A Modest Proposal

For preventing violence at school sporting events and creating a safe environment for fans to freely enjoy games to their hearts’ content

Willy Yang, Guest Writer

Literature of Comedy student and guest writer Willy Yang (’14) writes a satirical piece based off the college football fan base:

Across the country there are all sorts of crazy college sports fans. From USC’s cries for victory to Florida State’s tomahawk chop to Michigan State’s “Go Green, Go White” chants, sports can be a way for people to come together and cheer on their teams. One particular school known for its dominance on the football field is the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. The Crimson Tide won 27 conference titles and have been to 15 national championships, 3 in the past 5 years. One of the main reasons they have been so successful is their notoriously loyal fans, who fill the stadium every Saturday and chant the school’s slogan, “Roll Tide, Roll”. People from all over the Tuscaloosa community show up to support their teams. Such love and togetherness can only be positive in supporting the community, right? Wrong.

At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Alabama saw its undefeated season ruined as they suffered a heartbreaking loss to its cross-state rival, Auburn, when Auburn cornerback Chris Davis ran back a missed kick for 109 yards on the last play of the game to win. Alabama fans were clearly devastated, and fans were seen on television crying after the play. Unfortunately, the ending of the game was not the only thing some Alabama fans were heartbroken about. After the game, 36-year-old Alabama fan Michelle Shepherd was shot and killed in the parking lot by another fan, Adrian Laroze Briskey, 28. The victim’s sister, Nekesa Shepherd, who witnessed the shooting, said, “[Briskey] said we weren’t real Alabma fans because it didn’t bother us that they lost. And then she started shooting,” in a statement to the Associated Press, “it was over a football game.” This tragic event is an example of how people sometimes forget that no matter the outcome of a game, a game is just a game, and instead they let the game become larger than life. Literally.

It may seem impossible to change an entire community to care less about sports, especially one like Alabama, with such rich tradition and history. But, in truth, this solution can be solved by a few simple steps. The root of the problem of fan violence is the fact students and people from the community had too much school spirit and cared too much about the success of the Alabama football team. By simply decreasing school spirit at a given school, fans would become less passionate about football games, and all sporting events would become much safer to enjoy.

The solution to this problem lies within the school’s core, which includes the administration, faculty, staff, and the Associated Student Body (ASB) leaders. Their job is to foster the culture of the school, to make sure school spirit does not become excessive. A good place to start is school dances. Dances are similar to sporting events, in that they are great ways for all students to come together and strengthen the school community. If ASB intentionally does a poor job of advertising dances, they become unpopular, and students lose this opportunity to become closer with their peers. This results in the emergence of illegal house parties which often include underage drinking and the use of illegal drugs. Since these parties are often private, it causes students to branch away from the broader school community, but towards smaller and more separate cliques. The simple act of making dances lame can go a huge way toward breaking up the school community.

Apart from school social life, the school should be made more academically rigorous, and teachers should put immense pressure on students to succeed in the classroom, and to get into a prestigious university.  This helps in two ways. First, if a student is too concerned about his or her grade in a class, the student will spend extra time studying, which takes away from his or her time for school sporting events. The more students that fail to show up to games, the smaller the chance of someone getting hurt at one. A second way academic rigor can lead to fan safety is that it will cause students to obsess over outdoing their peers. This will lead them cheat, and do whatever they can to get an academic edge over their classmates. As a result, students feel like they are in it for themselves and feel less like part of a community. Why would students want to go to a game to support their peers if they are competing against them to get into the college of their dreams?

The last main part of the plan is to affect game participation. Again, ASB should deliberately do a poor job of encouraging students to attend sporting events. One key part to this, which pertains mainly to basketball,  is for the school to ensure that a 6th man club does not form. A 6th man club is an easy way for students to organize the attendance of games; they lead cheers and encourage fans to come together and help root on their team. With the absence of a club like this, students feel no motivation to go to games. For the students that do show up to games, it is important to encourage them to partake in activities such as flirting with other students, checking social media, or planning what house party to crash.  Then the school’s fans will hopefully be outmumbered by the opponent’s fans, who will be much rowdier and make it difficult for the school’s team to play even at home games. The team’s performance will suffer regardless of their talent level if every game they play is in a hostile environment. The worse the team performs, the fewer the people who are interested in attending. Hopefully, this spiral continues to a point where only the athletes’ parents show up to games. At this point, there is a very low probability that a fan altercation will occur.

One main problem with solution is human nature. People naturally want to be around others and enjoy being part of a larger community. Students often think of school spirit as a positive thing and therefore strive toward it. However, there is an easy fix to allow the students to feel spirited without the dangers of fan violence. The school creates one week in the entire year where they encourage school spirit, perhaps called “Spirit Week”. If students’ enthusiasm in concentrated into one week, they will think that they have school spirit, and they won’t feel the need to attend games and support their school for the rest of the entire year, reducing the risk of students become too passionate about their school, and incidents similar to the Alabama tragedy.

Those who oppose my proposal argue that it is a mistake to remove school spirit because the importance of forming a strong community outweighs the safety risks at sporting events. While I am in no way against school spirit and the camaraderie that comes with it, I do believe there are more important things that schools should do. For instance, jobs that hire college graduates judge potential employees based on the prestige of the college they went to. Admissions officers at universities examine a high school senior’s grades, extracurriculars, and standardized test scores. None of the aforementioned decision makers examines a prospect’s school spirit. THus, a high-school’s main objective is to make sure students succeed academically, and help them get into a prestigious university. A college’s job is then to make sure students build a strong resume and prepare them to enter the workforce. Therefore, there is no harm in suppressing school spirit because school spirit does nothing to help students’ futures. Without school spirit, students can focus on academics, which is the most important thing to help them succeed in life.

My theory is in no way hypothetical. There is overwhelming evidence that it can be successful. This plan has been tested at Palo Alto High School (Paly) in California. All of the procedures listed in my explanation have been applied to the students at Paly, and have yielded great success. Paly is a very high ranking school and is very academically rigorous, so many students feel the need to cheat. ASB does a great job of making dances and other school events displeasurable, which prevents the strengthening of the community, and encourage students to hold house parties. They also have a great “spirit week”, where students dress up and compete in fun games, so they feel spirited, and therefore don’t feel obliged to support their peers for the rest of the year. These are all the proper steps towards achieving fan safety.

I had the opportunity of attending the school’s football senior night. I was pleasantly surprised to see an extreme paucity of students. The team had an impressive year and has no lack of talent; they have three players committed to play at Stanford, Fresno State, and Cal Poly next year, and plenty more who plan to play collegiate football. However, despite this,  there was only a modest handful of students, and the majority of them were engrossed in their own private conversations rather than watching the game. The team went on to lose 21-35 against their rival Los Gatos for the seniors’ last game. After witnessing this, I truly knew that Paly was a place that supports fan safety. The fact that so few students showed up to what was possibly the most important game of the season shows that there is little school spirit at Paly. In the history of Paly sports not a single fan has been shot. This is proof that Paly is a school that does everything right.