Over the Top (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 26, 2008 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday February 27, 2008 9:20PM
Some of the same conditions that make college basketball so popular-an intimate atmosphere, passionate crowds, heated rivalries -- can also create a volatile situation when fans cross the line. But what is that line? When Duke's Cameron Crazies donned caps and gowns on Feb. 13 and held up signs reading MARYLAND BASKETBALL: FEAR THE CLASSROOM, was it a creative dig at their rival's ACC-lowest graduation rate or a boorish put-down? When Virginia Tech fans chanted "Teabag Paulus" at Duke junior guard Greg Paulus last month, was it a humorous allusion to a year-old YouTube highlight (in which the Hokies' Deron Washington straddled Paulus on a layup), or was it, as Joe Buck might say, "vile and disgusting"?
"When fans are yelling things, that's part of the game. It's just something you have to deal with," says Paulus, who has followed former teammate J.J. Redick and Florida's Joakim Noah as perhaps the nation's most reviled (and often envied) college hoops player. "But when family members come to a game and can't support their child or are having things thrown and said at them, then that can be a dangerous situation."
There may not be nearly as many incidents of racism and anti-Semitism in college arenas as there were in the 1960s, but in the year 2008 many fans are waving anti-gay signs, which often appear on national TV broadcasts. Last month a Pittsburgh fan held up a BROKEBACK MOUNTAINEERS sign when the Panthers met rival West Virginia. And when Kansas State hosted Kansas, one prominent sign (partly written in rainbow-colored script) read TIM HARDAWAY STILL HATES KU, a reference to Hardaway's widely criticized homophobic comments last year. A sign at the UCLA-Oregon game proclaimed KEVIN LOVES JOHN AMAECHI, suggesting a link between Love and the openly gay former NBA player.
For his part, North Carolina junior forward Tyler Hansbrough says he saw another Hardaway-themed sign directed at him in a game at Miami. Like a lot of players, he sees the irony of such actions contradicting the stated missions of universities to serve as beacons of enlightenment and open-mindedness. "A lot of [people on] campuses talk about equal rights," Hansbrough says, "but it seems like, when students get together at a big event, [their behavior] goes against what colleges are saying."
Why is homophobia so prevalent today? While Jack Aiello, a psychology professor at Rutgers, cautions that racism still hasn't disappeared-after all, he had a ground-zero view last year of the fallout from
Don Imus's derogatory remarks about the mostly black Rutgers women's basketball team-he says that today's college sports venues can be flash points for homophobic behavior. "I've seen in the last 10 to 15 years a continuing elevation in the visibility of gays and lesbians on campuses, and greater visibility brings the potential for reactions by majority groups," Aiello says. "People who have strong feelings of opposition are more likely to demonstrate them, and where's a venue to do that? In a macho sports-arena environment."
And once an adrenaline-filled crowd gets going, it can be extremely hard to control. Even though Hoop Scoop -- the pamphlet circulated within Illinois's student section-encouraged members "to keep your composure and to refrain from vulgarity" when Indiana's Gordon took the floor, the students followed that directive for, oh, about 1.3 seconds before the anti-Gordon chants started. (It didn't help that the pamphlet devoted eight times as much space to rehashing every detail of Gordon's recruitment.) Ever since he changed his commitment from Illinois to Indiana in October 2006, sparking a firestorm of threatening e-mails and Facebook messages from jilted Illini fans, Gordon says he worried that he and his family might be in physical danger during the game in Champaign.