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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Part of the Game or a Step Too Far? Cheer Banning at Mac and Around the Country

The crowds that pack Macalester Stadium for home soccer games are known and loved for their energy and their creative cheers. Photo by  Anders Voss ’16.
The crowds that pack Macalester Stadium for home soccer games are known and loved for their energy and their creative cheers. Photo by Anders Voss ’16.

Imagine that you’re at a basketball game, and a player on the opposing team shoots and airballs it. They miss the rim, the backboard, everything. If you’ve ever watched basketball before, you know that’s your cue to chant “air-ball, air-ball!” Everywhere you go, chants like this are commonplace at sporting events. That is, everywhere except Wisconsin.

In December, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) emailed high school athletic directors around the state, encouraging them not to tolerate “unsportsmanlike” cheers and “disrespectful” conduct by student sections. The email came after a supposed uptick in the use of these cheers. Among the chants included in the email were “air-ball,” “scoreboard” and “you can’t do that.” Actions like turning away during opponent’s pre-game introductions and trying to distract opponents while they shoot free-throws were also mentioned.

Todd Clark, a spokesperson for the WIAA, issued multiple statements clarifying his organization’s position. For one, these cheers are not banned, as many headlines about the controversy would have you believe. Rather, the WIAA’s intent is to set a goal for schools to strive for, and they hope that administrators who witness such conduct from their student sections will reprimand students in an effort to rid events of “poor sportsmanship.” Clark added that the WIAA is not instituting any new policies at this time, but is simply reminding schools of policies already in place.

While the cheers are not specifically banned, the incident has spurred a lot of conflict around the country. ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt began his critique on “One Big Thing” by striking a sarcastic tone. Van Pelt mocked the rules, saying “we’ve got spirit yes we do. We’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you? Oh, I’m sorry. You don’t have spirit? How insensitive of me to inquire at this sports contest about your spirit.”

Analyst Jay Bilas took to Twitter to give examples of “acceptable” chants. One read: “We cannot in good conscience pretend we want you to make this, but wish you good luck, nonetheless.” The actions of the WIAA have also prompted many student sections to protest by coming to games with duct tape over their mouths reading “Is this approved?” In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find any news coverage in favor of these conduct suggestions.

Overall, the reaction to this controversy is that Wisconsin’s attempt to regulate fan conduct at sporting events for fear that cheers might hurt a player’s feelings is just another example of the coddling of young adults in an environment where it isn’t needed. No matter what their reason is for playing, students involved in sports know that it is a competition. They know that when a crowd cheers it isn’t personal, nor is it actually all that important. Many players don’t even hear what is being said in the crowd.

To say that cheers that have been chanted at every level for years are suddenly causing irreparable harm to player’s egos is simply dramatic. Yes, it is embarrassing when a crowd chants “air-ball,” but it also should be embarrassing to air-ball a shot. Similarly, hearing the sound of keys jingling with a crowd yelling “start the bus” when you’re down by 20 points is demoralizing, but if that implores a team to work harder so it doesn’t happen again, then haven’t they benefitted in the end?

Players are not feeling attacked or personally victimized by a crowd’s cheers. In fact, one varsity player at a high school in Wisconsin was given a suspension for tweeting her disapproval at the WIAA’s attempts to regulate cheers. The WIAA is concerned with the supposedly fragile feelings of athletes, but these goals for sportsmanship were not prompted by any complaints of unsportsmanlike conduct, only by an apparent increase in their usage at sporting events.

All of this prompts the question, when does a cheer or an action stop being a part of the game and become unsportsmanlike conduct? Macalester is known for many of our cheers, most infamously, “Drink blood. Smoke crack. Worship Satan. Go Mac!” It has been a part of the Macalester community for upwards of twenty years, and is described by many as a key part of the experience of going to a Mac soccer game. However, there is a history of Macalester students approaching the administration about banning the cheer. Despite some attempts by the athletics administration to enforce regulations on cheers, they are still widely used at soccer games. Inevitably, someone will suggest a rousing rendition of “If you can’t be a Scot, be a Tommie” and “sportsmanship” will fall apart from there.

Many other cheers commonly heard around Macalester sporting events are also considered part of the Macalester athletics experience. Should cheers be abandoned in an attempt to create a more docile environment that is more welcoming to opposing teams? Or does this defeat the purpose of going to a game at all? Those students up in the stands chanting “We’ll be running around St. Thomas with our willies hanging out” would most certainly be considered unsportsmanlike by the WIAA’s standards, but to many Mac students, singing and chanting at games is one of the big reasons to attend.

For all the good intentions that come with the WIAA’s suggestions on sportsmanlike conduct, their fears are generally unwarranted. An active, engaged crowd can make a close game that much more exciting, or it can make a blowout more entertaining. Similarly, a silent crowd is less fun to play for, and can make a game less fun to watch. If the WIAA were banning off-color chants or personal, bullying attacks on individual players, that would be one thing, but cheers that have been established as a part of a tradition in sports are neither harmful nor offensive, and should be left alone to remain a part of a crowd experience.

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