The 2017-18 Season of College Athletics may be extremely uncomfortable.
The first College Soccer, College Football or College Volleyball game of the Fall Semester provides a sense of hope for the season to come. The leaves have not yet fallen from the trees, student-athletes start a long season off fresh, pheromones in the air become amplified on campus, syllabi are scrutinized, the hokey-pokey of the Drop/Add end date looms, First Year students still think it is Summer Camp, new pledge classes, new fake IDs generated, and tests are not on the horizon. Anything is possible in colleges and universities across the country during this time of year. Even though many institutions have not started classes or even are welcoming a fresh new class on campus yet, there’s an unexpected hangover. Bliss and optimism has been replaced by angst and nihilism.
Introducing the Belligerents
It is important to explain how things became so tense to see how this College Sports season is setting up a powder keg that explodes.
The Campus Activists
Campus activism has become not only a hot topic, but has set a tone in the nascent school year. Institutions not necessarily known being the biggest hotbeds for activism have transformed into political battlegrounds. The hotbeds of activism would include Evergreen State College, Reed College, University of California-Berkeley, San Francisco State University, New York University, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Missouri-Columbia, American University, Oberlin College, Bowdoin College, and Claremont-McKenna College. However, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, Duke University, and Clemson University have now entered the fray of controversy regarding monuments, statues and the naming of buildings. Generational battles to be waged as students and campus outsider agitators seek to deliver a message. The younger generation is winning as they are effectively forcing their hand by non-violent and violent methods.
It is easier to accomplish the objectives of the campus radical generation on campuses like the University of California-Berkeley or Evergreen State College where the administration, alumni and communities largely support the efforts of the radicals. It’s much tougher on campuses where the generational divide is much more pronounced and the opportunities for non-alumni to interact with the student population is possible. It is a different world than the 1960s and early 1970s when it comes to activism, there was not a desire to tear everything down and create something new in the image of the radical mob. This is a cultural revolution on campuses that are probably unprepared for a mentality where nothing is considered sacred and the idea that activism cannot take a break.
There are no breaks and there is no unity. You’re either all-in or all-out.
Protests come and protests go, but the anger usually is directed at institutions or policies. Now, the anger turns within and it is on their own communities, especially those who disagree or wish to maintain neutrality. The personal is political and that can be very dangerous. The end goal is equity and a new status quo for Generation Screwed. The behavior is emblematic of societies where people feel like they are losing it all, they ultimately lose it. This is just the beginning and powerful (in an absolute and relative sense) individuals are willing to take advantage of these students at the time when they should be in the process of their intellectual discovery and experiential phase of life.
Debt (creating a modern serfdom), confusion, poor prospects, familial problems, mental health issues and self-medicating through taking things to extremes are all a part of these individuals’ lives. The desire for control and financial resources leads to exploitative choices in lifestyle, messaging and activity. This generation turned to a man who promised them a way out (Bernie Sanders) and he was going to make those that put them into the situation that they are in pay for it. Yes, there is a bit of a hatred among this generation for the decisions and lifestyles that their parents created for them. Is it deserved? Possibly, but is it explored enough? Not really and nobody wants to define a generation or a movement based on simply being angry at parental figures, it is far too embarrassing.
Much like anorexics, binge-eaters, alcoholics, drug addicts, domestic abusers, child abusers and road ragers, the campus radicals and their subordinates need control of SOMETHING in their lives. Protesting, rioting, virtue signaling and passive-aggressive agitation is how they get that control they desperately seek. The victories sought are hollow and very few stand to benefit from the imposition of this new culture outside of activists who are being paid to agitate. How is this going to help alleviate the problems that plague an entire generation? This is an economically insecure generation that will reproduce at such a low level that without immigrants there would be an actual reduction in the number of working-age individuals in the United States by 2035.
The Outsiders Making Their Arrival
Outside of the college campus, non-alumni come from all over (especially in the South) to visit the campus of their favorite team and even the campus of their rivals. They typically do not share much in common with the student body and there are differences with the alumni, but they make their appearances during Fall weekends and then they are not to be seen again until one day in the Spring. It is a transactional relationship, but the school gives them what they want – a Football Team to care about and one of the last vestiges of state pride remaining from the Antebellum and Civil War era. The United States changed over time and the states became de-emphasized as central authority grew, loyalties to one’s state were greater during those times than to federal interests. What do the universities get out of the relationship with non-alumni? Money.
