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Rethinking football

Viewpoint Columnist | Monday, October 7, 2013

My first college football game ever was a hot, sunny day in early September. I was sitting with my new Pasquerilla East friends that I’d met during Frosh-O, all of us wearing The Shirt proclaiming, “We are the Fighting Irish.” I remember hearing the booming of the giant Purdue drum, the roar of the crowd, the bold notes of the Notre Dame Victory March and the good-humored laughter after the fourth quarter pun. I remember seeing a sea of green bodies and fists pumping, football players smashing into one another and cheerleaders casually flying through the air. The energy of the student section rose up tangibly, all of us yelling “We are ND” and “Go Irish.” Everyone united to celebrate being together as a community to watch an exciting game at the University of Our Lady.
While my knowledge of and appreciation for the actual game of football has increased dramatically since that game, my favorite part about football season is this aspect: Seeing the way football brings people together. Whether we win or lose, we cheer together and we know that there is something special about Notre Dame football. We often have a mediocre year, but Notre Dame students come back each year with unfailing enthusiasm and hope.
However, last weekend during the home game versus Oklahoma, I was shocked by my fellow students. Please forgive the following use of profanity, but here are some of the comments I was surrounded by during the game: “F**k Brian Kelly,” “You f*****g fat piece of s**t,” “Kill him,” “I want to waterboard the s**t out of them,” “F*****g f*****s,” “Tear his ACL,” “What a p***y,” and “F*****g c***-sucking piece of s**t.” I saw drunken and high students stumbling around, dropping people while doing pushups. One classy peer of mine repeatedly made masturbating hand motions at the players on the field and tried to fight multiple other students in our section. When a friend of his tried to usher him quietly out of the game, others insinuated that they were gay, chanting “I shower with my dad” and “a**hole” repeatedly until more fights almost broke out. Frustrated with the hate and violence, I looked around only to find the entire student section waving their arms and chanting “kill.”
This might have been an exceptionally bad game, but let’s examine more deeply the messages behind these horrible comments. “P***y:” degradation and objectification of women. “C***-sucking” and “f****t:” poorly applied messages of hate directed at the LGBT community. “Fat piece of s**t:” contemptuous discrimination against certain body types. And the reference to waterboarding: A blatant, unadulterated endorsement of torture and discrimination against non-Americans. In the year 2013 and at a university of highly-educated, intelligent students, how do these messages of hate still exist? And how do they find their way into a football stadium?
Some might say we should wave aside such comments as the drunken bluster of excited fans. I disagree. Language is performative, directly creating reality. When we yell out, “That’s so gay,” as an insult, we give negative meaning to the concept of homosexuality. When we describe women as “p*****s” or compare them to a model of a car (a male friend of mine once described his search for a girlfriend like his classy new car), we reduce them to objects and fail to see their full humanity. And when we casually invoke concepts of torture in our daily life, we create social space for violence and condone impunity. The personal is political, and the comments I heard during that football game implicitly impose norms of white, heterosexual patriarchy. Language matters, so we have to stop these comments if we ever want to live in a more human world.
Let’s pull it together, Notre Dame. Let’s bring back the true spirit of football: Energetic encouragement, positive community and fervent chants of “Go Irish.” Let’s have our hearts get caught up in the proud playing of the Notre Dame Victory March, and let’s sing the alma mater at the end of every single game, regardless of outcome – because we love Our Lady and we support this community.