ANGRY TENNESSEE FOOTBALL FANS REFLECT OUR TIMES
I’m a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee where I majored in Football Appreciation. And I am a VFFFL, a Vol Football Fan For Life.
Until a few years ago, I was a Tennessee football season ticket holder. I gave up my seats in Neyland Stadium when I got a new seat … in my lounge chair in my den in front of my Jumbotron, my big screen HDTV. I have a better view there than I ever had in Neyland Stadium, and thanks to my remote control, I can quickly change the channel when my Vols are losing, which in recent years they have been doing a lot.
Last Saturday night I watched the Tennessee-Ole Miss football game. For 3 ½ quarters, it was a great game. In the closing minutes, my Vols were down by only 5 points and were marching down Shields Watkins Field in hot pursuit of a game-winning touchdown. I was on the edge of my lounge chair and not even touching my remote control. And then there was a controversial call by a referee, and all hell broke loose, literally. Irate and probably drunk Tennessee fans reigned the field with beer cans, bottles, debris, and even golf balls, yes, golf balls. Who brings a golf ball to a football game?
Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin was hit by one of the golf balls. He was not hurt. In fact, he reveled in the moment, picking up the golf ball and proudly displaying it after Ole Miss won. Ironically, irate Vol fans transformed Lane Kiffin from the villain to a victim.
The Ole Miss victory was delayed for half an hour while the field was cleared and the Tennessee band and Vol cheerleaders were evacuated. Yes, the crazy Vol fans were hitting some of their own band members and orange clad pom-pom girls with their thrown bottles and cans.
It was an embarrassing moment for my beloved university and our football program that I have enjoyed for over 50 years.
On Monday the SEC fined the UT Athletic Department $250,000.00 and required them to develop security measures to make sure such a disgraceful display of sportsmanship, or more accurately, a complete lack thereof, does not happen again. The SEC did not tell the university to stop selling beer at games. Beer sales at future games will help pay that quarter million dollar fine.
I do not wish to over-analyze what happened. It was probably a few hundred drunk angry fans who hate Coach Kiffin given his unfortunate history with UT football. While I do not like the word “hate,” I confess that I too hold Lane Kiffin in, shall we say, minimum high regard.
If it were up to me, I would ban beer sales at UT games. Beer and orange necks are a terrible combination.
I realize that liquor has always been plentiful at college football games even before they started selling beer at the stadium. But I have never seen a drunk fan throw a flask onto the field.
In my seat in my den, I sip iced tea, although when I watched what happened Saturday night, I needed a stiff drink.
But it seems to this Vol fan that what we witnessed last Saturday evening was a reflection of our hateful, uncivil times. Millions of us Americans are angry. We are angry about politics, angry about sports referees, angry about masks (not Halloween masks, but the ones “mandated” against COVID), angry at traffic, and angry in commercial air flights. We tune into Fox News or MSNBC (depending on our political views), and get angry as we are fired up by some commentators telling us we should be angry! We are just good and mad, and rather than just quietly simmering, we act out our anger in public displays. There is road rage, screaming matches at public meetings, and now trash storms at football games.
We live in a culture of hateful incivility.
Nearly 30 years ago, Rodney King asked, “Can’t we all get along?” Sadly, the answer, at least for now, is not just no, but hell no. As a friend of mine has observed, these days we all seem to be spring-loaded in the hacked-off position.
I can’t control drunk football fans, folks who storm the Capitol, or road ragers who make obscene gestures at me when they speed past me on the expressway apparently trying to tell me that I am holding them up from an important appointment by driving too slow.
All I can control is myself. And so when I get angry at a politician I see on TV or about some story I read in the news or when a football referee makes a bad call or even when I think the driver in front or behind me on the expressway is driving too slow or too fast, I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself not to behave like the people who make me angry.
On Saturday night I will be back in my lounge chair, sipping iced tea, and watching my Vols play Alabama. Given the fact that my Vols haven’t beaten Alabama since President George Bush was in his first term, I will probably get very frustrated watching the game. I could even get angry and throw my glass of iced tea at Nick Saban on my TV screen. But I love my Jumbotron, and don’t wish to damage it or even stain it.
Instead, after Alabama scores their fifth touchdown, I will not swig down a fifth from my flask. I will take my remote control firmly in hand, point it at Nick Saban on my TV screen, and switch to the Discovery Channel where I can watch something that relaxes me.
I hope it is Shark Week!