During the Michigan hockey team’s last two games this weekend, the University has started to enforce a ban on profanity at Yost Ice Arena. The athletic department recently changed its policy regarding profanity and, in particular, the profanity-laced C-YA cheer. Students who use profanity will now be ejected from Yost.
Executive Associate Athletic Director Michael Stevenson sent an e-mail to student season-ticket holders on Wednesday explain the policy change. The change was made after a home weekend against Alaska-Fairbanks in which Stevenson said he saw no improvement in fans’ behavior since talking with student season-ticket holders on Jan. 11 during an MSA-run meeting.
The Department of Public Safety said it removed four students from Yost over the weekend for using vulgar language during Michigan’s two-game series against Northern Michigan. One student received a minor in possession of alcohol citation, DPS reported. Others were removed by the event staff without the aid of DPS.
Stevenson pledged to continue the crackdown throughout the rest of the season, including this Friday, when arch-rival Michigan State comes to Yost. He has scheduled another meeting with student ticket holders this Thursday to continue the dialogue.
In addition to the e-mail, the athletic department placed flyers on all the student seats for Friday’s game. The flyers stated the same policy change as the e-mail.
Stevenson said he was changing the policy because of continuous complaints from Michigan fans.
Over the last five years, the profanity at Yost has been discouraged by the athletic department, Michigan coach Red Berenson and Michigan captains. But offenders in the stands were rarely ejected, if at all.
Vulgarity has become the norm at Yost. Traditionally when a player from the opposing team enters the penalty box, the Michigan student section berates him with the C-YA cheer, which consists of a string of 11 words, most of them expletives. In sync with a fury of hand motions, most of the students in attendance shout out, “Chump, dick, wuss, douche bag, asshole, prick, cheater, bitch, whore, slut, cocksucker.”
It has become part of the student section tradition to add an expletive onto the cheer each year, and this year was no different. After a few home games, the word “cocksucker” was added.
Before Friday’s game, Stevenson and Yost management instructed the event staff on how to handle the new policy.
“We’re supposed to give them one warning for vulgarity,” event staff worker Gary Korpal said before Friday’s game. “The next time they do it, they’re going to be removed by security.”
But Korpal said that the event staff was instructed to look out for certain vulgar words.
“They’re more worried about c-sucker than anything else,” Korpal said. “They’re gung ho on that. They don’t want to hear that word at all. They said that’s what they want to focus on now.”
University sports management prof. David Shand said that the athletic department is well within its rights to kick spectators out for any behavior that it feels is inappropriate.
“Yost is owned and operated by the University, and they set the rules,” Shand said. “There are limitations on First Amendment rights. There are a number of behaviors that you cannot engage in at Yost. You cannot go to a game naked, and you cannot smoke pot there. This isn’t any different. They have the right to create any environment they want to create. They want to create the best environment that suits the most people.”
To add to the athletic department’s case even further, in the small type at the bottom of every student ticket, a message reads: “Management reserves the right to refuse admission or to eject any person whose conduct Management deems disorderly, obnoxious, or unbecoming.”
On Friday, the first Northern Michigan penalty came in the second period. Event staff worker Bill Hill, stationed amongst the students, watched as they engaged in the traditional cheer. After the cheer, Hill picked out R.C. senior Dan Mullkoff — one of the more animated and strident fans in the section — and told him, “You’ve been warned one time, the next time you will be escorted out by the cops.”
At the end of the second period, an official called Northern Michigan defenseman John Miller for hooking, and the cheer started up again. This time Mullkoff did the hand motions, but kept his mouth shut throughout.
“I felt like it wasn’t worth it,” Mullkoff said. “As cool as being a martyr would have been.”
And while Mullkoff managed to stay, engineering freshman Matthew Rodriguez was removed from Yost in the third period. Rodriguez said he was warned earlier in the game by the event staff for participating in the C-YA cheer but was removed for being vocal in other ways.
“I was yelling at (Northern Michigan goalie Tuomas) Tarkki,” Rodriguez said. “The worst thing I think I said was, ‘Your mother doesn’t love you.’ I never used profanity because I was warned about profanity, and I understood the warning, and I understood the e-mail sent by the athletic department.”
Rodriguez said that he was initially warned for the C-YA cheer. He said that he recited the whole cheer, except for the “cocksucker” at the end.
“I acted responsibly,” Rodriguez said. “I’m going to take this to the athletic department Monday morning.”
Rodriguez left Yost with the event staff, but others were escorted out by police officers. Stevenson said there were a few extra officers on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly.
But fans’ disenchantment wasn’t limited to those stopped by the event staff and DPS.
“If you’re at a hockey arena and you pay for your seats, you should be able to express what you want to say,” said one non-student season-ticket holder, Jamie Binkley.
On Jan. 11, MSA facilitated a meeting between student season-ticket holders and members of the athletic department, led by Stevenson, to address the C-YA cheer issue. All 800 season-ticket holders were invited to the meeting, but only 20 showed up. Still, members from both sides left the meeting feeling positive about getting ideas out in the open about how to remedy the situation. The two sides discussed a student contest to create a new, more appropriate cheer with an accompanying T-shirt that would have the words on the back. They also discussed a student-run organization similar to Michigan basketball’s Maize Raze that could communicate more closely with the athletic department. After the meeting, the two sides agreed to continue their talks.
