We can all agree that athlete’ s behavior falls under the purview of a deliberately adversarial code of ethics. In a basketball game, a player who fouls another as she’s shooting isn’ t considered immoral, rather she is violating a rule of the game. Further, we hold athletes and coaches to a code of “sportsmanship” that extends both on and off the court. They shouldn’t cheat even when they can get away with it; they shouldn’ tfake injuries to draw a foul or penalty on the other team, and they shouldn’t ingestperformance-enhancing drugs while training.
But, what about the fans? Is a team cheating if its fans behave in ways that give the team a strong home-court advantage? Very few of us will ever rise to the level of collegiate or professional athletes, but that doesn’ t stop millions of people from being heavily invested in the outcome of sporting events. Fans are often the worst perpetrators of both pre and post-game “ trash talk” and have been known to direct demeaning and even vulgar chants at opponents. Does adversarial ethics engage with this type of fan behavior? Or is does this kind of behavior simply fall under codes for what it is to be a decent person in general?
Consider the “Cameron Crazies”, Duke University’s die-hard, bleeding-bluemen’s basketball fan base. ESPN writes that the “Crazies have earned a reputation as the rowdiest, wittiest, best-organized college basketball fans in the land.” Known for camping out for the notorious Duke-UNC game in Kryzewskiville for up to two months,the Crazies are notorious for their rambunctious behavior in games.
A few years ago,ESPN’s “Page 2” series wrote an article on “Cameron’ s Craziest” moments. Some of the more controversial moments included:
- After disagreeing with referee Dick Paparo’s call the Crazies chanted: “You suck, Dick!” (The comma wasn’t as evident in the verbal chorus.) It’s worth nothing, however, that Coach K was not a fan of this chant and demanded the Crazies, “ keep it classy.”
- When a Maryland player was rumored to have sexually assaulted another student, the Crazies mockingly chanted: “HEY, HERM, DID YOU SEND HER FLOWERS?”
- Although not listed in the ESPN article, I myself, as an admitted Cameron Crazy, have witnessed a few borderline offensive cheers. While playing an opponent where one of the team members was accused of sexual assault this year, some in the crowd chanted “NO MEANS NO!”
Often, chants are aimed to intimidate or psych out”opponents, taking aim at their personal lives. Some chants even include profanity, although recently Coach K has encouraged Crazies to “be more creative” than that in his pre-game talks. So the question is, where do we “draw the line” between appropriate cheering and offensive, even unethical, fan tactics?
Certainly there are clear examples: when the Crazies cheer enthusiastically after a dunk or 3-pointer for instance, or when fans shout “Defense!” Such cheers that are simply in support of the fan’s team seem clearly within the appropriate range of fan tactics. Things become murky, however, when fans like the Crazies draw in personal attacks on players. It’s worth noting, as well, that these are not professional athletes, but rather 18-22 year old “student athletes.”
Is it right to mock these players for their personal lives, is it right to make light of subjects as sensitive as sexual assault in a sports atmosphere? And perhaps most importantly from the perspective of adversarial ethics, is it fair for the Blue Devils to gain an advantage on the court because of some of these dubious fantactics?
I certainly don’t have the answer to these questions, and I must admit that while in the mob mentality of the Cameron Crazies the answers clearly seem to be YES! Although I believe that much of our thinking about the adversarial ethics should extend to fans, I believe there is a strong case, particularly in college sports, for drawing a distinction between fun, competitive cheering and derogatory or mocking jaunts aimed directly at the personal lives of opponents.
[For a follow-up post, taking the historic Duke-UNC game of 9 Februrary 2011 into account, click here.]