Over the Top
Extreme vulgarity and taunting by college basketball fans this season raise the question: How much is too much? For schools and conferences, it's time to act
Posted: Tuesday February 26, 2008 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday February 27, 2008 9:20PM
Kevin Love knew it would be bad. But not this bad. Sure, he'd chosen UCLA over Oregon after being the consensus national player of the year as a senior at Lake Oswego (Ore.) High -- but what happened to his home state's rep for peace, love and understanding? On Jan. 23, the day before the Bruins-Ducks showdown in Eugene, Love found more than 30 voice-mail messages on his cellphone when UCLA stopped for a layover in San Francisco. He listened to the first one: If you guys win, we'll come to your house and kill your family. He played another: We'll find your hotel room and blow your f------ head off with a shotgun. He didn't bother to check the rest. "I mean, these were death threats," Love says. Shaken, he called his mother, Karen, and had her cancel his cellphone service.
Robert Husseman knew it would be bad. But not this bad. A sophomore math and business major, Husseman is a member of the Pit Crew, Oregon's rabid, 1,500-strong student fan club. He had attended the weekly Pit Crew meeting that Monday, heard that Love's cell number was circulating among members, but did not dial it himself. While nobody has ever called the Pit Crew PC -- its members once printed a thousand copies of an embarrassing picture posted on Facebook of Stanford's Fred Washington at a party -- Husseman couldn't believe the chorus of homophobic chants directed at Love from the McArthur Court student section after UCLA took the floor. "I didn't even bother with [saying] the chants," Husseman says. "I hoped they would die quickly, but they didn't."
Stan Love knew it would be bad. But not this bad. Stan, who is Kevin's father and the sixth-leading scorer in Oregon's history, arrived at his alma mater that night in a party of seven including Karen, Kevin's 13-year-old sister, his grandmother and his uncle Mike, a cofounder of the Beach Boys. But good vibrations were in short supply. Stan says his family was pelted with popcorn cartons and empty cups, as well as a barrage of profane insults ("every filthy word you can think of"), including screams of "whores" that made Kevin's grandmother cry. "There were six-year-old kids with signs saying KEVIN LOVE SUCKS," says Stan, who endured a hail of one-finger salutes to snap photographs of the worst signs. "It was the grossest display of humanity I've ever been involved with. To think I'm sitting at the school where I played ball, and just because my kid didn't pick Oregon he gets abused like that? I'll never go back there."
Kevin responded in the most cold-blooded way possible, keying UCLA's 80-75 victory with a 26-point, 18-rebound tour de force, but the fans' behavior was the story of the game in Eugene -- just as it has been in several other places around the country this season. Fan abuse and taunting are nothing new in college basketball, but 2007-08 has been the ugliest season in years. When Illinois hosted Indiana on Feb. 7, the home fans took out their frustration on Hoosiers freshman guard Eric Gordon (who'd reneged on a verbal commitment to the Illini) by chanting "F--- you, Gordon," throwing a drink at his mother and cheering when Illini guard Chester Frazier knocked Gordon back five feet with a chest bump during player introductions. And after then No. 1 Memphis pulled out a last-gasp win at Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 16, Blazers fans nearly incited a Malice at The Palace-like riot with Tigers players; forward Joey Dorsey had to be physically restrained by team personnel from going into the stands.
As family members of targeted players feel the need to bring security guards to road games, and with schools such as Oregon and Illinois issuing apologies for the behavior of their fans, it's worth asking: How much is too much? "The abuse that fans are bringing day to day, whether it's on talk radio or in the stands, is going to ruin the game eventually," says Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "I hate to say this because freedom of speech is at issue, but this isn't what freedom of speech is intended for."