In The Journal last week, the editor shared his disagreement with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s letter to schools requesting their assistance in ending unsportsmanlike displays of fan behavior. I would respectfully disagree.
As a public school educator, I am trying to understand how asking students to display “sportsmanship,” as opposed to displaying a “lack of sportsmanship,” is somehow comparable to taking away their First Amendment rights. The WIAA did not require that students be banned from doing so and they did not direct administrators to punish students who chanted “Airball” or the other examples cited. They asked administrators to hold their students to high standards of behavior … sportsmanlike behavior.
In turning to the Merriam–Webster Dictionary, sportsmanship is defined as “fair play, respect for opponents, and gracious behavior in winning or losing.” A cheer is “a shout of praise or encouragement, a special song or chant that is performed to encourage a team during a game in sports like football and basketball.” A taunt is to “provoke or challenge [someone] with insulting remarks.” A jeer is to “make rude and mocking remarks, typically in a loud voice.” I am no expert on language, but the examples given by the WIAA seem to me to meet these definitions.
I believe that “Hillmen Pride” is about sportsmanship and cheering on our students. I believe that our students are intelligent enough and imaginative enough to figure out a way to have a good time at a game while exhibiting “Hillmen Pride.” I am surprised that we have adults somehow justifying behavior that is designed to humiliate our opponent and suggesting that it somehow makes the experience more fun.
As I see pictures of students on Facebook from other schools sitting at a basketball game dressed in black with tape over their mouths, I am reminded of an oft-used phrase, “First World problems.” I would prefer our students to emulate Malala Yousafzai, a teenager and the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate. She was shot three times in the head for her efforts as a young girl to promote education for girls in Pakistan. Following a difficult recovery, she is now, as a teenager, a global voice for the oppressed.
Can I force that to happen? No. Can I prevent our students from sitting in the bleachers with their mouths taped and dressed in black? No. Can I ask then to be positive examples of “Hillmen Pride?” Yes ... and from most of my experiences with them, I believe that they will be.