The spotlight at Mizzou Arena has recently been stolen from what happens on Norm Stewart Court to what happens in the stands above it.
Although the men’s basketball team has easily handled its opponents at the past two home games, all eyes have been fixed on The Antlers, the notoriously boisterous student group that’s been terrorizing opposing teams and angering university officials since its inception in 1976.
Last month, the decades-long struggle between The Antlers and the athletic department regarding “crossing the line” boiled over. Athletic Director Mike Alden approached Missouri Students Association President Nick Droege and Vice President Zach Beattie and reportedly asked them to set up a meeting with university officials and Antlers representatives to discuss recent conduct. “Grand Poobah” Emmett DeLaney, the leader of The Antlers, attended the subsequent meeting and was given a list of material (Antler chants, insults and T-shirt messages) the athletic department had compiled from two recent games and had judged to be “over the line.”
Alden was not present at the meeting.
DeLaney and The Antlers apparently agreed to tone it down and, as posted on their Twitter account, “cut out any blatant misogyny, racial or disaster jokes” during MU games. However, they were not given the chance to prove this.
Before tipoff at the Nov. 23 game against Gardner-Webb, university police removed the entire Antlers group from Mizzou Arena after the group’s traditional “Scum, scum, scum, go back to where you’re from / And die” chant (the last word of which had been changed to “cry” by some members). Police informed the group their ejection had been due to “a pattern of unruly behavior.”
Two days later, The Antlers returned to Mizzou Arena (as part of an embarrassingly sparse crowd of 6,065) for the game against IUPUI, wearing full suits, bearing signs emblazoned with cats and butterflies and chanting mantras such as “Sportsmanship.” During the second half, however, they chanted “Pelvic thrust, churn the butter, step to the right, cop a feel,” following which they were again ejected.
The two successive ejections attracted plenty of attention and debate. While these events have provided an opportunity to discuss the role of The Antlers and spectatorship in general, it has mostly just been a shameful experience for MU basketball, and both The Antlers and the athletic department are responsible.
We understand The Antlers’ entire point is to toe “the line” and make Mizzou Arena as unwelcome an environment as possible for opposing teams. The problem with demarcating “the line” of offensive material is that it’s different for everyone; however, we’d venture to say most people would find much of the material on the athletic department’s list to be inappropriate for a college basketball game with families and children in attendance. When The Antlers heckle an injured player or shout profanities that cause parents to cover their children’s ears, it’s an embarrassment to all MU fans.
If you overstep “the line,” you have to accept the punishment. But the fact that these past two ejections have come after chants The Antlers have repeated for decades — neither of which were on the athletic department’s list — shows the department isn’t particularly interested in maintaining consistent standards as to the location of “the line.” It’s true that tradition isn’t always a good excuse to continue shameful practices, but suddenly booting The Antlers for something they’ve chanted so many times without incident is unfair and only serves to undermine the department’s intentions.
Clearly, this debacle comes from a breakdown in communication. Alden should have been at the meeting with DeLaney, MSA President Nick Droege, MSA Vice President Zach Beattie and other university officials, rather than sending a representative. If he intends to accomplish anything other than a game of acrimonious Twitter "telephone," he must approach The Antlers and personally work with them to establish clear standards of conduct.
On the other hand, The Antlers must stick to their promise to refocus their energy on less offensive material. As group co-founder and current St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon wrote, “The Antlers could tone things down without risking folks tuning them out. You don't need to be obscene or excessively cruel to be effective.” The Antlers’ purpose is to anger, confuse and distract the opposing team. Not to provoke the athletic department or university officials. Not to offend fellow MU fans and families. Not to make themselves the story of the game. We urge them to do right by the team and the university they support.
Mizzou needs The Antlers. We need them, with their spirit and passion and firm commitment to disturbing the peace. What we don’t need is the vulgarity and crudeness that have characterized Antler activities as of late. Even when most of the stands are empty and the students in the Zou Crew “spirit section” have sat down or gone home, The Antlers are there, raising hell and helping the Tigers win. The athletic department should not keep The Antlers down; to the contrary, it should let them prove they can do what they do best without making Mizzou Arena unwelcome or embarrassing for their fellow MU fans.
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