Taylor: Fans, play nice

Nov. 5, 2010, 1:31 a.m.

Nothing beats going to a live game: not the most incisive analysis by TV pundits, nor the most amazing graphics or funniest adverts. For me, watching sports is all about the atmosphere, and however big your TV might be, you just can’t get that at home.

The pressure cooker environment of a basketball court is a great place to get it. Smaller than big football or baseball stadiums, the intimate atmosphere has supporters within touching distance of the players. Sealed in by a roof, the sound has nowhere to escape, and even the shouts of a single fan easily carry to the athletes and coaching staff.

I might be relatively new to American sports, but I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Maples last year, fulfilling Sixth Man and Daily commitments. Even when stuck up in the crow’s nest with other journalists and required to show impartiality, I loved getting carried along by the mood of the crowd, amused by the inherent silliness of the LSJUMB, and, of course, thrilled by the action.

Sometimes, though, there was a darker side, too. Occasionally, it felt that a few fans were going too far, being far too personal or far too offensive in their taunting of the opposition. Bringing up family problems that may have leaked onto the Internet, attacking people’s faith and a few other things that two strangers wouldn’t say to each other in normal circumstances.

This isn’t something isolated to college basketball, and I’m not singling out either Maples Pavilion or Cardinal fans. By all accounts, Maples is nowhere near the craziest court on the college circuit and the tiny minority that over-stepped the mark of decency were fans on both sides. Perhaps it just seems more obvious in that environment. I am sure a few fans shout all sorts of nasty things at football players, but the size and shape of football stadiums keeps the athletes a little further from the crowd and drowns out individual voices.

In a college game it also seems more malicious to attack the players like this. Many of them didn’t go to their respective colleges because of a singular devotion to the cause of that university, but because they could get a good, solid education through their ball skills. They won’t be driving home to their mansion after the game, and if they get badly injured, even the best could see their entire future snatched away from them. The vast majority of them won’t go pro. This, right now, is the pinnacle of their career and there are no million-dollar contracts waiting in the wings.

The biggest reason not to rip them to shreds, though, is that this is college, and they are just kids.

If you’re in a mood where you just <I>have<P> to verbally abuse someone, at least consider that coaches are actually professionals, some paid massive salaries that should easily make up for anything a fan can say to them–but, please, don’t do that, either. And give the referees a break too, they are only human, and most have to juggle day jobs and families around on-court commitments.

We expect players to look up to both refs and coaches, but if we can’t even do that, then why should they?

Now before I give the wrong impression, don’t get me wrong. As a fan, I have nothing but contempt for Cal and their weird-looking bear mascot, and it felt painful to see them rush the field–<I>our<P> field–after last year’s Big Game. From the stands I will happily join in with making fun of their teams and their university. I’ll boo individual players, taunt them when they foul out and try to put them off when shooting free throws. I’ll complain when the refs make bad calls that hurt us, cheer when we benefit from their mistakes and gladly see opposing coaches leave the court downtrodden in defeat. That’s what home advantage is all about, and why Maples will be a great place to spend your evenings over the next few months.

There is a line, though. I’m not going to pick on some poor kid for their troubled background or drag up any personal problems they might have. I’ll also grudgingly go silent or even quietly clap if an opponent hits a half-court shot or a visiting team simply demolishes us, and I’ll always happily stand up and applaud any player who recovers from an in-game injury.

So give them hell, but nicely.

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