Do student sections have the right to be vulgar?

Discussion in 'The Tiger's Den' started by Jetstorm, Feb 9, 2004.

  1. Jetstorm

    Jetstorm Freshman

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    Since we are supposed to have some of the most vile, vulgar, crude fans in the country, and since I've heard many a colorful insult coming from the student section (not to mention numerous displays of "the universal sign of intelligence" after the Florida game this year), I've often wondered what would happen if LSU decided to start kicking people out of the stadium for cussin'. I'd imagine the first and only time they did it, we'd have a half empty stadium by halftime, the PMAC would have to be used as a temporary holding facility, and the very next week the state ACLU would be coming after LSU with a class action lawsuit. But it would be something to behold.

    How Free Should Speech Be at Games?
    By ERIK BRADY, USA Today
    COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- You can't shout "fire!" in a crowded theater. But can you shout a different F-word in a crowded arena?

    This is an open question at the University of Maryland, where many students believe that they have a constitutional right to talk dirty. Hundreds shouted obscenities early and often during a men's basketball game last month against hated rival Duke. The chants aired live on national TV and have emerged as another pitched battle in the civil war over the coarsening of the culture.

    Each time Duke guard J.J. Redick stepped to the foul line Jan. 21, many students chanted, "(Expletive) you, J.J.!" -- an ugly intersection of free speech and free throws.

    Maryland athletic officials say they are unable to eject students who do this because the university is a public institution that plays its basketball games in a public facility -- and is thus bound by the First Amendment of the Constitution. But last week, after hearing widespread complaints, school officials asked the state attorney general for guidance.

    Can public schools discipline their students for vituperative language? Or does civil liberty trump civility on campus these days?

    Colleges across the country are struggling with similar issues. The NCAA provides member institutions with sample announcements to be read before games urging fans to be good sports and warning that they can be ejected. And though fans are sometimes tossed for throwing objects or for drunkenness, they are less often expelled for language.

    "This issue is critical in the sense that crowd behavior puts a public face on the image of a university," says John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which includes Maryland and Duke.

    John Anderson, the Maryland assistant attorney general who is researching the matter, says school officials asked whether they could eject students from games for chanting obscenities or for wearing T-shirts imprinted with them. Anderson says he is looking at case law and preparing an answer but isn't sure how soon he'll have an answer.

    Meantime, Maryland is trying moral suasion. President C.D. Mote Jr. wrote a letter to the school newspaper last week asking for better behavior. Maryland coach Gary Williams took a microphone and appealed to the crowd before Sunday's home loss to North Carolina State, a game in which fans mostly behaved. History suggests asking nicely is not a long-term fix. Maryland spent $30,000 last school year on a campuswide sportsmanship campaign.

    Foul-mouthed sports fans are nothing new. Williams says his Terrapins are the targets of profane verbal abuse almost everywhere they go. The notion that everyone does it is more indictment than defense, but Williams is right that the problem is national in scope:

    · University of North Dakota President Charles Kupchella met with the student senate this week to ask for its help in stopping hockey fans from shouting obscenities.

    · University of Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said this week that his team heard more profanity in its game at crosstown rival Xavier two seasons ago than at any time in his career, and if it had not been for the longtime nature of the rivalry, he might not have played there again. When the schools met Tuesday at Xavier, students traded blue language for faces painted blue and some held gently mocking signs. One said: "Welcome Fellow Scholars."

    · Last summer, the Big Ten adopted a rule that bans student sections from singling out individual players for verbal abuse. Iowa coach Steve Alford complained last week that forward Pierre Pierce has been a target in several games this season.

    Free speech 'paradoxical'

    Kermit Hall, president of Utah State University, is an expert on First Amendment issues. He says free speech at public universities is "at once the most obvious and the most paradoxical of constitutional principles" -- obvious because the role of open expression is essential to academic freedom and paradoxical because it must be balanced against imperatives for civility and respect.

    But Hall says the Maryland case is not a close call. He believes public universities have not only a right to eject students who chant obscenities but a responsibility to do so in consideration of others' rights to watch a game in a safe setting. Hall says students should be warned first, then have their tickets pulled.

