Sports Rivalries: Stay Classy Everyone

Ravens Fan: God you suck. I’m gonna rip your head off douche. RAVENS 4 LYFE!
Steelers Fan: Hey, why don’t you kiss my ass, bitch. STEELER CURTAIN NATION!

I hate the Pittsburgh Steelers
I hate the New York Yankees
I hate the South Carolina Gamecocks

In case you haven’t guessed, I am a Ravens, Orioles, and Clemson Tigers fan. For those of you could tell just by looking at the above animosity, congratulations! You have entered the world of sports rivalries.

It’s a confusing way of thinking, no doubt about it. Just seeing certain colors (black and gold in my case), hearing certain cheers (U-S-C! Gooooo Cocks!), or just seeing an obnoxious fan in a jersey (pinstripes), can cause my blood to boil a bit. But in this ever increasing competitive climate of athletics, sports rivalries from a fan perspective have gotten completely out of control. And in particular, with the advent of social media, this nonsense has spread to more people than ever before.

For example, almost any time two rivalry teams play that my Facebook friends cheer for, I see numerous statuses and petty arguments that dissolve into pointless name calling and idiocy. Check out these little nuggets that I’ve seen over the past year.

Social media could be a great way where fans of different teams could debate on certain issues but when you can hide behind a keyboard (and yes I notice the irony of me writing this on my computer), then you can say whatever the hell you want with no consequence.

Even worse than the social media asininity (thank you thesaurus for proving that I could turn one of my favorite adjectives into a noun!), last year, a San Francisco Giants fan was beaten after a Los Angeles Dodgers game to the point where he sustained brain damage. Upon hearing this, I was literally shocked and disgusted about how much the rivalry had spilled off the field to the point where a rival fan couldn’t enjoy a baseball game, one of the purest forms of entertainment.

A personal story comes to mind from a couple years back. I attended the annual USC/Clemson game in Death Valley, our home stadium. However, because of the close proximity of the two schools, there was probably a 60%/40% split of Clemson to USC fans. It’s the closest I’ve been to attending a game in “hostile” territory. As the game wore on and Clemson was being taken to the woodshed, the angst of the Clemson community coupled with the boorish behavior of the USC faithful was making the atmosphere in the stands incredibly hostile. There were vulgar chants, fights, and plenty of alcohol making the situation worse. To me, getting my girlfriend and I home safe was becoming more and more important than the game itself. I never plan on attending a game like that again. The spirit of the rivalry game was lost because of obnoxious behavior on both sides.

Here’s a cool video explaining this viewpoint. It’s a little long so just watch til you get the point:

I think people often forget how rivalries formulate. Typically, the teams or schools have some connection where they compete often and at a high level. No one at Clemson thinks that the Citadel is our rival, despite playing them often, because we usually rout them by halftime. The proximity of USC and the history we have with them is the reason the rivalry exists.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Ravens and Steelers have developed a fierce rivalry because of the styles of both teams are so similar and evenly matched as of late. Would the rivalry be as good if the games weren’t entertaining? Look at 2007. The Steelers were having a great year while the Ravens were floundering with injuries everywhere. Roethlisberger tore us apart by halftime and I turned it off and went to bed. Fast forward to 2008 where all three games played by the two teams were decided in the final minutes of the game. Despite me being a Ravens fan, each game was just an incredible experience of emotions despite losing each one. Now it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the two teams will put on a classic (with the rare anomaly such as 2011’s season opener).

Between rivalry teams, deep down there is a mutual respect between players. And that respect, in turn, causes both teams to play to their highest level. And ultimately who does this benefit the most? Answer: The fans.

That’s why I love rivalry games. They bring out a certain excitement in a fan. But with that excitement has to come a respect for the other people watching and rooting for the opposition. Do I hate the Yankees? Of course. Do I look forward to when the Orioles play them? You’re damn right. But I would never do anything to ruin the game experience for (or brutally beat down) a fan from either side? An emphatic NO! As fans, we need to learn to respect not only the teams playing, but the fans as well.

Remember, it’s only a game.

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