Putterman: When is cheering no longer harmless?
February 3, 2013
On Nov. 27, Northwestern’s basketball team lost to Maryland 77-57 at Welsh-Ryan Arena as Terrapins guard Dez Wells scored 23 points on 9-11 shooting. Wells’s success came in spite of (or maybe because of) considerable negative attention from the Wildcats’ student section.
When Wells stepped to the foul line, NU faithful showered him with chants alluding to a sexual assault allegation that resulted in his expulsion from Xavier University. When Wells was done shooting (he made all four of his free throws in that game), he chuckled and touched his index finger to his closed lips, playfully suggesting the students keep it down. After the game, he didn’t seem offended, telling the Baltimore Sun, “You have to embrace the hate you get on the road.”
Some on social media labeled the chants as inappropriate and a poor reflection on the university. A participant in the jeering myself, I was surprised reasonable people were offended. The yelling seemed harmless to me, and Wells himself laughed about it on the court. That kind of crowd behavior was exactly what I expected from a student body that presumably boasts a degree of wit.
My high school’s home fans were fairly ruthless. We would sneak in tawdry jokes about opposing players or referees, make fun of the education provided at rival schools, remind players of air balls until our throats were dry, and mock players’ appearance and on-field accessories. All in all, mostly innocent, and just occasionally over-the-line.
So the Wells situation seemed standard. That others saw it differently seemed odd. Of course, I understood the arguments. We’re representing an elite university and don’t want to represent it as a house of obnoxious wise-ass lunatics with no regard for the feelings of people wearing different colors. Maybe mocking someone for a serious legal and moral crime was too much, a point which students should have considered before engaging. But where exactly is that line?
On Saturday, my friends and I arrived at Welsh-Ryan early enough to secure prime seating (“Mom, I’m gonna be on ESPN2!”). From our front row perch, we did our best to influence the game with words. At first, we had little material cleverer than bird calls for Purdue guard/forward D.J. Byrd. Then, at halftime, Twitter informed us Boilermakers star freshman A.J. Hammons started the game on the bench as punishment for being late for the team bus.
And so we were off.
“Hey Hammons, you missed that shot like you missed the bus!”
“Hey Hammons, don’t be late on defense!”
“Hey Hammons, we know you missed the bus, and now we’re making fun of you for it!”
So we’re not that clever, but by a liberal definition we were a bit mean. Oh, and Hammons scored 19 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and showed no evidence of actually hearing a word we yelled at him. Still, it was fun, and I rationalized that such an innocent offense was deserving of a little derision. Some people associated with Purdue may now think NU students are childish and immature, and some people at NU may think the same.
But we’re in college, and what’s that about if not light-hearted fun?
If you don’t want to be mocked, don’t be late for the bus.