I recently attended a University of Michigan soccer game and a hockey game. While I have seen many hockey games at Yost, this was the first soccer game that I have attended at the University. Perhaps unmindful of the hockey team’s student section, I was shocked by the blatant disrespect of the soccer team’s student section towards the opposing team. Before attending the soccer game I had never really listened to the hockey team’s student section chants before, usually being too concerned with the game. However, whether it is because I am much less interested in soccer than hockey or the fact that soccer is a much quieter game, I couldn’t help but notice the student section leaders taunt the opposing team’s players. However, more distracting was the student section’s willingness to follow in their suit.
The chants at the soccer game started off with the predictable booing and questioning of the other teams skills but soon became a flood a personal attacks on the players. The student section poked fun at their masculinity, claiming that they “played like girls” and “looked like women” because of their long hair. Being a female, it was extremely hurtful that being called the same sex as me was used as an insult. Many of the women in the stands were noticeably distraught by the name-calling but the overpowering alliance of the male spectators encouraged the male student leaders to continue.
Soon the student leaders progressed from calling out player’s looks to commenting on their personal lives, specifically by mentioning their girlfriends. One of the student leaders even took it upon him-self to find opposing players on Facebook in order to become more familiar with their personal lives. The comments surrounding the player’s girlfriends predominantly focused on their sexuality, even calling one of the girls a “slut”.
This comment however, served as the turning point in the student’s section’s participation as both female and male spectators were upset. The student leaders had gone too far and their competitiveness had gotten the best of them. Consumed by their duty as leaders to intimidate the opposing team, the student leaders had forgotten proper sportsmanship etiquette.
Eric Dunning discusses the growing competitiveness of sports in The Dynamics of Modern Sport: Notes on Achievement-Striving and the Social Significance of Sport. Dunning suggests that the competitiveness of sports has been fed by the gratitude of fans. Student leaders are selected to unite their team’s fans to cheer on and support their university’s players. The student’s section’s attempted to intimidate the opposing players in order to raise the confidence of their players.
While university level soccer is amateur, the games are no less competitive than that of professionals. The players represent their universities and play for the honor and recognition that their schools will receive upon winning their games. Dunning mentions the importance of a games “tone”, as increased seriousness among players can increase hostility. According to Dunning, spectators are more likely to act out in ways that they see as helping their teams, when in reality the players have become consumed in the competitiveness of the sport. The student section saw their mocking of the opposing players as a way if contributing to their team’s success
In this scenario, the soccer game was moving slow and the score was tied 0-0. The players were about to finish their first half of the game with zero points on their home turf and the student leaders were becoming increasingly aggressive. As the soccer game became more serious and the outcome of losing became more possible, the student leaders became more defensive. Instead of cheering on their own team’s players they turned to tearing down the confidence of the opposing players. While the student leader’s failed attempt at intimidating the opposing team was distasteful, they stand as an excellent example of how the competitiveness of sports can affect individuals.