    "I think that's legally justifiable and sustainable," Hall says. "There are two interesting and controlling factors. First, the process of admission to an athletic event is a license, which can be revoked. Second, there is an exemption to the First Amendment for 'fighting words' used to try to incite or intimidate." Hall says racial slurs are hate speech but that this type of profanity at ballgames is something else: "uncivilized utterances accelerated by sporting enthusiasm."


    "This issue is critical in the sense that crowd behavior puts a public face on the image of a university."
    -ACC Commissioner John Swofford

    Anderson, who is in charge of the Maryland attorney general's educational affairs division, says the university has used Cohen v. California for guidance. The 1971 case involved a man arrested for wearing a jacket in a courthouse hallway that said "(Expletive) the draft." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was protected speech.

    "Maybe that case answers it," Anderson says. "But there are distinctions between that case" and what happens in a sports arena, where speech is rarely political. "That's why I would be loath to say that Cohen is a stopper."

    Anderson says he will research other cases and will consider points of view similar to Hall's. But he adds that the answer might be different for colleges in different sections of the country. "College Park exists in a highly litigious culture right outside of Washington, D.C.," he says, and may be more susceptible to suits over free speech than colleges elsewhere.

    What of in loco parentis, a concept that says colleges should act in place of students' parents? Wouldn't Mom wash out her sociology major's mouth with soap for talk like that? "Colleges have shed that role over the last 20 years," Anderson says. "Students are more customers now than they are in custodial care. And they are more conscious of their rights."

    Students support right to curse

    Many Maryland students feel they have a right to drop F-bombs in public if the spirit moves them.

    Sunday, when the Terrapins played their next home game after the Duke contest, USA TODAY canvassed a dozen students in front-row seats at the Comcast Center. Most said, yes, they participated in the obscene chants and, yes, they believe they have a free-speech right to do so. But, no, they don't plan to do it now that Williams has asked them not to - at least until Duke comes again next season, when they just might.

    "If you can't curse at a basketball game, what's next, a curfew?" asked freshman pre-med major Russell Rosenblatt, wearing a red fright wig. "We're paying them for an education, not to tell us what we can say at a basketball game."

    Freshman animal science major Lauren Schick said students have a right to chant obscenities, "but we're not going to do it anymore. We're really not like that."

    Sophomore marketing major Matt Ursino is. He wore a T-shirt to Sunday's game with two four-letter words, one of which was Duke. He said he would go along with Williams' plea not to chant obscenities anymore, but he planned to keep wearing his shirt.

    What about the rights of fans who bring their children to games? "You can't shield children from everything," Ursino says. Fans with kids "have the right to say anything they want, and we have the same right to say anything we want. The games are for the students more than anyone else."

    That kind of sentiment is troubling to Ron Stratton, the NCAA's vice president for educational services. He says game management is left to individual schools except during the NCAA tournament, "but we are trying to get the message out that there are better ways to support your team" than by embarrassing it with off-color words.

    Some schools eject, some don't

    The University of Pennsylvania is a private school that says it does not discipline students for foul language at athletic events. Carla Zighelboim, Penn's director of athletic communications, says representatives of the school's Committee on Open Expression attend games to ensure that security personnel do not infringe on free speech, even when it's foul.

    Saint Joseph's University, across town in Philadelphia, is a private school that does eject students for naughty words. Athletics director Don DiJulia says about half a dozen have been tossed this season. "If you can't say it in the classroom, the library or the chapel, you can't say it in the gym," DiJulia says. "You're electing to come to school here, and this is part of what you're buying into."

    DiJulia doesn't want to come off holier than thou: "Every school has its lunatic fringe. We have ours. But we're going to deal with problems" even if it means lawsuits on free-speech grounds, for which he says private schools also can be sued.

    DiJulia says he doesn't think that will happen. He figures most who chant obscenities appreciate the anonymity of the arena. "If they want to be identified in open court," he says, "I say bring it on."

    Williams, the Maryland coach, says his school is unfairly singled out. He says his team hears terrible things, too, much of it directed at D.J. Strawberry, a freshman forward whose father, Darryl, struggled with drug problems during his years in pro baseball.

