Chou: Northwestern athletic support shamefully lacking

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Curtis Chou, Columnist

As the dust settled on Tuesday, the Wildcats shambled off the court towards their locker room, shoulders slumped and heads bowed in abject misery. Another tally has been marked in the right-hand column. They had fought bravely, imperfectly, in the heat of battle against the in-state rival, University of Illinois, and had come agonizingly close – just beyond the tips of the fingers – to tying the score after a whole game of trailing their hot-shooting opponents. With 20 seconds left, all the Illini had to do was miss one free throw, and the embers of hope would spring with great furor again.

But the air was too calm. The squeaks of sneakers and the whispers from the players’ mouths were too loud in the absence of a din. There was a good crowd of students at Welsh-Ryan Arena that night, and they were treated to a close, exciting game with their Wildcats on the verge of a stunning comeback. But in the last waning seconds, when they were needed most, the students failed.

For inexplicable reasons, the student section did not raise their chins and shout with unbridled fury. They did not wave their arms like crazed men caught in the throes of euphoria. They stood and weakly clapped like someone had told a bad joke at a funeral.

It was heartbreaking to see the coaching staff on their feet, desperately imploring the students to do something, anything that might shake the confidence of the Illini at the free throw line. It was heartbreaking, infuriating and downright disgraceful.

Many have expressed opinions about Northwestern’s student enthusiasm, or lack thereof, for athletics. Attendance remains subpar at fall football games and winter basketball games, despite the added incentive of free tickets and clever promotions organized by Wildside. Attendance is virtually nonexistent, from a student standpoint, at non-revenue sports. It is a topic that has roiled within my innermost core for the last few years. It is just like NU students to utterly disrespect their own athletic programs, to say it is okay to not show up because they are mere trappings of a superficial college culture.

We can get that disrespect from other schools. We can get it from the referees. We can get it from the media. We do not need any more of it.

NU students are ambitious. They have their studies to attend to. They have their extracurriculars. They have hopes and dreams of success in the corporate system. I get that. But where is the giant, flashing stop sign that urges them to stop and look around for just one moment? College athletics is one of the greatest phenomenon that exists, replete with undue capacity to bring together thousands of people who could not be more different. And yet somehow our students cast it by the wayside. Why? Because a few hours a week is too great a cost? Because it is not a networking opportunity? There is no alcohol? Damn, it is too cold?

This isn’t to say, of course, that there are not those who do care and who take the time to show up early to Ryan Field for some quality face time with Pat Fitzgerald, who endured frigid weathers to support our baseball team when they played at Wrigley Field, who dress up in farm animals and are rowdy at basketball games. And of course, I always will be grateful for the dedicated members of Wildside for all that they do to support NU athletics

But I am sick of it. I am sick of turning around and seeing two of three student sections in Ryan Field empty, sick of seeing a sparse crowd of nonstudents at tennis matches, sick of seeing alumni selling season tickets for a quick buck and sick of seeing students sitting with closed mouths in the silent cathedral of basketball games.

I love NU. It is why I do what I do, but its people are something else: a breed whose passion can only be found when it is convenient. I am ashamed of it.

Curtis Chou is a Communication senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

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