Some things I witnessed this weekend, combined with some forum posts, turned my thoughts onto the topic of respect. I found I had quite a bit to say about the matter (though perhaps just in an effort to say as little as possible about the team performance Saturday night), so much so that I am motivated to (at least temporarily) emerge from lurker status and not simply put in a comment or two but to actually write something lengthy.
Saturday night, as everyone here well knows, we hosted players, fans and staff of THE Penn State. And, because we were hosting them, we also hosted an elephant. This is a basic, unavoidable, and simple fact, and even if you choose to politely ignore said elephant, it's still painfully obvious that elephant exists, and was very much in the room. I won't go into the nature of the elephant itself. It is, for the topic of this post, irrelevant. However, it is precisely because of this elephant that we have an opportunity, like it or not, ready or not, to have a mirror thrust on our own character.
I'm not speaking of our own vulnerability to fall into similar bad habits and obsessions that enabled some bad situations for our sister institution, though that's a completely valid and good discussion to have. Others have written and continue to write much more insightfully on that subject.
I mean simply that we are forced to, as individuals and as communities, decide how to treat that elephant. It also forces us to deal with how to treat those who disagree with our individual and collective idea on what the best choice on that decision is. And differences of opinion on that matter are inevitable. I said communities, plural, above intentionally, because there are many, with obvious overlap and redundancies. The Hawkeye fan community as a whole, such as it is. The Iowa City/Coralville communities. The BHGP community, and the SB Nation community as a whole. Even each small tailgate outside the game is, in a way, it's own small community. Each will have it's own idea of what is reasonable, and what isn't, what is acceptable behavior, and what isn't. With so many communities, it's inevitable that folks will come to different conclusions about how, or even IF, they show respectful behavior towards others, especially visitors, and especially visitors with elephants in tow.
What I'm speaking about, in a word, is Class. This is often difficult to define, but, by and large, the Iowa fanbase tends to have it. And for the most part, class was what we had Saturday night. We're not, by any means, alone in that regard, but, for reasons which will be obvious, I'll not comment too much on the class of others.
There are of course individual deviations from that standard, and it's those deviations that I think are important, and are what I want to focus on. Not on the individual deviations or even the messages that they portrayed, but their existence.
I should note, I don't necessarily condone or agree with those people or the messages they tended to have. What is important is their existence, and that they are allowed to occur. This may seem counter-intuitive to many, and likely some will never agree with this concept. It's an inherit contradiction and a struggle to see someone espousing ideas, messages, or even behaviors you don't support, while still supporting their ability to do so. Why would any respectful person tolerate people and behavior that is disrespectful (this obviously doesn't include dangerous or physically harmful behavior, which is another matter entirely)?
I'll give an individual example, for demonstration. Before and during the game Saturday, there were 4-5 kids dressed in prison outfits, with a notable name written on the back, you can probably guess which one. I say kids, because I happened to know one of these kids' dads, and therefor knew on good authority that this was a group of High School seniors. I didn't condone this particular message, and he didn't especially either, but, there's an important object lesson in letting a kid of a certain age get to screw up in relatively safe ways, to experience consequences first hand. That's something he and I discussed briefly, though, not quite in that language.
They paraded about for several hours before the game, getting mostly chuckles and amused reactions, though with the occasional negative reaction. A commenter on this board even noted them, or perhaps others like them, saying they should have been arrested. Likely many more of you saw them, and those that didn't, simply having the description above in your head, you probably had some reaction.
They then entered the stadium to watch the game. They were ejected before halftime, their names collected, and their (theoretical) college admission threatened by a Dean of the university, solely on their attire and message.
As stated earlier, I don't agree with what they were saying, or how they said it. But the fact that they could say it, that any of us could, but most of us chose not to, is what shows the Iowa fanbase has class. And it's perfectly fine to encourage the good behavior of others, like the announcements on the PA system to please treat others with respect, etc. However, when the university decides to enforce standards on what people can say, what messages they can and cannot convey, ultimately the effect is that our own general class is diminished. Having threats of official sanction, things like arrest, or significant impact on educational future, is well over the line into that territory.
Being respectful to others is, generally, a good thing. This doesn't mean unfailing politeness. Patrick Vint, in the weekly podcast, often wishes our opponent of that week "The very worst of luck", in a tongue-in-cheek manner. It's obviously not polite, but just as obviously not disrespectful. When an opposing team takes the field, or the band plays their school's song before the game, the crowd often boos. I don't personally take part in booing, and sometimes rather wish it didn't happen, but I don't feel it's really disrespecting the other team, as much as simply making clear the very hostile environment for which Kinnick is famous. Obviously other fan bases feel differently on where exactly this line is, as well as each individual fan. None of these viewpoints is necessarily wrong.
What is essential is that people are free to boo, to make impolite comments, and even free to makes asses of ourselves. Because the moment you force respect, by using official sanction, or monopoly power to exclude, it loses meaning. You have politeness, but not class. We were hostile to Penn State Saturday night, but no more or less so than to any other team that has the experience of visiting the pink locker room. And as the night drew on, and the score ran up, it would have been very easy for things to go another way. Add alcohol to that mix, an unavoidable and obvious politeness affecting factor, and that goes double. Doubtless some individuals did turn to disrespectful behavior. But because they were allowed to, generally without official sanction, that made the continuing respect of the remaining overwhelming percentage of fans mean something. People in general kept it classy, and they could, because it was a choice, even when many crowds would have gotten ugly.
This concept is important to the membership and comments on a site like this in particular. Online communities are particularly vulnerable to bad behavior, due in large part to the anonymous and transient nature of it's membership. The banhammer is a difficult thing to reconcile into the viewpoint above. It's simply obvious that online spaces need some enforcement, to avoid a descent into chaos. But once that door is opened, the risks are high for well intentioned but ultimately misguided control. That's why a site like this one is the rare gem, but is forever poised on the knife edge.
There will always be assholes in any group. This is simply to be expected. What's a problem is, when they are a significant portion of any community, or if they seem to be entirely absent. The former is bad for obvious reasons, but the latter is almost worse. For any group above a certain size, if there is absolutely no one who isn't toeing the line, or occasionally out of step, the inevitable conclusion is there are harsh and draconian measures in place to enforce compliance. Because the assholes didn't magically go away, they just went into hiding. And that makes the polite behavior of even those who genuinely mean it suspect. Are they doing so because they believe it, or because they're forced to? It diminishes the class of those who would otherwise have it.
So, keep it classy, Iowa fans, and generally speaking, so far so good.
But even more so, Overlords, Officials, and Administrators of websites and universities large and small; keep it classy too, and let others do the same for themselves. Nobody can force class on anyone else, and we're all diminished when anyone tries.