The non-alumni have different backgrounds (not necessarily a monolith outside of their lack of academic interest or attachment to the universities), a few went to better schools than the state flagship and maintained their loyalty to their team, some went to small colleges and universities for one reason or another and the majority ended their educational pursuits in or immediately after High School. The non-alumni have stuck by their teams and largely ignored any campus happenings (unless it is to mock and disparage the student bodies) because it is a transactional relationship after all. Many flood the campuses of the South and Midwest to cheer on their teams and defend their home territory. It’s a tribalistic, therapeutic, gastronomic and alcoholic experience. It is supposed to be fun, but it is intensely personal. It’s a religion and despite any claims to the forms of Protestant Christianity, the Football Team comes first and the misery of the opponent comes second. It is taken to its extreme in the State of Alabama and in the State of Louisiana, the LSU Football Team has a University.
The majority of non-alumni could be considered members of the constituent group that contains in political terms “the great unwashed”, “the deplorables”, the embodiment of “the angry white man”, and “the forgotten American”. They largely voted for Donald Trump and they do not feel shame concerning their decision except when they are asked about it by pollsters. They saw a world slipping away from them. Fortunes may have been dissipating, a bleaker future, medical issues growing, addictions on the rise, fears of losing their culture, and a younger generation and media not only wishing to make them more miserable, but enjoying their pain. The last two are the most audibly sore spots for this constituency. They chose their boogeyman to defend their honor and for them it was their last hope for anything close to what they consider a restoration in spite of the fact that one person (even with great power) cannot single-handedly turn their hopes around.
Two constituent groups: Campus radicals and a portion of the non-alumni are two peas in a pod. Both feel like screwed generations under the weight of different problems and circumstances. Both are aggrieved and want their enemies defeated. They both turned to their own boogeymen to vanquish an enemy. Instead of looking to improve their own lot, they look to take someone else down a peg. It is all one giant zero-sum game to them, which is not how life works, but politicians, demagogues, hacks, influencers and media members do a marvelous job of selling it. Automation and technological advances threaten the older generations of non-alumni and the Humanities majors equally. Change is tough.
College athletics provide that sense of escape for both constituencies as students can support their fellow students competing in athletic events and non-alumni can forget about life for a weekend. It is supposed to be that easy, but it is not. College and Universities are the new domestic war zones as the events of Evergreen State College, University of Missouri-Columbia, University of California-Berkeley, and the tragic and disgusting events that took place at the University of Virginia and in the wonderful City of Charlottesville unfortunately showed.
The combination of intoxicated and possibly reactionary fans, large equipment and students with an axe to grind is a dangerous one. Both sides generally see each other as the problem and their worlds converge on Saturdays. Discounting that anything can happen between the two constituencies is ignorant of the current political atmosphere where people cannot be around those who disagree with them.
White Nationalist Attention Whores
The Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and other white nationalist/supremacist groups have been resurrected in the public’s conscious somehow. Wherever they go and in whatever number they may be (No, it’s not 25 to 50% of the country. The Ku Klux Klan only has at most 5,000 to 8,000 members and this is the largest group of people that hold these vomitrocious views. The KKK at their peak was 4% of the United States population… in the 1920s.) during this new era they receive media attention, create tensions and sadly get new followers because of their ability to create false choices and wedges. They are bigoted provocateurs feeding on the mainstream attention received in the past 12 months and they certainly love the cameras in their quest to subvert and appear larger than they really are.
Monuments are going down on campuses and cities across the United States. These groups are using the cause célèbre of the activist left to rally their extremely small bases, become a part of the mainstream and appear larger than they are. The efforts to take down monuments has accelerated this Summer and going into the 2017-18 School Year. It’s unlikely that the activities from the Summer will just halt because the season has changed or a news cycle has temporarily shifted. The controversies will remain and with cameras already on the campuses, they will unfortunately look to seize the opportunity.
Just because Richard Spencer and other National Socialists have been denied a platform to speak at various public universities does not guarantee that they and their ilk will not show up on campuses at the most inopportune time. Wherever they may be, Antifa is sure to follow as both groups need each other despite their enmity. It is always a violent recipe.
And then there’s a chief instigator in all of this madness…
Where’s there’s a game, the media will be there too.
Everything is a made-for-TV event, even riots and protests have a “media friendly” staging element to it. Social media plays a role as everyone seeks the approval of the Twitter mob as crossing them could result in negative financial, professional and physical consequences. There’s no better way to get a message across than through mainstream outlets that are validated by the social media networks.
The media can set and stoke fires while validated individuals, bots and unhinged users of social media run around gleeful with the figurative kerosene to burn down everything from relationships to buildings.
In short, the world really sucks and media (mainstream and social) are doing an incredible job of making this happen.
Production trucks and crews, camera equipment and professionals there to broadcast the events live are easy targets for provocateurs to send their message. Sports media is always looking to find a way to make their coverage about matters that transcend sports. For the journalists and commentators, it’s an insecurity of working in a field that does not have a reputation of allowing intelligence to shine through. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and failing to be in a position to cover hard news is not a license to overcompensate.
There is an intersection between culture and sports. It has always existed. The Ancient Mayans, Greeks and Romans all had used sport as a political tool for better or worse (usually worse as the activities would be considered barbaric by contemporary Western standards). To deny the ties and fail to cover the story would be foolish, but to pick a side and willfully exacerbate the tenuous state of political and personal affairs is incredibly irresponsible at best.
Ole Miss vs. California: The Biggest Clash of Cultures and Ways of Life
The campus sporting event that may provoke the most emotions could end up being on September 16 when Ole Miss visits Berkeley to take on the California Golden Bears in a Football Game. For those who have been to Oxford, Mississippi and Lafayette County, Mississippi in general, it is a rather Progressive city in the middle of a very populist state. Notice the word ‘Conservative’ was not used and that is for good reason as this is not the William F. Buckley’s National Review, Stephen Hayes’ Weekly Standard or even Ben Domenech’s The Federalist sort of a crowd. They may be “socially conservative” in the Evangelical Christian sense, but when it comes to economic policy – they are definitely not. Oxford is an oasis of culture, intelligentsia and incredible food thanks to John Currence.
However, no matter how many Wright Thompson works of prose, Oxford, the University of Mississippi and the State of Mississippi will never shake off the events of 1962…
The State of Mississippi to outsiders represents the Old South preserved in amber and the old ways of racist policies and backward mentalities. When people visit, they come specifically to see it and experience it. The people are more dynamic and this will disappoint those looking to feel better about their own regional cultures hoping to confirm what they think they know. It’s a form of dark tourism in the United States much like the way Baltimore entrepreneurs have tours of where The Wire was filmed in West Baltimore. People live there and experience this world every single day and the misconceptions of their world are a source of amusement. What next? Detroit Dollar Home tours like they are the Biltmore Estate?
Unfortunately, regardless of party line, politicians have continued to do damage in Jackson and turned a capital city that could have been so much more into a city that has been largely abandoned. Anti-competitive and anti-entrepreneurial regulations, a lack of investment and a perpetually depressed Mississippi Delta region have hurt the state.
Californians in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States have sought different directions politically to maintain their Progressivism. Calexit and dividing up the State of California have both been proposed. Calexit has the most momentum despite the fact that the State of California is actually not a political monolith itself. South of Los Angeles County to the Mexico border is a comparably Conservative Republican stronghold as is much of the inland areas of the State of California.
What would normally be disagreements on a political basis that would typically be glossed over cannot be in this current environment. Is it safe for an Ole Miss alum or fan to visit Berkeley? Would the mere presence of the State of Mississippi’s flag, the hint of stars on a polo shirt with an ‘M’ on it or a sundress trigger an extremely hostile and sensitive student body and an activist population? Would these individuals pose a “threat” like the way Ben Shapiro, Gavin McInnes, Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos did? The mayor of Berkeley is fearful of triggering Antifa, which could mean that a seemingly apolitical Football Game could turn into a brutal culture war if Antifa and triggered students view it as an extension of hostile politics.
Would ESPN’s College Gameday show up to Berkeley if both Ole Miss and California were undefeated and there was an opportunity for something unpredictable to happen? What comes first: Ratings or the safety of the general public in that scenario? The answer is they are going to Tallahassee to hype the ABC game between Miami and Florida State and this is the sane, non-exploitative choice. Be thankful that this is what will happen.
Can differences be put aside for College Sporting Events?
No reasonable person wants to see the horror of tear gas, smoke bombs, arson, bike lock attacks, stabbings, shootings, racial discord and general acts of violence. However, all of the players (not on the field) are in the same place at once. It is a convergence of cultures and wills. College and University quads are not battlefields, they are places to enjoy, learn, debate and bask.
Security measures have been put into place in stadiums and arenas across the country and maybe it is time to consider the tailgating zones just to make sure things do not devolve. Monuments are being decapitated, but those are inanimate objects. When people are the target it is far scarier and a fun family tailgate on a Saturday should not end with discussions of funeral arrangements for a child caught in the middle of political hatred gone amok. Tailgaters are soft targets much like the way campuses are for extremists to impose their will.
We cannot live in fear of what extremists may do and how people may react to their behavior, but we can look to try to find ways to let cooler heads prevail. This is the last sort of article anyone wants to read, but it is hard to deny the possibility of on-campus hostilities.
Let’s hope the powder keg is a big dud and let College Sports serve as a political cease-fire.