Today’s pundits aren’t the first to worry that too much freedom leads people to bad behavior. In 1795, as Wikipedia informs us, the Irish writer and explorer Isaac Weld traveled to the United States and said of the people, “… civility cannot be purchased from them on any terms; they seem to think that it is incompatible with freedom...”
And his notes indicate he hadn’t even attended a BYU-Utah game.
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You don’t need to be a sports fan to feel a knot of anticipation in your stomach for the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 19. It’s less about which team will prevail than about the torrent of unchecked passion, fueled by the relative anonymity of social media, that is sure to wash over the Wasatch Front like a toxic inversion.
And in a strange perversion of cross training, a basketball game last week between the two teams is getting in the mix. Did Nick Emery strike Brandon Taylor first, or was he merely retaliating? Will that incident carry over onto the football field? And shouldn’t we risk relationships and personal reputations on the answer?
A better question, of course, is whether fans in a state that, once again, was ranked as the most generous in the nation by a Wallethub survey released Tuesday, can show that generosity is more than just a personality trait we pull out of our backpacks when the need arises.
At a time when the nation faces threats from without and within, it would be nice to find refuge in sports, the playground of life where honest, and essentially meaningless competition can divert our attention. Instead, the Twitter hashtag #holywar now has a smattering of tweets about Donald Trump and the Middle East, awash amid an overwhelming abundance of tweets about football, or, rather, a lot of things that are sort of football-related.
Telling them apart can be tricky, especially if the comment includes polygamy or the simple injunction to “kill them!”
And while much of what is circulating is fun-loving anticipation for a sporting event, it seems as if the line between that and a nastier version of loyalty that treats teams as tribes whose turf needs defending is getting thinner all the time.
Jim Tunney, a former NFL referee, wrote a blog in which he remembered his father defining sports as “competition and fun.” Then he said, “That clarity is missing from sports today. As young as Pop Warner and Little League, some kids are adopting an in-your-face attitude, mimicking someone they’ve seen.”
What will they see here over the next several days?
True, the BYU-Utah rivalry seems almost tame compared to incidents in which people were seriously hurt, such as when a Giants fan was severely beaten outside Dodger Stadium four years ago. But the rivalry has had its violent side, as well, including the attack of a male Utah cheerleader during the game in 1999. It also has had its share of uncalled-for violence on the field.
But, getting back to Isaac Weld and his theory about freedom, is democracy to blame for all this?
After the Giants fan was beaten, L.A. Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez picked up that theme, which he attributed to social historians. “Democratic culture is part of the problem,” he wrote. “A society that empowers — almost requires — people to behave as individuals isn't going to find it easy to forge a consensus on manners and etiquette, let alone live by it. In a political culture driven by the rights of individuals, we spend precious little time thinking about the common good, let alone shared mores.”
I’m not sure I buy it. What other political system would get people to think of the common good, even if they were forced to act as if they did?
Yes, only a fool would deny the growing importance Americans place on sports and games, and the affect social media has on that mix. Fans and players getting out of hand certainly is not a new thing. History is filled with examples.
But since a lot of people around here do claim a sort of consensus on manners and etiquette, it isn’t out of line to expect better of them.