South Carolina 27, Missouri 24.
After a 96-yard touchdown pass from Maty Mauk to L’Damian Washington helped build a 17-0 lead before the somewhat-unexpected, last-minute win by South Carolina, Mizzou fans were left with the bitter taste of losing the Homecoming game and ending the 7-0 unbeaten streak.
Despite the heartbreak (even I felt it, although I hadn’t bothered to learn what a touchdown was until the game itself) and the collective resentment transferred from Gamecocks to Tigers toward the end of the game, MU fans gave the university an important, although subtle, win: an incredible display of civility even in the face of defeat.
Maybe it’s just me — and a bunch of other people who have lived in countries where violence in sports is rampant — but I found the feeling of friendliness among fans of both teams remarkable. In previous sporting events I have attended in other countries, it was all too common to see parents covering their young children’s ears and instructing them never to repeat what other adults are saying, or fans from rival teams being escorted by police officers to their seats in opposite sides of the stadium in order to avoid potential clashes. None of that seemed to have occurred during last weekend’s game.
And I was not sitting in the student or the alumni section, or any other mostly black-and-gold sections; I was in the south end of Faurot Field, right in the middle of Gamecock territory. I could hear South Carolina’s band more than I could hear MU’s.
Unfortunately, while fan-to-fan interactions were rather positive (with no incidents or clashes reported so far), some MU fans were less-than-polite to Andrew Baggett, the Missouri kicker whose failed field goal attempt ended the game and gave the victory to South Carolina. Hiding behind their impunity-affording Twitter handles, a handful of fans suggested Baggett kill himself or leave the team. After having their messages posted on several websites, some fans took their tweets down, yet others seemed to simply go on with their lives with the stain of hatred stamped on their public accounts.
Luckily, many fans decided to step in as referees to respond to this shameful behavior and provide words of encouragement to Baggett. In spite of the positive comments, the conduct of the fans who posted hateful messages is unacceptable. It is simply absurd to be polite toward the opposing team but bash your own players whenever they fail, no matter how great the disappointment.
It is situations like this — interscholastic fan-to-fan civility vs. intra-team fan-player bashing — that alert us toward the seemingly rising incidence of violence in sports. In recent years, U.S. sports fans have been witness to a series of highly-publicized cases, including the 2011 Bryan Stow beating at a Dodgers-Giants game in Los Angeles, fan clashes at an Oakland Raiders-San Francisco 49ers game, also in 2011, and the fatal stabbing of Dodgers fan Jonathan Denver after another Dodgers-Giants game in September of this year.
The root causes of this violence are unclear. Some attribute them to the generally increasing patterns of violence in the U.S. or to excessive drinking during tailgates and other pre-game celebrations. While the former is not a probable cause — according to 2012 FBI reports, violent crime rates have decreased 12.2 percent since 2003 — the latter is at least plausible. The available data, however, is far from being conclusive, leaving us with no explanation about why sports fans engage in such type of harmful behavior.
Added to the uncertainty about the roots of violence is the avalanche of news stories dealing with the topic, and on top of that, the countless sports columns with titles along the lines of “the end of our civilization,” and “yet another death in sports.” The issue is not that violence in sports is being discussed, but rather that we lack solid statistics to back claims about the scope of the problem. A rather thorough Google search yields no concrete numbers about the number of people who have been injured or killed due to fan clashes in recent years, for example.
The stacking of “information” about violence in sports can potentially deter fans from attending athletic events, convincing them that death will be the star player in every game. This is no doubt a possibility; the problem is that with no serious data or statistics, we really don’t know. But players like Andrew Baggett still get hate tweets, and we still seem to be rather surprised that fans behave appropriately.
Based on the lack of knowledge about the larger issue, and in the face of more particularized events, it seems more productive to engage in hatred- and aggression-countering efforts at home instead of attempting to tackle the issue on a national level. We cannot control the behavior of every fan, but we can foster a more respectful environment so our courtesy to other teams matches our courtesy to our own players. A Tiger should not attack a Gamecock, a Gator or a Bulldog, but in the end, a Tiger also should not attack another Tiger.
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