    "I'm not going to get into comparing schools," the ACC's Swofford says. "But when vulgarity is in unison, and when vulgarity on shirts is in unison, I don't think that's commonplace. And that's where the people at Maryland got concerned. We are institutions of higher learning. It is important we all try to set higher standards."

    Feb. 6, 2004
     
  2. COramprat

    COramprat Simma Da Na

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    I think if it begins to offend those around you then you begin infringing on their rights. I work games in the student section and since my area consists of students and season ticket holders with their kids there has to be some sort of order. I usually just ask them to tone the language down. You can get frustated or excited about what is going on without screaming th "f-word" at the top of your lungs. I'm not sure where some of the chants or cheers came from like the "Kick their ass" thing after the first down cheer. We didn't do that in the mid-eighties when I went to school. I believe with a little coaxing everyone can enjoy the games without all of the expletives but if it takes throwing people out after being warned then so be it.
     
  3. usmctiger

    usmctiger Freshman

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    unfortunately, this is a sympton, not the problem itself. We raise our children with the worst examples of vulgar behavior and then cluelessly wonder why they are acting vulgar?!? Public TV pushes the cursing, violence and sex envelope more and more each year and we wonder why the cursing, increased violence, and out of control sexual behavior is happening in older teens?

    This is the most glorious nation on the planet, but we got some definite social problems...
     
  4. Jetstorm

    Jetstorm Freshman

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    I still chant L-S-U on the first down cheer, although I'd say the vast majority of my fellow students prefer the "edgier" version.

    I understand the kid's concern thing. I think athletic events should be a family venue and I want to be able to take my future kids to Tiger Stadium one day without them getting exposed to bad stuff. I know, I know, I can't protect them forever, but I would at least like to keep evil at bay long enough for me to teach them manners.

    There are too many fans in this world with the attitude that, when they pay for the ticket, it gives them the right to do ANYTHING they want at a game. It doesn't. It merely gives you the privelige of watching the game. When you start infringing on other fans' game-watching experience, you lose that privelige. And for me, sitting next to a fan wearing a shirt that says the F-word, screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs, infringes on my gameday experience. I'm sorry, it just does.

    I don't see that as protected speech. I see that as obscenity.
     
  5. LSU

    LSU Freshman

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    It's refreshing to read the thoughts of sensible LSU fans.
     
  6. red55

    red55 curmudgeon Staff Member

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    Nobody has the right to be vulgar. Those that choose to be so must suffer the consequences, if any.

    In the late 1980's the LSU student section started chanting "Asshole, Asshole" when Tigerband played Tiger Rag. It annoyed Joe Dean so much that he banned Tiger Rag from being played by Tiger Band at sporting events all through the 90's.

    Skip has permitted the return of Tiger Rag, but the students have started up the "Asshole" refrain again. The cong could end up being banned again, now that Skip is on a crusade to improve the image of the LSU football fan.

    It is a serious consequence when a vulgar accompanyment causes a traditional LSU fight song to be banned.
     
  7. Jetstorm

    Jetstorm Freshman

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    So so far, no one is on record as saying that cussin' at a ball game or wearing an obscene t-shirt to a ballgame is constitutionally protected free speech?

    Interesting, considering what some other teams say about our fans.
     
  8. TigerWins

    TigerWins Freshman

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    I think those fans are hanging out on another LSU message board! ;)

    I remember arguing with some of their posters who were upset with Skip for trying to make Tiger Stadium a more family-friendly environment. They suggested that children should not be brought if parents were concerned about what they might see or hear.

    That's about the time I found this message board...
     
  9. Jetstorm

    Jetstorm Freshman

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    What message board was this at?

    I was being facetious with what I said in my earlier post, but apparently, you aren't joking!
     
  10. TigerWins

    TigerWins Freshman

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    LOL, I'm not joking ... I don't know if the majority of their posters believed it, but I challenged one poster in particular about his views on this subject ... and many of his cronies came to his rescue.

    The infamous Lair...
     

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