I go to a high school basketball game. With me stands a crowd, pledging allegiance to the United States’ flag without option. Then we sit down unanimously, all wearing the same red and gray shirts; there is no individual amongst the masses. A player makes a three-point shot but is prohibited from expressing excitement. A referee blows his whistle and an innocent teammate receives a red card. The crowd cannot express any defiance to the call.
It sounds like a dream, a fictional society of the silenced.
But it is not.
This scene describes a sporting event’s atmosphere that the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) mandates.
In 2008 the WIAA Sportsmanship Committee, first appointed by the Board of Control in 1997, updated its policies regarding the crowd’s expected behavior within the WIAA Sportsmanship Reference Guide. However, many of the positioned obligations are not only hazardous to a sporting event’s atmosphere, but also restrictive of one’s freedom of speech.
According to pages 10 and 11 of the guide, “Sportsmanship infraction[s]” include “dressing in attire that is not associated with school spirit,” “not standing at attention during the National Anthem” and, without any misquotes, “fan participation activities while the game is actually being played (i.e. roller coaster, the wave, etc.).” I do not see how, in any manner whatsoever, these activities could be considered hindrances within a sporting event.
Furthering into the explanations of the chosen “infractions,” a fan’s clothing must show school spirit because otherwise it is “disrespectful to the game/event and the competitors by drawing attention away from the activity.”
An athlete, first of all, should be able to perform up to their typical standard without becoming distracted by a purple shirt amongst a gray-clothed crowd. If that is enough for an athlete to lose their focus on the game, their credibility as a player—who faces countless distractions on the court or field, I would like to add—should be much lowered.
Secondly, and even more importantly, this rule enforces uniformity of the upcoming generation. Our educational system should encourage individual expression; it takes unique thinkers and inventors to advance a society. By encouraging, and even requiring this sameness, this idea of originality becomes taboo.
The Sportsmanship Reference Guide further oversteps its ability of control, prohibiting one from sitting during the National Anthem. However, this is not even legal: no one in our nation can be prosecuted for remaining seated while the Star Spangled Banner sounds. The WIAA Sportsmanship Committee cannot, quite simply, have a say in one’s position during the song, nor can they declare it as “inappropriate sportsmanship.”
Additionally, these mandates are in place to identify “individuals who display poor sportsmanship.” However, participating in the wave is not an inappropriate act in any way, contrary to the guide’s claims. The wave shows a unified support from all fans and all teams; everyone can participate in the act as it rounds the arena. Fans sit in the stands to cheer for the players, and they should be allowed to do so in a completely appropriate way.
Moreover, the act of an in-game cheer such as the wave or roller coaster does not even target one distinct team. It does not singularize a player or disrupt one school’s players; it affects all people, including one’s favorable team, in the arena equally.
There are certain rulings within the guide that disallow unequal treatments of players, and these however I do agree with. I cannot argue with the prohibition of insulting chants such as the “Over-rated” chant. It can be considered mean when targeted at a player who already made a mistake. Similarly, I agree with the guide’s banning of “attending an event inebriated or under the influence of mood altering substances” and “throwing of any object by fans or competitors.” Many of the requirements are reasonable.
That said the guide still needs much alteration. Although the “Over-rated” chant may be unkind, there is nothing wrong with saying “U–S–A” or “push it” repeatedly, as the guide implies. If the board requires that all stand during the National Anthem, it is hypocritical to ban a chanting of the nation’s name. Additionally, one cannot be punished for yelling the two words “push it.” That, too, seems unlawful.
Other ridiculous rules include a banning of celebratory acts after a player scores—the ban includes that of “pointing to the to crowd; dancing; or any voluntary, unnecessary movement perceived to be drawing attention to one’s self”—and a prevention of “bare-chested fans and body paint at indoor events.” The hosting school should make the latter ruling; students should follow their required dress code and not an outside party’s. The former, furthermore, removes any act of celebration possible. Professional football players have signature dances after scoring a touchdown, and this is not done inappropriately; after any athlete makes an achievement, I support merriment.
The WIAA’s Sportsmanship Reference Guide incorporates many illegitimate claims regarding sportsmanship infractions. It imposes on one’s freedom as a U.S. citizen, inhibits individuality and is hypocritical. If we, as a student body, complied to the WIAA’s rules, sporting events would become, quite basically, boring: there would be signification drop in attendance, school spirit and profits. The current rules need to be adjusted in order to provide an adequate environment for student athletes and fans.
by Cruz Control (Elena Cruz)