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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Them Aren't Fighting Words: Boston University's Need for "Wholesome Cheers"

Boston University has a new policy for those attending their sporting events: if you swear or make a racist or sexist comment, and someone else hears it and complains about it, you will be tossed from the stands (Maria Cramer & Sarah Schweitzer, "BU Moves to Clean Up Foul Language at Games," Boston Globe, 9/12/2006). This policy most affects the BU men's hockey games, as the Terriers are one of the best teams in the country and often sell out the arena. Apparently, some of the more rabid Terrier fans "use profane chants" to express their loyalty, as they believe that "cursing is practically tradition." Here's BU's dean of students, Kenneth Elmore, on the thinking behind this new policy, which BU claims has also been adopted by Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin:
"Standing and shouting obscenities does not have a place. I don't equate school spirit with the yelling of obscenities," Elmore said.

School officials hope spectators return to more wholesome cheers.

"I know our fans can be classy," Elmore said. "I hope they can use cheers we can all participate in and feel proud to do."
Although it's unclear how BU students in general feel about this new curse-free policy, the Globe article interviews one sophomore who doesn't seem to like it:
``That's terrible and an infringement on our freedom of speech," said Kendall Lyons, an 18-year-old sophomore who often takes part in the chants. ``Sports won't be fun anymore."
Geoff discussed bad words and sports in June, and touched on some of these same issues.

While I agree with Boston University that racist or sexist remarks should not be tolerated, I question the University's crack-down on obscenities. Given that a lot of people seem to swear during games, how will this policy be enforced? Now, it could be only intended for either groups of fans swearing in a chant or the habitual, usually intoxicated curser, particularly when he is sitting near children (i.e., the true jerk who we all agree should be thrown out), rather than the fan who occasionally reacts to a disappointing turn in the game with a swear, but couldn't the swearing groups and habitual curser be kicked out anyway for being disruptive? Is this policy really needed?

And is promoting "wholesome cheers" realistic or even desired, especially if they might jeopardize the home court/field/arena advantage? On the other hand, might this policy be a helpful strategy for diminishing the "us" versus "them" mentality that pervades sports so much, and might it also discourage the potential for group violence?


Racist and sexist remarks are obviously offensive to some people but not to others; the one's making the remarks likely do not take offense at them. The same situation obtains for "bad language" and swearing; it is offensive to some but not to others.

Therefore, I'm not sure that I could easily agree that racist/sexist remarks should be banned/punished if foul language is to be ignored. It seems to me that rules of this type seek to avoid offending people and the logical extension of that is to ban any utterances that might offend someone.

And therein lies the rub... There are far too many people who are spring loaded to be pissed off about anything and everything. Recall that some people have protested the name of the Green Bay Packers because that name conjures up in their minds images of animals being slaughtered. Those folks claim to be offended by that. Should those views be accommodated by a ban on cheers that evoke images of what someone might think is animal cruelty?

This is not only a slippery slope; it's a steep one too.

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 9/12/2006 11:03 PM  

The ideal solution appears to be to allow different types of behavior in different parts of the stadium. Thus, certain areas are "family friendly" in that alcohol is not served and security polices language, but fans in other areas are allowed to do pretty much as they please.

Of course, the smaller the stadium the less effective these policies will be, but I presume that this wouldn't be a problem in a stadium the size of the Horseshoe in the Columbus.

Anonymous PK -- 9/13/2006 9:14 AM  

Sounds like an impermissible content based restriction on speech. Reminds me of when those fascists in Texas tried to clean up cheerleading dance routines. Nothing says "go team" like a well choreographed hip gyration.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 10:12 AM  

Good post Mike...interesting topic. While I'm generally in favor of the policy, particularly regarding the racist/sexist remarks, another issue is who defines an obsenity. I can think of the several words that one person would find vulgar that another would not consider as such.


Blogger Chad McEvoy -- 9/13/2006 11:51 AM  

Hmmmmm. Does this apply to the student-athletes and coaches or just the fans? If it applied to the student-athletes and coaches, I'm sure that the games would have to be forfeited. Wow. Would allowing student-athletes to speak in vulgar terms be considered an "extra benefit" thereby rendering them ineligible? Actually, I have a better idea: just don't keep score, and let them play for the "love" of the game. This will show that there do not have to be winners and losers in sports.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 1:11 PM  

Its about time someone steps up to bring purity and family atmosphere back to sports. Somewhere along the way when fighting and chanting obsenities became a namesake at sports ruined the atmosphere. Legally or not, in a private place such as a pricate stadium, they should be able to deicde what is obscene and what is profanity. They have the power here, let's hope they use it correctly.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 1:51 PM  

The University of Michigan's men's hockey team is a top tier college program. The team also enjoys a great home rink advantage at Yost Arena. Part of the advantage is the rabid chanting of students. In particular, there's one chant that's caused a huge uproar, resulting in the Administration removing and banning students from the arena. It's the so-called C-Ya chant. The students, in stunning uninson, scream this after an opposing player gets sent to the penalty box, "Chump, dick, wuss, douche bag, asshole, prick, cheater, bitch, whore, slut, cocksucker.” Each year, the students add another epitaph to the list. It's caused a huge problem at the arena, as parents are uncomfortable bringing their kids to games.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 1:52 PM  

Michigan State's team is better. If you don't agree, you can kiss my AXX.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 2:45 PM  

Thank you all for these excellent comments.

I want to highlight Chad's and Sports Curmudgeon's important contextual points above. And with their comments in mind, there seem to be two interrelated questions: 1) Who should define what is and is not an obscenity and what is and is not offensive?; and 2) What standards should be employed when doing so? There's no question that while some words are clearly swears, others are on the borderline. Will Boston University make a list of "bad words" and what methodology will they use in doing so?

I also agree with PK that a family-friendly section may be the best solution, although if there is an obscenity-laced chant going through the arena/facility, the family-friendly section or really any section may not be immune from it (such as in Fenway Park with the popular chant "Yankees suck"--everyone in the Park can hear it).

Blogger Michael McCann -- 9/13/2006 10:13 PM  

BU can do what it wants as a private university not bound by the First Amendment. But if Ohio State, the University of Wisconsin, or any other public university attemped to enforce such a policy, any fans punished would have pretty strong First Amendment claims.

The University of Maryland tried all this a couple of years ago, after the infamous "Fuck Duke"/"Reddick is a fag" game in 2004. The school backed down because administrators knew they were treading on dangerous First Amendment territory.

As several commentators have pointed out, the inherent subjectivity of what is or is not offensive is a problem. Another problem is that, even if we agree that some speech is profane, sexist, or racist, most such expression is constitutionally protected.

A t-shirt reading "Fuck Duke" is protected as an emotional, passionate, emphatic way of expressing my dislike for that team. Similarly, a poster reading "Women Stink at Sports" is sexist. But one would be hard-pressed to suggest there is no right to say it (and recognizing that the sporting event is the best forum for saying it).

Anonymous Howard Wasserman -- 9/13/2006 10:28 PM  

BU. Be You. No, wait, don't be you, be what we want you to be and only be saying what be right.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/13/2006 10:35 PM  

As far as I can remember, seeing as how I attended U of Maryland, during the crackdown, They would vacate anyone with the Fuck Duke shrits from the arena. The real reason was not becasue it offended the family atmosphere, which I am sure it did, but because the TV could not show the fan section without bluring out Tshirts. This has everything to do with TV money and little to do with trouncing on your fun at a Basketball game.

Anonymous Seth -- 9/17/2006 10:08 PM  

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