Friday, January 30, 2004

An Open Letter to University of Maryland Students

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

Maryland basketball fans have received an extraordinary amount of media exposure during the last few days. As an alumnus of the school (University College Class of '93), this attention has been aggravating and embarrassing.

Fan behavior at the Comcast Center became an issue on sports talk and ESPN television following the nationally televised Duke game on January 21 st . This has spread to mainstream news programs like Good Morning America, where the Maryland crowd was used as an example of fans running amok.

I need to correct something right away. Most media accounts refer to Maryland “fans” chanting obscenities, wearing shirts with vulgarities, and bringing signs with lewd and crude messages. The vast majority of the offenders on that night, and in recent years, were sitting in the student section. I was there at the Duke game and saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears. Therefore, this letter is addressed to students, not fans sitting outside the Comcast Center student section.

The focal point of attention from the Duke game was the moment in the last minute of a hard-fought contest when the star of the game, Duke's J. J. Redick, stepped to the free throw line. A huge group of students serenaded him with an obscene chant. Reports indicate that this was clearly audible on the ESPN broadcast.

On the Terp Town message board, I have seen two primary justifications for this behavior; (1) it only occurs at Duke games and (2) every other school does it.

Regarding the first point--let me see if I understand this rationale. Students think it is OK to save their coarsest behavior for the game against the nation's marquee school that has been one of the most watched regular season college basketball games in recent years. When viewers and members of the unusually large media gathering point out how deplorable the crowd was, there are complaints about Maryland being singled out. Am I being clear enough about the flaw in this logic?

There is some merit to the second argument. Crowd behavior is a nationwide problem. Earlier this season, Maryland was on the receiving end of crowd abuse when they played at Florida. What had Gator fans so riled up that night mystifies me, but that's neither here nor there. The Comcast Center is only one of a growing number of college arenas across the nation where violence and/or obscenity are problems.

Does that make it acceptable for Maryland students to emulate, or even try to exceed, the boorish behavior on other campuses? Any student who adopts that philosophy is wasting their parent's money on college. It's time to cash in the textbooks and get fitted for your little cap and smock at McDonalds.

I am very proud to be a Maryland graduate. I make a point of wearing my class ring everyday and hoping someone asks me what school I went to. That was not such a pleasant occurrence during the late ‘80's and early 90's in the aftermath of Len Bias' death and the “scandal-a-day” media circus that followed.

I still remember when people asked me what school I was attending during that time and their reaction when I said Maryland. Some would say, “oh, that's the school that has all the trouble.” Others would avert their eyes or give me a sympathetic look that made me feel like they just wanted to pat me on the head and give me a cookie. After all, if I was going there I must not have been able to get in a good school. I don't want to get that kind of reaction in the future due to a group of obnoxious students.

As good a school as Maryland was when I attended, it has improved drastically since I graduated. As the university has moved toward becoming an elite school and raised the bar academically during the past decade, the student section at basketball games has lowered it. Guess which trend attracts the most attention?

Obscene chants do not help the Terrapins win basketball games. They only serve to further energize the opposition. They obviously don't help the school's reputation. It is just a way for the future leaders of tomorrow to indulge themselves by acting like juvenile delinquents. Coach Williams stresses to his players that they need to put team goals ahead of their own. The same rule should apply to the students that watch his team play.

There are calls for Athletic Director Deborah Yow to take action or Coach Williams to speak to the students before a game. Dr. Yow has even engaged the state's Attorney General, to see if there is any action the school can take against offending students. I'm sure Dr. Yow has other important matters to attend to, and I'm damn sure the Attorney General does. As for Coach Williams, I would rather see him totally focused on preparing his team for the upcoming game instead of giving a speech to knucklehead students.

Dr. Yow has been told, she is restricted by first amendment rights in disciplining offending students so the students have all the power here. Please use your power to solve the problem and raise the bar, not to continue lowering it.

Students, please go to the basketball games and scream, stomp, and wave your hands. Make the sound waves roll over opposing free throw shooters when the game is on the line. Wear your school colors without F-bombs printed on them. Help your team win basketball games and change the student section's national reputation from rude to raucous. Allow the team to earn headlines on the court and quit drawing them off the court.

Please take enough pride in your school and yourselves to stay on the right side of the line. Quit embarrassing your school and damn it, quite embarrassing mine!


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