Good sportsmanship is fans’ responsibility, too

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I grew up a huge Utah Ute fan in the Salt Lake City area. We had season tickets for several years, about 10 or 15 rows up, near the end zone. I remember watching Steve Smith cruise past defenders in those exciting games, decked out in red and cheering right beside my dad and brother.

I know. Gross, right? While I wait for your gag reflex to pass, let me say one more thing about those games: for the most part, the cheering and jeering was good natured. I knew if I ever even booed the other team, BYU or not, my dad would chew me out for poor sportsmanship and threaten to leave me at home for the next game. The longer we spent at Rice-Eccles Stadium, though, the more bad examples of poor sportsmanship began to stand out to me. Fans threw peanuts or popcorn at opposing teams’ fans, and the words coming out of fans’ mouths were more offensive than a simple boo. But this display of poor sportsmanship wasn’t exclusive to Salt Lake City.

To make things clear, I am now a true BYU fan and will be screaming in the ROC wearing that royal blue along with everyone else as my newfound favorite team takes on the team from my childhood — much to the chagrin of my dad, who will be watching from home, still wearing his Ute shirt.

But one thing I won’t be doing is showing poor sportsmanship. It’s a lot of fun to cheer on the Cougars and even make some jabs at Ute penalties or turnovers, but there are actions fans can take that cross the line between good-natured cheering and unsportsmanlike conduct. Just remember that there is a 15-yard penalty for the players for committing that sort of action.

BYU running back Jamaal Williams makes a cut during a run versus Utah in 2012. Photo by Chris Bunker
BYU running back Jamaal Williams makes a cut during a run versus Utah in 2012. Photo by Chris Bunker

Fans can have a huge impact on the outcome of a game. Players can be intimidated when they know they have to execute their game plan in places like Florida’s “Swamp,” Texas A&M’s “12th Man” or LSU’s “Death Valley.” It’s not because of flying peanuts or having their mother’s name dragged through the mud. They’re intimidated because of the amount of noise and the real home field advantage that exists inside the arena. And home teams love such loyal fans.

But fans can have a detrimental effect on the game as well. Just ask any Utah fan who prematurely rushed the field twice in last year’s game in Salt Lake City and gave the Cougars another opportunity to steal the game. Or remember the home basketball game against Saint Mary’s in 2011 when the actions of some fans gave the Gaels the ball and a couple free throws that effectively handed the win to the opponent.

Being a fan is a privilege, not a right. And we shouldn’t abuse that privilege by doing anything that could possibly hurt our team or give a bad reputation to a fan body that is widely known for its membership in a church that promotes kindness and decency.

Let’s all pack LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night, wild and crazy, loud and relentless. And let’s give the nation two certainties about the BYU Cougar fans: one, that we make the stadium one of the toughest places to play in the country, and two, that we are good fans who show sportsmanship and human decency.

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