Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Long Live The Fans: A Dumber Alumnus' Perspective

Editor's note: Mickey McCauley played all of two minutes of varsity soccer at the end of an 8-1 loss to Johns Hopkins his freshman year, and then got cut in three successive tryouts, so, y'know, take this with a hefty pinch of Morton's.

Editor's other note: Mickey is the editor.

Haverford alum JB Haglund penned an editorial in the Haverford Clerk dripping with that truest of Quaker values - harmony. An exemplary member of Haverford's storied cross-country and track teams, Haglund reflects on his athletic career and competing against a star runner from Swarthmore. Theirs was a rivalry steeped in genteel admiration - the author lauds his opponent's accomplishments and perishes the thought of animosity:

I tell all those stories to bring up the great things that come of a healthy, “real” rivalry, at least in my mind.  I reveled in beating Marc, not because I didn’t like him, but because he was a good runner and when I was able to beat other good runners it validated all the training and sacrifices I made to compete at a certain level.  But I also took pleasure in his success and have nothing but respect for all the things he’s accomplished since we crossed paths on the track.

Cool. Great.

From there, however, the article turns schoolmarmish, with Haglund lambasting the "disgusting" behavior of Haverford students at rivalry games. Unlike his "'real' rivalry," the competitive spirit at other contests manifests itself in ways so boorish and uncivilized that Haglund can't even bear to experience them first-hand:
The reason I could never stomach going to a game versus Swarthmore while I was a student at Haverford was because the games seemed to present an excuse for Haverford students to stoop to a level that was honestly disgusting.  While I still haven’t broken my streak of unattended Swarthmore vs. Haverford athletic contests (outside of XC and track), from what I hear and read it would seem that this aspect of the rivalry hasn’t changed.
Haverford and Swarthmore, as the author takes pains to remind us, are Division III schools, bastions of academia that should be above the brutish fanfare of larger programs. As to the precise nature of Haverford's offenses, the editorial does not deign to mention any. Instead, we get a finger wagging bravely in the face of bad behavior. Accusations of drunkenness make their perfunctory appearance, as do the words "immature," "lunatics," and "stupid." Why can't we be more like Notre Dame, the author implores, a school that courteously saluted its Navy opponents after a defeat (but, it should be noted, does not grant the same acknowledgement to more serious athletic issues.)

With no specifics to speak of, Haglund's article boils down to condescending morality, Helen Lovejoy pleading for someone to please think of the community. This is not meant as a defense of homophobic or racist chants, if that is the author's grievance. But there is no hint of what his objections are. The article is a stance against Bad Things and in favor of Good Stuff. At the apex of his bleeding-heart sentimentality, he ends his missive with a suggestion of pure treacle:
So why not start with a cheer like “Swat’s great.”  Because let’s face it, if we think Haverford is pretty good, we have to acknowledge that Swarthmore is pretty swell too, maybe even better.
And while you're at it, you could replace your food with this equally effective Flavorless Nutrient Paste. I blanch at the thought of a world so gratingly serene that school pride is replaced with toadying congratulations. Yes, Haverford and Swarthmore are similar schools - this is exactly what necessitates and heats a rivalry. Michigan quarrels with Ohio State, Harvard with Yale, USC with UCLA. Sports gives us a way to cohere under an identity, to avoid being subsumed into an amorphous "liberal arts" header. With our institutions standing as virtual twins, differences - rankings, athletics, campus beauty - are the basis of comparison, a good-natured (and yes, ultimately meaningless) way to goad one another.

Save the high horse for an eventual Equestrian program. I support harmless effrontery. Cheering your squad and jeering the other can go hand-in-hand. We as fans relish the chance to rally behind our teams and, if possible, throw the opposition off their game. Haglund has infinitely more experience with competition (and excelling therein) than I do, so I cannot claim him as a peer; perhaps at a certain level of success one transcends the base and ignoble jawing of fans and lesser athletes. But perhaps his perspective is similarly discolored by A) belonging to a team so dominant he admits to not considering Swarthmore as a rival; B) participating in a sport where contact with the opponent is extrinsic and frowned upon; and C) choosing to insulate himself in that particular athletic sphere. Were he to venture into Gooding Arena and see a Garnet elbow thrown into a Ford guard's cheek as the ref stands maddeningly silent, he too might find himself overcome with righteous indignation. Were he to watch a Swarthmore baseball sail hopefully toward the fences only to be snagged deftly by a Black Squirrel outfielder, he might feel the electric, gleeful surge schadenfreude. Were he to stand in the soaking rain and watch the Haverford soccer team converge in a joyous huddle after an improbable upset of their rivals, their nemeses, their albatrosses, their rivals, maybe he too would seethe with the flame of a hard-won triumph and concur, in full throat, SWAT SUCKS!