Harold Christensen has bled blue his whole life.
He grew up in Provo, where his father was a beloved English professor at BYU for more than 30 years. He was a starter for the 1951 NIT-winning BYU basketball team. He was inducted into the BYU athletic Hall of Fame in 1978. Three of his sons have played basketball for BYU.
However, he doesn't hate Utah and never has. In fact, long before Max Hall declared his hate for everything about the University of Utah, Christensen has been trying to bring some civility to the Utah-BYU rivalry.
Christensen, who also happens to be my uncle, has lived in Salt Lake City for more than 50 years, five minutes away from the U. He is surrounded by Ute fans in his neighborhood. One of his sons played a year for the Utah basketball team and another son is a card-carrying Crimson Club member. He cheers for the U. unless they're playing the Y.
He understands things aren't the same as the old days when he played at Utah's Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse when he heard applause from the U. fans "just as loud" for his BYU team as for the home team. But he also has a much fuller understanding of the rivalry than most and wonders why it can't become more civil.
Several months ago Christensen started his own campaign to bring more civility to the rivalry. He's met with the BYU alumni association board more than once to discuss ways BYU can be more accommodating to the University of Utah and all visitors. He'd like to do the same with the Utah alumni association. He envisions sitting down with Utah President Michael Young, a BYU graduate, and with BYU President Cecil Samuelson, a Utah grad, as well as BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and Utah AD Chris Hill.
The latter two have already expressed a desire to improve relations between the two schools. Hill, who has been the Utah athletic director for 20 years, has seen the rivalry become more intense and sometimes downright ugly since his school has become competitive with BYU in football. He also believes it's only a small percentage of fans who spoil it for a large number of folks.
"We need to make sure this is a healthy rivalry," Hill says. "I don't want to overreact to the small minority. We want to get rid of the 5 percent that is not healthy. For the large majority of people, it's a great rivalry. But it just takes a handful of people to make it difficult."
Holmoe points out that he and Hill get along great, as do most of the coaches and athletes from each of the universities, and that they congratulate each other when the other is victorious
"Unfortunately there are fans on both sides that ruin it for everyone else," he says.
Hill is aware that some Ute fans get overly unruly when BYU comes to town.
"We want to make sure we monitor things better and to have better security to make sure it's a positive for everyone," he said.
Holmoe acknowledges BYU students go over the line sometimes and when that happens, he lets them know about it. He says there are no simple solutions and ideally it starts with each individual taking responsibility.
It seems like a simple concept. But in these days of trash-talking by athletes and anonymous Internet boards for fans, civility or respect or politeness — whatever you want to call it — seems to have taken a back seat.
Christensen wonders why BYU can't have a big banner in front of its stadium welcoming the University of Utah to the big game and vice versa. Why can't each university hold a reception for the visiting marching band and set up tailgate space for opposing fans like Notre Dame does?
What else can be done?
It seems to me, if it is just 5 percent of fans at each school causing the problems, then the other 95 percent have to take ownership and not let the rowdy fans get away with it. They need to speak up when an opposing player's family is being harassed or if other inappropriate behavior is going on. If the peer pressure of a group of "good" fans getting after the rowdy fan doesn't work, then security should be notified to take care of the problem.
Ideally, we shouldn't have to have Big Brother watching over us at games, but perhaps at some point, universities will have to employ techniques used by the NFL and have numerous cameras aimed at the fans, watching for unacceptable behavior. Rowdy fans who make things uncomfortable for others should be thrown out of the stadium.
If you go to another team's stadium you hope to be treated with respect, and you deserve to be. I've been to stadiums all over the country from Georgia to LSU to Nebraska, and the fans always seem more hospitable than the ones around here. For instance, Nebraska fans have a tradition of standing and applauding the opposing team's players as they run out of the stadium after a game.
Sure, but it's not a rivalry game, you say. So what? Can't we still treat opposing fans the way we want to be treated?
Some fans may already be plotting their actions for next year's Utah-BYU football game or for this years basketball games. How about this novel idea? Behave yourself and be nice to the other fans. There's a way to have competitiveness in a fun-loving way rather than a mean-spirited one.
Christensen has been to enough games in Salt Lake and Provo to know there are rude fans in both places. And he knows it's not going to be easy to change attitudes of certain fans. But he's one person trying to make a difference and make things more pleasant for both sides.
"It's never going to be perfect," Holmoe says. "But it can be better. And it should be."
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