14 January 2016

Nanny State Nabobs Nix Taunting Sports Cheers

Jay Bilas  on Toughness and Sports Fans

In late December, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association urged state high school administrators to enforce "guidelines" pertaining to sports fans. WIAA Communications Director Todd Clark inveighed against unsporting behavior, particularly in student cheering sections.  To wit, the WIAA wanted to ban chants as: "Fundamentals"; "Air ball"; "You can't do that"; "We can't hear you."; "Overrated"; Scoreboard" and "Season's over".  There is some thought that even the patriotic "USA" chant may be verbotten.  Per the WIAA's guidelines, these cheers could lead to a suspension.

Much to the WIAA's chagrin, these guidelines went viral on social media and were subject to considerable derision and some pointed First Amendment protest.

ESPN Sports Analyst Jay Bilas took to Twitter to mock the well-intentioned Nanny State sportsmanship dictat with reductio ad absurdum zeal. Bilas suggested a replacement tersely cogent cheer for "Air Ball" with the thoroughly polite " "We note your attempt did not reach the rim, but only to alert the clock operator that a reset is unnecessary."

High School students in Ashwaubeon, Wisconsin chose to make a symbolic protest against the WIAA's assault on their free speech rights by putting duct tape over their mouths at a basketball game.

 None of these cheers are even vaguely bawdy, such as the cheer of frustration: "Nuts and bolts--we got screwed".  These nanny state rules (disingenuously veiled as "guidelines") seems to demand sucking the spirit from zombie-like seat warming fans as their teams effectively compete for their participation trophies.

Once the story acquired national attention, the WIAA tried to back down. WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson tired to quell the media maelstrom by issuing a "Sincere Apology" email which insisted that there were no new directives, no new rules, no new mandates, and no new enforcement expectations. Parsing Anderson's email, the key is phrase is new. Reading between the lines, the chants were just examples of unsportsmanlike behavior that WIAA guidelines prohibit.

The WIAA mandate touched upon Bilas bailiwick for "Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court" (2014). Bilas did recognize that there are ways of unruly fanaticism that crosses the line without over-regulating kids. Bilas recalled while he was playing basketball at Duke in the 1980s, the University President wrote an open letter challenging fans to behave better and be creative without crass cheers. This prompted the Blue Devil student section to react to bad calls with the cheer: "We beg to differ". A more modern approach might be to remind students that they should not do something they would not want put on television lest it go on their permanent records.

This is more than a high school sports story. It  exemplifies the totalitarian instincts political correctness which demands conformity from feckless fans. The WIAA follow-up employs the non-apology apology, denying the directive is anything new. It also shows the micromanaging mien of the Nanny State which nudges people through rules masquerading as "guidelines".  Lastly, it imposes overbearing burdens on people without challenging them to find creative alternatives to encourage more civil cheering.

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