But after the ensuing weekend series against Alaska-Fairbanks at Yost, Stevenson changed Michigan’s policy.
“We had this positive meeting,” Stevenson said. “We left it feeling good. I didn’t think (the C-YA cheer) would go away overnight, but, over the Alaska-Fairbanks weekend, the volume and the annunciation of the words went up and the spirit of it went up. It’s unacceptable. It was clear to me that a great majority of the students didn’t comply with what we asked them to do. And so it was a total opposite of the good feelings we had when we left the meeting with the students.”
Business senior Josh Goldman was one of the season-ticket holders who attended the Jan. 11 meeting. He said he was not that upset about the change in policy but he would be hesitant to work the athletic department again.
“One of the things that we suggested was that they try to take a more subtle approach, as opposed to a more direct approach (like they tried on Friday with the ejections),” Goldman said before Saturday’s game. “But after seeing how they handled it during the game, I think that it went pretty well. They only really cracked down on people if they said ‘cocksucker.’ They didn’t kick anybody out for doing the beginning of the cheer. The students learned, and the students know.
“If you said ‘cocksucker,’ then they would point at you, and, if you did it again, they would throw you out. Nobody I was with wanted to be kicked out. One word isn’t worth it.
“I’m not upset about it, but I don’t think that there has been any goodwill fostered between the athletic department and the students who went to the meeting.”
Some students guessed that the athletic department put the emphasis on the word “cocksucker” because it was at the end of the cheer and was the most audible of the crass words. When said in such a fury, many of the words in the beginning and middle of the chant can blend together.
When asked, Stevenson insisted that he wanted the whole chant either erased or changed, not just the word, “cocksucker.”
“There are a number of words (that we want the students to stop saying),” Stevenson said. “But that’s certainly one (of them). When I get 10 to 20 letters and phone calls after every single home weekend that parents can’t bring their children here, then we need to get the chant changed.
“You’ve got eight words that are unacceptable. Some students call and say, ‘How can you be working with us and then throw us out of the arena?’ And I ask them, ‘Is that something you would say at the dinner table with your parents?’ And no one has said ‘Yes.’ ”
But the students understood the message after the crackdown on Friday. During Saturday’s game, there were varying estimates about the volume of the cheer, but there was one stark change: most stopped screaming “cocksucker” at the end of it.
On one side of the student section, some of the students screamed “bed-wetter” in its place. On the other side, some of the students yelled, “We love you, Red.”
“I would (say) that it was quieter tonight than it was last night,” Stevenson said on Saturday. “I think the students were conscious that we were trying to evaluate what was going on.”
Another meeting between the season-ticket holders and the athletic department has been scheduled for this Thursday in Schembechler Hall.
“We’re looking forward very much to our dialogue with students Thursday night,” Stevenson said. “(We’ll) talk about where we can go from here. But clearly we’re going to stay after this issue until it’s resolved. For (Michigan) State this Friday night, we’ll be following the same procedures that we did this weekend, and, hopefully, we’ll have fewer incidents and warnings. But we’ll do whatever students make it necessary for us to do.”
An Alternative Chant
Even families who sit directly opposite the students have found ways to deal with the vulgarity. That is, if they can even make out what the students are saying.
“We can’t hear it most of the time anyway,” said Jamie Binkley, who comes with his wife, Wendy, and their two grade-school daughters. “Unless it’s a big game like Michigan State — then it’s crystal clear.”
But the Binkleys — who are big hockey fans — do not find Yost to be any worse than the average hockey venue. Just a few weeks ago, when the Binkleys traveled to another CCHA arena, they heard Michigan goalie Al Montoya get jeered in an inappropriate fashion.
“At Western Michigan they were chanting ‘gay Al,’ and our daughters asked us what they were chanting,” Wendy Binkley said. “We just handled it as parents and told her it was a bad chant.”
At Yost, the Binkleys have found a way to make sure their daughters are not affected by the C-YA cheer — they have made up their own G-rated version.
“When the guy goes in the penalty box we say: C-YA, get-in-your-time-out-box-bad-boy-you-stink,” Wendy Binkley said with the help of her daughters.
But the student section surely won’t amend the lyrics without a fight.
How loud does it get?
The mother of a young Michigan fan who attended Friday’s game was concerned about the C-YA cheer but not to the point of canceling her season tickets — yet.
“From where we’re sitting, it’s hard to hear them,” said Colleen Martinez, who brings her 10-year-old son John-Michael. “But you can pick stuff out, and you don’t want him to hear that stuff because he’s only 10. If he hears it, he’ll pick it up and then he might try to imitate it. Then you have to say ‘Wait a minute. You can’t be saying that.’
“I think it’s a good idea (to pass out flyers). Maybe it will tone the cheer down a little bit, but there are so many of them. It’s going to be hard to prevent it.
“It hasn’t reached the point (where we’ve thought about not coming), not yet at least. If they push it further, then maybe we’ll have to look into it.”
Martinez’s seats are on the north end of Yost, not directly opposite the students.