Is it unsportsmanlike to be too happy when your team has won a game? Or just uncool?
As a sports journalist and someone who has an academic interest in the sports world, I’ve always followed issues of sportsmanship — mostly these days its struggle for existence.
Examples of bad behavior by fans and athletes toward their opponents and their opponents’ supporters abound. (It always amused me during our stay in London in Fall 2008 that the football clubs there took special pains to designate exactly where one should sit in the stadium if they were a supporter of the visiting team — usually well-separated from the backers of the home team, lest they be severely beaten, I’m guessing.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about these issues lately in the aftermath of Clemson’s 83-64 men’s basketball victory over the University of North Carolina on Wednesday at Clemson. (Those of you who know me or read this blog know that I’m a Clemson alumnus. I do my best not to be overly partisan in this space, but forgive me in advance if I fail today.)
Clemson fans, mostly students I assume, drew much criticism following the game for rushing onto the court in celebration. It was the first Tiger victory over UNC in 10 tries, dating back to Jan. 31, 2004. Follow the link to an ESPN.com blogger’s comments about this.
There are many arguments against these celebrations, starting with safety — colleges have for many years discouraged the old “tearing down the goalposts” ritual for that reason. I’ve always been uneasy with it, because I’ve always believed that the fans’ place is in the seats and the athlete’s place is on the field or the court. When either invades the other’s environment, it’s inviting trouble — see the Indiana Pacers brawl with Detroit Pistons fans from a few years back.
So was that post-game court storm necessary? No. Uncool? Yes, these sorts of things remind you of those 1940s movies about college life. But understandable? Totally.
Follow the link to look at the blog post I wrote last year about Clemson’s sorry history in basketball against the Tar Heels. Clemson’s win means that UNC now leads the all-time series 122-20. Unless they’re still playing basketball in the year 2525 and there’s also a major paradigm shift in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Tigers will never come close to evening it up. The blogger who wrote about Clemson’s “inferiority complex” against the Heels has a point.
Of course, if you’re in love with a juggernaut, you’ll never know that feeling. It has always seemed to me that there’s a minimal downside to being a fan of the North Carolinas, Kentuckys and Kansases of the world. Older readers may remember the saying from baseball in the 1950s that “rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.” You don’t much have to deal with adversity. But when you do lose, the folks that beat you will act like it’s a big deal. Because it is.
Collectively, Tar Heel Nation has historically not responded to the rare Clemson victories with a lot of magnaminity. Then-UNC coach Matt Doherty complained bitterly about what seemed to be a needless time out called by Clemson coach Larry Shyatt with 4 seconds left in the Tigers’ 75-65 upset of the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels at Littlejohn Coliseum on Feb. 18, 2001. Shyatt admitted that time out was called solely to let the players and fans savor the moment. Unsportsmanlike? Well, you could make that case. But, again, understandable.
And message boards and post-story comments have been filled with grumpy rationalizing about Wednesday by the light blue-clad faithful — much playing of the “We have five national championships — you, none” card. And many condescendingly mocked the court-storming at the end:
“You act like you never won a game.” “We don’t storm the court when we beat the No. 12 team in the country in a game where we were favored,” as Clemson was.
Again, those arguments display a disregard for history. All the Tar Heels have generally had to do in most seasons to beat the Tigers is show up. And even on some nights when Clemson has played well, they’ve managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It hasn’t been pretty.
So let me hasten to add that I appreciate the UNC fans of my acquaintance who have graciously congratulated me for a game well-played by my team and just let it go at that.
I thought that Clemson coach Oliver Purnell, always a level-headed sort, had a healthy perspective on his team’s victory. His message was one that all basketball coaches know in their heart of hearts. In this sport you have to — or get to, as the case may be — move on, You can’t celebrate or can’t mope because there isn’t time.
In just a few minutes, Clemson tips off a game against N.C. State in Raleigh, where wins have been historically hard for the Tigers to come by. The Tar Heels, 1-5 away from home, head back to the safety of the Dean Smith Center for a game at 2 today, but the opponent is a dangerous Georgia Tech team.
It’s a new day and a new game.