After Marcus Smart committed a foul during the last minute of the Cowboys’ loss to the Red Raiders in Lubbock, his momentum carried him into the stands, where Orr spewed epithets at him.
The term “fan” is presumed to be a derivative of the word “fanatic,” a word that is not always used in a complimentary fashion. That’s the case with several recent examples of college basketball fans gone wild.
Perhaps the incident that received the most exposure is the one involving Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Texas Tech fan, Jeff Orr. After Smart committed a foul during the last-minute of the Cowboys’ loss to the Red Raiders in Lubbock, his momentum carried him into the stands, where Orr spewed epithets at him. Smart instinctively responded by shoving Orr before being pulled away by teammates. Smart was hit with a technical and suspended for three games by the Big 12 Conference.
By all accounts, Smart is an intelligent young – 19 to be exact – man who appears to be exemplary in every respect. His best response to Orr’s goading would have been to ignore it, but that’s easier said than done in the emotion of the moment. Orr is an air traffic controller in Waco, Texas. He can be seen at every Red Raiders home game and travels thousands of miles each year to attend Texas Tech games. But is he really a fan? Or is his heckling an embarrassment to Texas Tech and a detriment to the sport? Fans expect composure from the players; why should they expect anything less of themselves?
On the same night as the Texas Tech incident, an Arizona State student spit on University of Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish and team trainer Clay Jamieson during halftime of the Ducks’ game in Tempe. Is this a trend or a continuation of conduct that has always existed in sports? Perhaps a bit of both.
Incidents like those in Lubbock and Tempe are not that unusual. The 2007-08 basketball season included a number of incidents that went over the line. Kevin Love was physically threatened before a game in Eugene, Oregon after choosing to attend UCLA rather than his home state Ducks. During the game, his family was subjected to taunts and slurs that brought his grandmother to tears.
Kevin’s father, Stan, a graduate of Oregon State and the Beavers sixth all-time leading scorer, called the experience the grossest display of humanity I’ve ever been involved with.
Some signs and slogans may be humorous and can be chalked up to juvenile creativity and exuberance. For example, Duke’s infamous student section, known as the Cameron Crazies, once held up a sign that read, “A mind is a Terrapin thing to waste,” in reference to Maryland’s ACC-lowest graduation rate. Others, such as those that include homophobic and racial slurs, both of which are still common in arenas around the country, are hateful and unacceptable everywhere, especially at educational institutions that profess to be bastions of learning.
Fan accessibility, which is a hallmark of indoor arenas, may be one reason why these incidents continue to occur in basketball. The close quarters are unlikely to change. One thing that has changed over the years is the popularity of social networking sites where information on players is more accessible to fans than it has ever been. That is particularly problematic if naïve athletes post information that can be used against them and fail to maintain tight security measures on their sites. But anyone looking for ammunition can find it online with the click of a mouse.
What can be done in the future to curb unacceptable fan behavior? Plenty. Start by revoking ticket privileges for the Jeff Orr’s of this world (Texas Tech declined to accept Orr’s offer to skip the remaining Tech home games this season). Establish a fan code of conduct and prosecute violators, either within the institution’s policies and procedures or through the criminal justice system. Involve coaches. Division I basketball coaches earn millions of dollars and are among the most visible members of the campus community. If someone with the credibility of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski admonishes fans to maintain proper decorum, they’re apt to pay attention.
There will always be fans who take things to an unacceptable level. But it’s incumbent on the rest of us to draw a distinction between fans and fanatics.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog.© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed