Arizona State’s Curtain of Distraction is perhaps the pinnacle of student fans’ devotion to helping their athletically-gifted peers conquer their opponents and rivals. When the school’s opponents are shooting free throws in the direction of the student section, the eponymous black curtain is wrenched aside and any number of creatively-dressed students spring forth to dance, gesticulate, and perform wild distractions that give their team a roughly two-and-a-half point benefit (excluding home court advantage).
But the Sun Devils aren’t the only student body that knows how to screw with opponents. I doubt there are many sporting traditions for fans more fun than throwing tortillas onto Harder Stadium’s field, and I can’t imagine many other schools have more creative chants than our student sections. Despite our dedication and sense of humor, there is a line to be drawn between good-natured fun and offensive disrespect that we unfortunately cross often enough.
“Fuck Cal Poly”—which is unfortunately often our loudest chant at these frequently-televised match-ups—is hurled at our archrivals out of spite, not fun or creativity. “You’re-a-pus-sy” is hurled at opposing free throw shooters with the sole purpose of personally insulting and degrading them (in addition to being an all-around distasteful thing to say in the first place). Any sort of healthy competitive spirit requires at least a touch of sportsmanship; our tendency at times to engage in blatantly insulting attacks (that lack substance or good humor), is a poor reflection on our sportsmanship, creativity, character, and even our intelligence—values that we as individual students, and as a university as a whole, claim to have. Is it any wonder these chants are more frequent and intense when we’re down in a game?
But this doesn’t mean we can’t still be stinging or disruptive in our chants and distractions, to have fun at games. For decades (if not centuries), universities have been engaged in rivalries that have all had at least one effect: student unity and fellowship. Our hassling of our opponents, teasing them and asserting how different and better we are, in a subtle way brings us together by emphasizing our (evidently superior) commonalities. Moreover, when we feel like one, unified group, we want people to know it and to be the best together. Sports are, after all, the most direct, adrenaline-fueled measure of our potential superiority to other universities, and simply taking the piss out of our counterparts or messing with their focus is harmless fun that satisfies a competitive spirit all universities and students share.
Chants aimed at our Cal State rivals like “If you can’t go to school, go to state…” and our fake shot clock countdown (which can be remarkably effective) are meant to poke fun at our opponents or catch them off guard; they’re products of our creativity and competitive spirit. We sling tortillas as our unique tradition, celebrating goals and protesting poor calls, but they’re not feelings of outright spite or personal or physical attacks (especially since, no matter how hard we may try, we never seem to be able to land one on an opponent’s head). This good humor, creativity, and sense of fun still recognizes that our opponents are students as well; they’re also teasing and differentiating them from us. Heckling our opponents is a great bonding experience for those in the crowd who still have the opportunity to convert their lingering juvenility, permitted by collegiate youth, into a common passion—we just have to make sure we imbue it with a sense of sportsmanship.
So next time you go to a game, keep in mind why you and everyone else is really there, and consider your peers’ and your university’s reputation. Feel the passion, the competitive spirit, and the connection with the sea of people around you dressed in blue and gold, not a desire to simply degrade the other colors on the court or field. Cal Poly’s coming to town this Saturday; wave the giant cutouts of Miley Cyrus’ head, twerk in that banana suit, and remind them that they failed to make it into the UCs, but above all, let’s truly show them who we are.