Editorial: Fans have no right to personally attack athletes

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

Hate and ignorance have no place anywhere, and they should definitely not be welcome in sports arenas.

Fans, cheerleaders and band members all attend to add to the atmosphere of a game and cheer on the team to victory. A win for the team means a win for the fans.

And yes, for your team to win, obviously another team has to lose. So fans will boo and yell things to put down the opposing team.

There is a line, however, as to how far these insults should go. It’s one thing to for fans to sway back and forth and yell, “Miss!” when a player is shooting free throws, or boo a referee for making a bad call. It’s another to take an insensitive personal shot at a player.

Five members of the Southern Mississippi band took part in a chant directed at Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez while he was shooting free throws in the Wildcats’ 70-64 victory against Southern Mississippi in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The band members chanted, “Where’s your green card?” at Rodriguez.

This would be completely unacceptable behavior for fans, but it’s even worse coming from band members. The university pays for their trips, and they, in turn, directly represent the university.

Not only was the chant offensive; it was just plain wrong. Rodriguez hails from Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. He does not need a green card or any other kind of documentation to be in the country.

Southern Mississippi reacted correctly, revoking the five band members’ scholarships and dismissing them from the pep band. They were also required to complete a two-hour cultural sensitivity training course.

USM’s president issued a public apology, and the school’s interim athletic director apologized to Rodriguez personally. Rodriguez accepted the apology.

Accusations of racist chants made news in Texas earlier in March, when several students at a predominately white San Antonio high school chanted “USA” as their basketball team played a 96 percent Hispanic school. The media probably blew the situation out of proportion, but nonetheless, there didn’t seem to be much reason to chant “USA” at the game. The students weren’t cheering on a U.S. national team against a foreign opponent; both teams represented U.S.-based schools.

For fans, sports are often an escape from the world for people. Sports can give people a chance to get away from politics, the economy, natural disasters and other hard, depressing news. For a few hours, fans can enjoy something serious enough to invoke emotion but without dire consequences should the results not be in one’s favor.

Racism and ignorance should never enter the realm of sports. The tension between opposing teams, players and fans should remain strictly competitive and never get personal.

Players are supposed to be able to tone out noise on the free-throw line. Still, no player should be subject to offensive words and phrases from the stands.

So fans, please leave the ignorance, stupidity and racism at home, and just enjoy the game with your fellow human beings.