Bob Swoap, professor of psychology
I love going to campus sporting events. Seeing a swimmer set a personal record in her 100-yard backstroke; watching a well- executed corner kick; feeling the intensity of pressure defense on the court—these all make me happy for our student athletes and their successes. Recently, I attended the final home games of the year for our women’s and men’s basketball teams. “Senior night” is a tradition of honoring our student-athletes who will be graduating soon and who have a chance to experience competition as a WWC Owl for the last time. The fans at both games were often wonderful, boisterous and supportive. But during the men’s game, I witnessed the continuing trend of “fan support” that is, frankly, embarrassing and inappropriate. Far too frequently, some students hurl slurs and curses at the opposing team’s players. This, presumably, is intended to distract and harass players. I suspect that it primarily serves to invigorate them. Either way, our fans who engage in this behavior come across as very rude and out of control. Students have charged down the bleachers and onto the sideline screaming at players and referees.
The context in which unfitting fan behavior occurs is a noisy gym in which some seem to believe that anything goes. I believe that some students have adopted “roles” that they perceive are consistent with suitable “fan” conduct. It is clear that the situation, especially when it comes to perceived roles, has a great deal of power in shaping behavior (cf. Stanford Prison Study). In any case, I implore the students who are attending these games to consider what role they would like to play. Consider reshaping the power that goes into yelling at other players into cheers like “DE-FENSE and WAR-REN WIL-SON” which provide your classmates on the gym floor with an often- needed boost of energy. During the game, expend your energies only in support of our school’s team, not to degrade or disrespect anyone (opposing team, coaches, and referees). Then, when the game is over, consider showing support for the opposing team and referees, for they’ve hopefully done their best and could use an encouraging word, too.
Around 25 years ago, I received a letter from my undergraduate university president, Terry Sanford. We students had devel- oped a reputation as a crude group, who did not display our supposed intel- ligence and instead resorted to obsceni- ties and cheapness in taunting opposing teams’ players. Sanford wrote: “Discipline yourselves and your fellow students. This request is in keeping with my commitment to self-government for students. It should not be up to me to enforce proper behavior; you should do it. Reprove those who make us all look bad. Shape up your own language.” This had an impact on my friends and me, helping us to look at how to creatively support our teams. The “sixth man” effect has been powerful over the years and coaches often thank their crowds for helping create an atmosphere that is fun and energetic. I know we can do that here, too. I’d like to be able to bring my children back to games and have them hear real support.