Free Speech and Football

By Scott Westerman
I love free speech. That’s one of the greatest things about the American Experiment in democracy. There’s another behavior set that must also go with it. Skepticism, fact checking, compassion and an open mind. Oh yeah, and the ability to think before you speak.

Being an American means you can say what you wish, even if it’s hurtful, ignorant and wrong. Same goes for football fans. The vitriol that fires back and forth between college rivals is a classic example.

Here are the facts. The institutions you cheer for are exceptional or they wouldn’t be where they are today. They have excellent athletic programs and storied traditions. They have won some and lost some. They have stars and they have disappointments.

And every team, no matter how successful or unsuccessful they may be, have supporters who would fan the flames of hatred.

That’s wrong. But it’s a reality.

It’s easy to get caught up in name-calling, second guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking. The knuckleheads who do this often hope to provoke an equally ugly response. When you respond in their language, they win.

I’ve found that the credibility of the analysis is proportional to the authenticity of the person’s experience. Here is my hierarchy of credibility where college sports are concerned. The value of your opinion means more to me if:

  • You are on the team.
  • You were on the team and graduated.
  • You coached the team.
  • You attended the school and graduated.
  • You understand that the real goal of athletics is to build successful men and women who win at life beyond the playing field.
  • You have, yourself, been an athlete.
  • Your analysis is backed up by facts.
  • You are capable of demonstrating humility.
  • You admire excellence, whether it’s expressed by your team or their opponents.

If you don’t fit into this hierarchy I’ll ignore you.
If you demean me or my team because of the colors we wear, I’ll ignore you.
If your intent is to be boastful or hurtful I’ll ignore you.

It’s ok to occasionally over-do it in the emotion of the moment. I’ve done it. We all do it. Forgive me. I forgive you.

Whatever team you root for, it’s ok to celebrate it’s history. Great accomplishments serve as examples for future generations. But as much as we’d like to polish the tin pots in our trophy room, the past is irrelevant. Excellence is earned in the present tense and character is what defines it.