Rivalry shouldn't bring out the worst in fans

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 23 2010 11:45 a.m. MST

During Saturday's game, fans can report inappropriate behavior to the U.'s event staff anonymously via texts and the school will have extra security, Abel said. The U.'s athletic director is also sending a letter to all season-ticket holders asking that they behave civilly and encourage others to do the same.

After all, a lack of civility makes the game nearly unbearable for some, like Sam Gubler, a BYU season ticket holder who decided he won't travel from his home in Wellsville to Saturday's game.

It can be rough playing at the opponent's home and he'd rather not deal with the heckling or taunting. He knows Utah fans feel the same way when they come to Provo.

"To me, it's easier not to go, which is too bad," he said. "My way of dealing with it is by avoiding it to some degree. If someone starts yelling at me, and gets excited about something … I have a tendency to want to yell back at them. So I try to avoid it."

Hateful speech and fighting behavior at the games puzzles people like Mike Middleton, executive director of the Cougar Club, who points out the two schools' administrators and athletic department personnel frequently work together and often have friendly relationships.

"The people who are the closest to both programs are cordial and respect each other; I see the same thing with the players and the coaches," Middleton said. "But it's unfortunate that there are fans who are uncivil and rude and want to fight somebody after the game. It just seems like they're fighting a fight for two teams who, after the game, are shaking hands."

For the coaches, players and staff, the focus is on competition and playing their best — not surviving a battle, as fans often depict.

"Sometimes people make analogies to sport as war," Chin said. "When we're looking at sport as war we have a really distorted perspective on it, especially with us being in two wars currently. We know the sacrifices families are making, soldiers are making."

If fans considered the men and women serving in the military and the "true cost of war," Chin said, hopefully they'd drop the 'battle' and 'war' lingo and instead, correctly call them what they are — games.

While some may label civility a trivial or minor issue, repercussions from rude behavior are dramatic, experts explain.

"The one thing that we know about incivility for sure is that it has a way of escalating into physical violence," said P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who travels the country speaking about civility. "Many acts of physical violence … have their origins in a slight, an act of rudeness that spirals out of control."

Forni sees this in homes, schools, and the workplace, but especially in stadiums and arenas where baseball games end in drunken brawls, soccer matches are marred by the death of a player or fan and parents of little leaguers end up screaming at each other or the referees.

Such behavior is especially damaging to children, who are modeling their choices on the actions of their parents and other adults.

"If we're talking to our children, preaching things about nonviolence, but when it comes to sports, if we lose all objectivity and fight in the stands, we've lost," Chin said.

Forni encourages teaching children about civility from a very young age, in word and deed.

"When we teach our children good manners, we give them the training wheels for altruism," Forni said. "When we teach good manners, we teach our children self-restraint."

And if that teaching is successful, those children will someday be the ones playing with dignity on college teams while their peers cheer respectfully from the stands.

"Sometimes we think of manners as which fork to choose for the salad, but in reality, when we talk about good manners and civility, it is how we treat one another in every day life," Forni said. "What's more important than that?"

Civility suggestions from sports fans and psychologists

Leave the trash talk at home

Remember the game is for entertainment and a time to shed stress, not gain more by being hostile toward the opposing team, coaches and fans

Root for your team, don't denigrate the other team

Use appropriate, respectful language

If you go with a child, look for opportunities to teach him or her about appropriate and inappropriate behavior

When confronted by a hostile fan, politely state the problem as you see it, inform them about how their behavior affects you and then gently request a change of behavior

See the competition as a game, not a battle or war

If someone around you is being unruly, work together with other fans to encourage proper behavior. Peer pressure may help curb inappropriate language and actions.

If you know you can't handle your emotions at the game, consider staying home and watching it on television

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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