opponent, rethinking competition as “working with.” We have an opportunity to shift the tide of the nasty fan. If 100,000 people can shift thought about competition, and share that idea with 10 people, that’s 1 million people! May The Big House be our best teacher, our children’s best teacher, and let us all believe in a higher ideal of competition and peace.
The word “fan” comes from “fanatic,” and indeed Michigan fans are fanatic about their team. I am, too. I love Brady Hoke and his staff, and honor their efforts of integrity toward building a team of leaders and best. Lately, fans have become the opposite of the excellence we demand of our student-athletes: unconscious, disrespectful, and negative. The leaders and best are better than that. How many of our students matriculate to our campus hoping to make a difference in the world? Where else will we have an opportunity to reach 100,000+ people on a single day? Let’s GO Blue!