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TheRootDC
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Posted at 10:04 AM ET, 09/28/2011

College football: a contact sport for fans?

Football is a contact sport in which muscled giants smash into one another with great impact for our enjoyment. We all understand and, in some cases, revel in the sport’s inherent danger.

That danger ought not extend to the fans. I bring this up because during my recent visit to Morgantown, W.Va. to watch the Mountaineers play the LSU Tigers, I felt physically threatened.

I’m accustomed to the trash talking that goes on before and after games. After all, LSU, my alma mater, plays in arguably the toughest collegiate sports league, the Southeastern Conference. And there are spirited, longstanding rivalries with Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and others. The rivalries involve some heated discussions, particularly among drunken co-eds, but mostly the ribbing is good-natured. And once the game is over, hands are shook and we move on to the next one.

But putting your hands in my face, jumping in front of me and glaring to provoke a confrontation, and reaching atop my friend’s head to attempt to snatch his cap is over the top. These kinds of actions can lead to violence. An LSU fan from Pittsburgh reportedly suffered severe injuries when he and his pregnant wife were attacked after the West Virginia/LSU game. This is not what the game is about.

Nor is some fan behavior at my own school. I did a quick Google search and found this report from three years ago. It was an investigation by The Daily Reveille (I was the paper’s top editor as an undergrad in the 1980s.) Two staffers went undercover wearing crimson and white sweatshirts during an LSU/Alabama game.

Vulgar language has never really bothered me, and the incessant “Tiger-baiting” and
“Around the bowl and down the hole, Roll Tide, Roll” mocking were the least of my worries.
And if that wasn’t enough, the amount of times we were spit on also struck a nerve.
Spitting on someone is one of the most degrading things a human being can do to another.
Verbal abuse is powerful, but when things get physical, that’s a little more effective.
The most significant physical encounters were from male Tiger fans. And they all involved some kind of inappropriate gestures. We were groped and squeezed by just about every guy we interviewed.

Wow. Getting spit on and groped? Not cool at all.

(Before I go further, let me say that this is not an indictment of all West Virginia or LSU fans. In Morgantown, many of the fans we came across were gracious, welcoming, hospitable and constantly inquiring about whether we had received any harsh treatment. They are keenly aware of their national reputation as being thuggish fans and are desperately trying to put the image in their wake. Thanks to you for attempting to make our visit to your town and state enjoyable.

The same is also true in Baton Rouge. At the regular tailgates of my friends at home, we always offer food and drinks to opposing fans, just before telling them to watch out for the butt-whipping on the field.)

Until the middle of last week, I wasn’t even aware of the national reputation of Mountaineer fans. The school and the team, despite their national ranking, were just never on my radar. But reading about the objects thrown during basketball games and the propensity of fans to burn things, couches in particular, made me a bit nervous. Still, we decided we were going to go in wearing our LSU gear anyway. How tough could it be really?

Well, we should have known something was up by how many people went out of their way to shake our hands, welcome us to Morgantown and to, essentially, apologize in advance for any bad behavior we might run into. “We’re good people, really,” they all seemed to be saying. And they were. My friend, Clint, said all the hospitality made him feel like he was being personally lobbied by the fans to support the Mountaineers’ entrance into the SEC, something that is supposedly under consideration.

Either people were too nice, offering our team good luck in the game. Or, they were cursing us as though we had done personal harm to them or their families. This was only the second meeting between the two schools. LSU has now won both games.

The actual game was a respite from the crowds. Even though there were very few LSU fans in our section, there were police around and an annoying scoreboard message repeatedly reminding fans to be civil.

For a while, it was just a football game, a seeming blowout, then a close game, then a near blowout again. The final score was 47-21. And as we filed out before the game was over, the three of us looked at each other and nodded it was time to go. Our plan, walk briskly and stay together.

The civil tone changed as soon as we left the stadium. The curses (unfit to print) and the jumping and wild gesticulating in front of us continued for about a half-mile or so until we could find a clear space to walk that didn’t have lots of other fans. We thought about what we would do if we were actually attacked. Pick up something? (No.) Fight back? (Only if attacked) Afterall, we are all in our 40s, with jobs and families that care about us. Too old for this nonsense.

Soon we were in the clear and our car was in sight. We had said little as we walked away from the game. And there was more silence, for miles, as we pulled off on our way back to D.C.

“At times, I felt like an unwanted patron at a 1960s lunch counter,” Clint, a close friend from college, said after a while. He posted the same on my Facebook page.

Making visitors feel this way should not be tolerated—in Morgantown, Baton Rouge or any other stadium or sports arena. It ruins what is supposed to be fun.

I love the fall, the changing leaves, the cooler temperatures and, of course, big-time college football. But, after my experience in Morgantown, I won’t be going back there again. I hope visitors to Baton Rouge don’t say the same thing after LSU games.

By  |  10:04 AM ET, 09/28/2011

 
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